Monday, 26 August 2013

Glenburn Golf Course - Course no 614

When I told some of my Edinburgh-based golfing buddies that I would soon be playing a course called Glenburn, just south of the city, none of them had heard of it.  One thought I meant Glencorse, or even Greenburn, a couple of excellent courses that would certainly fit the geographical description and which we've all played many times.  Glenburn is in fact a 9 hole parkland course located half a mile south of the City By-Pass (the A702) between the Straiton and Lothianburn junctions.  However, the course is only briefly visible from that major road and unless you played at nearby Lothianburn GC (and more about that later) or looked east when walking over the Pentland Hills to the south of Edinburgh, you'd probably not notice the course either.

The impressive 2050 Yard Par 32 course at Glenburn was designed, built and is still owned and maintained by Tom, a local man who had previously lived in the south side of Edinburgh. Some years ago, Tom bought a house and around 9 acres of land just outside the city boundary and being a keen golfer, he decided to build a couple of golf practice holes on his land.  This done, Tom realised that it might be possible to fit in some more holes and so began a remarkable project that has led to the creation of a lovely little parkland course, literally in Tom's back garden.  There are 9 tees and 7 greens and in order to fit 9 holes into the site, Tom has created holes that in some cases cross each other, reminding me of the remarkable layout of the Tower of Lethendy course (see Blog entry 339). Indeed, one point on the Glenburn course is crossed by the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th holes, so extreme care would be needed if the course was ever busy. Tom is happy for occasional visitors to play the course by prior arrangement but it's not generally open as a pay as you play course.  Douglas, one of my golfing buddies, had arranged for us to play the course on 25 August 2013, when a small group of former pupils from an Edinburgh public school were playing it. This is me and Douglas after our round.  

Regular readers of this blog will notice my new white Sun Mountain H2No golf bag.  My familiar luminous yellow bag of the same model has been retired after doing sterling service for the past 3 years and literally hundreds of rounds.  I'm not paid to do product endorsements, but if anyone is looking out for a genuinely waterproof and lightweight stand bag, look no further as in my humble opinion the H2No is simply the best.  My old Cleveland Tour Edition 60 Degree wedge has also been traded in for a new Cleveland Rotex 58 Degree wedge, a long-overdue change that's already producing short-game improvements.

Anyway, back to Glenburn, which was in fantastic condition when we played it. Tom has created a fine course, requiring straight hitting off the tee and accuracy around the small greens. Tom was the perfect host, giving us a range of helpful tips on how to play his course, the main one being to avoid being long, as water hazards and/or OOB lurk immediately behind or alongside most of the holes.  The 1st is a 165 Yard Par 3, played over the 6th and 7th fairways to a double green shared with the 3rd Hole.  Hit anything over 170 Yards and your ball will probably finish in the stream behind the green or OOB beyond the stream.  Hit it short and you're flirting with bunkers or clumps of rough.  I managed an easy par after hitting my drive to 15 feet.

The 2nd is a left dog leg 303 Yard Par 4, played to a fairway that also serves the 4th.  Tee shots from the 3rd, 5th and 7th also come into play so take care on these holes in particular. Assuming you've hit a decent drive, you'll be left with a semi-blind slightly uphill pitch to the 2nd green. All of the greens at Glenburn are small and anything even remotely strong to the 2nd will run off the other side, where a water hazard awaits, so be warned.  I hit what I thought was a perfect pitch and ended up with a double bogey. The 3rd is a 275 Yard Par 4 played back towards the 2nd Tee to the green shared with the 1st Hole.  The green is long and narrow when you play the 1st and wide and alarmingly shallow when you play the 3rd, and by now I knew that the stream and OOB awaited anything over-hit. I managed a single-putt bogey (what was I saying about my improved short game?) The 4th is a 270 Yard Par 4, with my new wedge coming to the rescue after a poor drive, helping me to a birdie.

The 5th is the longest hole on the course, at 335 Yards. The tee shot should be played towards the right side of the 1st/3rd green in the distance to set up an easy pitch to the green. I'd gone too far right, finishing in front of the 8th Tee, with a small swamp beyond that. I had 86 Yards to the flag according to my laser range finder and it was 90 Yards to the stream behind the green (with OOB immediately beyond it!) I don't do eagles very often so was delighted to see the ball drop in after a great wedge shot.  From the longest hole to the shortest, the 6th is a 125 Yard Par 3.  Tom hasn't set a Stroke Index for the course, but if and when he does, I suspect that the 6th will be Number 1.  The inverted saucer shaped green sits atop a small hillock and is fronted by a little bunker that tempts you to go long.  Do that, and you run off the back into light rough.  Anything short, right or left suffers the same fate.  I'd hit a pretty good 9 iron just right of the green, but my pitch then ran through (as did the return.  My 4th, another short pitch, finished a foot away, so a double bogey.  Tom told me later that maintaining this hole requires particular care as the green can be almost unplayable unless watered generously during dry spells.  Douglas and I were just glad Tom hadn't cut the greens to their lowest as this hole would have been even more tricky.  This is a view of the 6th, with the 7th green on the foreground and the 1st Tee to the left.

