Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Traigh GC - Course no 574

Traigh (pronounced "try") Golf Club's course has been described in the media as "probably the most beautifully sited nine hole golf course in the World."  I'm not sure whether anyone is adequately qualified and well-travelled to make such a sweeping judgement, but for me, this little course was an absolute joy to play, in a lovely setting beside sandy beaches, rocky islets and impressive views across to the islands of Skye, Rhum and Eigg.  As a student in the late 60's I'd spent many a weekend camping in the local area, surely one of the most beautiful parts of the West Highlands.  If you've seen the film "Local Hero" (my favourite film) the many beach scenes were filmed just down the coast from the Traigh course.  I'd also passed Traigh GC many times in more recent years whilst working on a major project to upgrade ferry services to the Small Isles (of Rhum, Eigg, Muck and Canna) that operate out of Mallaig, a major fishing port and harbour a few miles north of Traigh, but had never had the time to play the course.  So, Traigh had been on my golfing bucket list for a very long time. 
So what's so special about this place?  For me, it's just the perfect location for a short course.  Here are some photos that I took during my visit to Traigh on 20 May 2013, a rather dull and cloudy day, with sea mist and clouds unfortunately obscuring much of the views across to Eigg and Rhum. 

For a better idea of the course features and surrounding landscape, see the club website's photo gallery at  www.traighgolf.co.uk/photo-gallery.

The 9 Hole course at Traigh is short, at only 2346 Yards, Par 34, but if you ever get the chance to play here, don't assume that this is an easy course.  Just take a few spare balls and hope you're on form, because this place will seriously test your game.  The 1st is only 130 yards, but is steeply uphill.  You'll only see the top part of the flag and chances are a tricky wind will be blowing.  I'd hit an easy 7 iron through the green and had a nasty downhill lob wedge pitch to a fast running green and got lucky with a 10 foot putt to save par.  The course is built on some hills that have developed out of ancient sand dunes and a long drive is needed on the Par 5 452 Yard 2nd from the top of one old dune to the summit of its neighbour, where the fairway starts.  You can chicken out by going left, down towards the 3rd green, but this just makes the hole hugely long, with even more of a climb up to the green.  I'd just managed to find the fairway into a strong headwind, but the hole dog legs to the right, with gorse guarding the right of the fairway, so a cautious second shot was required.  Even then, my third, a 50 yard pitch, was steeply uphill and totally blind to a small basin green nestling between more gorse bushes.  I was delighted to walk off with another par.  Two holes played, 2 blind shots and not an old ball in my bag!  
That particular oddity stems from 2 weeks' golfing in Majorca, a trip that Polly and I had returned from only a couple of days before my game at Traigh.  There are some excellent courses on Majorca, but in our view the 4 we played were somewhat over-priced.  Pula GC was the best we played, the others being Son Servera, Capdepera and Canyamel.  The link between these courses is that in their own ways each is very difficult, hence the absence of old balls from my golf bag!  Anyway, back to the 3rd at Traigh.  This is a semi-blind downhill 173 Yard Par 3.  You might just see the top of the flag dependent on the pin position.  The key here is to hit your ball well short (130 yards or so) and let the ball run down onto the green - or get stuck in the rough if you're even slightly wayward.  I'd hit and easy 6 iron and was pleased to find my ball had stumbled its way onto the green.  Another par.
The 4th is an uphill 249 Yard Par 4, with gorse on both sides of a fairway that narrows to almost nothing the further you drive from the tee.  I hit a cautious 3 Wood and had yet another total blind shot to  a small wickedly sloping plateau green.  This is a view from some 20 yards closer than my drive.   I missed the green left and had to settle for a bogey, but this is a seriously tricky hole.  Don't even think about going for the green, as par on this one is a real prize.  Traigh then teases you with a shot Par 3 where you can actually see the bottom of the flagstick from the tee.
The 5th is only 125 Yards, but as this photo suggests, it's awkward, with a tidal inlet to carry.  I missed the green to the left, fluffed a pitch and dropped a shot.  The minor road that passes the course runs just behind the green, so don't over-club!

The 6th is a bit like the 4th, with a narrowing fairway bordered by gorse, and an uphill blind second shot.  This hole is only 264 Yards, so is very short for a Par 4, but the key here is finding the fairway and trusting your sense of direction and distance for your blind pitch to the small green.  I risked taking the Driver, hit my drive straight and had only a short pitch, so a par here was very satisfying. 
Traigh then hits you with its Stroke Index 1 Hole, a 446 Yard Par 5.  Although the course is built on ancient dune land, this fairway was pretty peaty, with little run, meaning you only get what you hit through the air.   Just for a change, your second shot will be blind, but there's tons of room.  It's just that the green is small, so chances are you might miss, even if you hit a great second shot.  That's what I did anyway, but I'll always take par on a Stroke Index 1 hole.   I suspect the 8th is actually a more difficult hole.  This 337 Yard Par 4 requires a good long drive but your second will be steeply uphill, over an old dune.  The marker pole is a good line but the green sits on a narrow shelf just over the top of the hill, so the longer your drive the better chance you might have of hitting your second shot high enough to clear the ridge and hold the green.  Again, you need to trust your sense of direction and distance.  Chances are you'll be playing your second sheltered from the prevailing westerly wind and once your ball clears the top of the ridge the wind will come into play.....  I was happy enough with a bogey after just missing the green with my 7 iron second. 
And so to the last, a steeply downhill 170 Yard Par 3, with OOB to the left and the road within range if you over-club, as shown here.  The 1st tee is also well within range so take your time, enjoy the view, savour the moment and this glorious place.  You might also marvel that you've just forked out a meagre £15 for the green fee, a real bargain.  There are many more famous courses in Scotland, but I can't think of many courses that would be more enjoyable.  Traigh is just perfect as it is and I strongly recommend you try to play it, even if only once (and preferably before the midgie season starts, as I did).  Add it to your own golfing bucket list, take some old balls, your camera and take your time to enjoy.  Better still, allow yourself the time to explore the local beaches and coastline and if the weather is really kind, take a day cruise around the Small Isles from Mallaig on Calmac's MV Loch Nevis (outstanding value,at £17.50 for a non-landing all day cruise).

I managed a very dodgy par at the last after over-clubbing (a 3 Wood!).  I'd gone round in 37 gross, net 31.5, well under net par, with 15 putts and no lost balls.  I'd got lucky a few times, so 37 was as good as it could have been.  However, this particular round wasn't about the score, it was about satisfying a long-held ambition.  Traigh is pretty remote as Scottish courses go and you're not likely to pass it by chance, but I'd encourage you to make the effort to play this little gem of a course.

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