On my travels around Scotland so far I've played individual golf courses with between 3 and 36 holes but Port Bannatyne has the distinction of being Scotland's only 13 Hole golf course. Why? I guess there's enough land and the members want to play 18 hole rounds, so they play the first 12 holes, then play the first 5 again, finishing with a hole that is then the 18th. Port Bannatyne GC is one of the featured courses in Gary Sutherland's excellent book, "Golf on the Rocks" a journey around 18 of Scotland's island courses, a book that's on a par with Tom Coyne's "A Course Called Ireland" both of which capture the essence of our own daft experiences in trying to play every course in Scotland. I'd read Gary's book when it came out a couple of years ago, but I'd been wanting to play Port Bannatyne long before then, as I'd heard it was a good test, with great scenery as well as a unique layout, with 13 greens and 18 holes. Regular readers of this blog will by now have guessed correctly that Craig, Stu and I regard Port Bannatyne as being an 18 Hole Course. However, rather than play it as "12 + 5 + 1" the way the members do, I opted to play 2 balls on each of the first 5 holes to save on time and energy. Gary describes Port Bannatyne as "vertigolf" and there are certainly some tough climbs, such as on the 4th and the 7th. Indeed, when a hole such as the 7th is named "Rest and be Thankful" I suspect it's always wise to approach it with caution and respect.
I played at Port Bannatyne on 8 July 2013 after my earlier round at Kyles of Bute GC. It was still a hot day and the empty car park sat in a little hollow bereft of any breeze. I was already sweating freely by the time I got to the 1st tee and one look left told me all I had to know about the physical test that lay ahead. Nothing but steep hills, with flags barely fluttering, the course stretching seemingly endlessly upwards. This parkland come moorland course starts gently enough with a 256 Yard Par 4, played East to West with a challenging side slope, from left to right. A stream runs across the width of the fairway (a feature of most of the early holes) just where a modestly hit drive might end up, to add to the difficulty. I cleared the stream OK and had an easy opening par. From there, it was short climb to the 2nd, another Par 4 that runs parallel to the hill, this time West to East. The 3rd is a right dog leg 316 Yard Par 4 running in the opposite direction. You'll need a good drive to see the green and your second shot will be slightly downhill. This is a side view of the 3rd green, looking down to the clubhouse and in the background, the Cowal peninsula.
From there, the 4th runs steeply uphill and although it's only 177 Yards, I needed my Driver off the tee en route to a satisfying par. The Par 4 5th and 6th Holes run parallel to the hill again, with awkward side slopes to contend with for your second shots. I birdied the 302 Yard 5th after pitching to under a yard after a good drive. I'd played 2 balls on each of the 5 opening holes in order to complete Holes 1-5 and 13-17, but as I passed the 18th Tee en route to the 6th it dawned on me that although Hole 12 finished at almost the lowest part of the course, I would then face a very steep climb back up to the 18th Tee. I'm sorry if this sounds complicated. The point I'm really making is that despite being very short, at only 4563 Yards, Par 68, Port Bannatyne is a physically demanding layout, even if you play 2 balls on each of the first 5 holes (I was the only golfer on the course most of the time).
The aforementioned 7th is a 267 Yard Par 4, steeply uphill, with OOB to the right. Your second shot will probably be blind and with high rough to the left of the green, long is safer. I was happy enough with a dodgy bogey after flirting with the heavy rough. The club had built some shelters on the course to mark its Centenary in 2012 and being the only golfer on the course at the time, I had the luxury of a 10 minute break at the shelter by the 8th Tee, the topmost part of the course, as shown here.
The 8th is a super little hole, 277 Yard slightly down and across hill and a real chance to open your shoulders and go for glory. A long and very straight drive between the trees on both sides of the end of fairway will easily reach the green. Even I was only a few yards short so an easy par there. This is a view from the 9th tee down to the clubhouse with Loch Striven in the distance.
If you ever play here, please try to remember not to turn right after playing the 9th! If you do, you might be tempted to walk downhill to an adjacent tee, but this is actually the 11th. The 10th Tee is slightly uphill and left of the 9th green. The 10th is only 121 Yards, but on a swelteringly hot and humid day that unnecessary climb from the 11th to the 10th Tee was the last thing I needed. My litre bottle of water had long since gone! The 11th is called "The Blin Yin" or the blind one for non-Scots readers and is a good 269 Yard Par 4 with a blind drive, played parallel to the hill. I managed to miss a birdie putt from 4 feet, but an easy enough hole, I thought.
From there, it's a short uphill stroll to the 12th, a 229 Yard steeply downhill Par 4, as shown below. Aim between the bunker to the left of the fairway and the green itself and with luck your ball will roll down the hill. I found the rough to the left of the fairway, but at least I had this good view of the clubhouse and the sea beyond.
I was within a short downhill stroll to the car and more water, but since our challenge involves playing every hole on every course we can find, it was instead a 200 Yard walk steeply uphill to the 18th Tee. I left my bag by the side of the 18th green, taking my 27 Degree Rescue for the tee shot on this 198 Yard Par 3 closing hole. There's another shelter by the side of the 18th Tee, so I'd another opportunity to savour the view.
I bogeyed that last hole, but I was round in 74 gross, net 63, a massive (for me) 5 under net par, with 34 putts. This is a super little course, well worth playing if you ever get the chance. Whether you'd get to play it in such temperatures and humidity is open to question, but I'm sure you would enjoy the course and the views, no matter what the conditions were like. I'd had a great day's golfing and I'd booked to stay overnight in a room above a shore-side pub in nearby Rothesay. I needed that first pint. The others I'd put down to self-indulgence, but when you play golf to my standard, 5 under is always worth celebrating.