The Lothianburn GC clubhouse can be seen in the far distance to the right of this photo.  I'd been a member of that club between 1980 and 2001 and Polly and our 2 girls had also been members there. Lothianburn opened in 1893. The current layout was designed by the great James Braid and is a hilly parkland/heathland course where we'd all enjoyed our golf over the years.  I still have many friends there and have great memories of the course, the club and older friends now long gone. Sadly, the club has struggled financially in recent years and a continued membership shortage has forced the club into administration.  The outlook is bleak and barring a miracle it looks as though Lothianburn will close by the turn of the year. Some of its holes may survive to form part of expanded facilities at the adjacent New Swanston GC, but this fine old course will be gone.  I'm planning to play the course once more with some golfing buddies, including some who are still members and have few beers afterwards.  I suspect it will be an emotional day.  I might do a blog entry about Lothianburn.  The club's problems are unlikely to be solved by a late flurry of visitors, but for any local readers who have not played it, please give it a go, while you can.  The green fees have been reduced to £12.50, a ridiculously low figure for such a good course (see for details).

The 7th at Glenburn is a 251 Yard Par 4, played towards our cars, as shown below.  There's a little swamp to the right of the fairway, so just hit your drive straight.  Anything too long beyond the green will be off the course.  I had an easy par after a good drive and a 58 Degree Wedge.

The 8th is a good 180 Yard Par 3, with the green shared with the 3rd Hole.  The 9th is Tom's favourite and I can see why.  This hole was formerly part of a swamp and must have been a major task to build.  The hole is named "The Swamp" for obvious reasons as the swamp still lies to the right of the fairway and immediately behind the green.  A small bunker cut into the front of the green adds to the difficulty and at 146 Yards, this Par 3 would probably vie with the 6th as Stroke Index 1.  I hit an easy 6 iron just right of the green and with Tom looking on, I rescued my par after a good chip to under a yard.  

I finished with a gross 35, net 29.5, well under the course par, with a meagre 11 putts. We'd both really enjoyed Tom's course.  It was a real privilege to play it, Tom, so thanks again for letting us on.  Tom intends to continue to develop Glenburn, perhaps as a course where mainly hickory clubs will be used, with limited access to small groups of golfers by prior arrangement. Douglas and I wish him and his lovely little course well for the future.  We hope to play it again sometime.  If that happens, I hope we'll remember something about the hidden subtleties of Tom's remarkable design before tackling the course.  Whether I'd eagle the 5th again is very debatable!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Melville Golf Centre - Practice Course - Course no 613

This is a 4 hole Par 3 practice course attached to the driving range and 9 Hole course at the Melville Golf Centre just south of Edinburgh on the main A7 road.  I'd played the 9 Hole course in February 2010 (see Course 249).  Polly had bought some new clubs so we both went to the Melville driving range on 21 August 2013 so that she could practice with them.

The practice course has 4 Par 3 holes of around 70 yards each, located behind the driving range.  The greens were very poor, with very little grass and being so small, it was difficult to keep the ball on any green and even more difficult to putt.  This is the 2nd hole, played downhill towards the driving range. I managed to score par, par, bogey, bogey thanks to the awful greens.  It's really surprising that the greens on this little course were so awful, since to the left of this picture there's a lovely looking practice putting green. I've no idea why the greens should be so bad.

I've played this little course for the purposes of our golf course challenge but I'll definitely not bother to play it again.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Another Private Course - Course no 612

There are a considerable number of private sporting estates with high-end shooting and fishing on offer to discerning clients.  One of these, in the Scottish Highlands, also has a short golf course.  We'd managed to secure the permission of the landowner to play this little course, so Craig, Stu and I duly turned up on 6 August 2013.  We had good directions to turn off a minor road after an old General Wade bridge (look him up on Wikipedia) and follow the rough 4 mile track (4 x 4's advised). This estate is at the end of a private road and we agreed not to mention the name of the estate or its exact location, but trust me, only really dedicated course baggers would want to play here.  The course had clearly seen better days some time ago and from what we gathered, isn't played much now, if at all.  This is me by the 1st tee, with the 6th green and Craig's car in the background.

There were no scorecards for this course and although it originally had 9 holes, 3 of which lay on the other side of a river (with some stepping stones to avoid a soaking), those holes appeared to have been abandoned.  Indeed, the course was in pretty rough condition, reminding us of Papa Westray and a few others.  Flagsticks numbered 1-6 were wedged into overgrown holes, sometimes with stones and the very helpful and friendly Head Gamekeeper tried unsuccessfully to trace where the greens (and flagsticks) might have been.  So, everyone agreed that the course now had only 6 holes.

I'd packed my laser range finder, and a rather incongruous piece of equipment it appeared, given our remote location 4 miles up a remote Highland glen, but this is the course we played, and the scores I managed -

Hole       Yardage   Par   Score         Putts

1                  155        3          4               1
2                  502        5          5               1
3                    59        3          3               2
4                  116        3          4               2
5                  334        4          5               1
6                  332        4          5               2
Totals        1653      22        26              9

With the greens so overgrown, we gave ourselves putts within a yard - a necessity, since the flagsticks were in some cases solidly wedged in place by stones, presumably to prevent the sheep from eating the flags, were any of the pins to be dislodged.  These are some views of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th holes to illustrate the roughness of the course.  We did find the 5th, eventually, up the hill from the valley floor where the course is located.

We've played in all sorts of odd places on our tour of Scottish golf courses.  This was another at the rough end of the spectrum, so a great big thanks again to the landowner for allowing us access and to the estate employees we met on the day for their help.

Paul Lawrie Golf Centre - Course no 611

The Paul Lawrie Golf Centre used to be known as the Aspire Golf Centre and is on the South side of the River Dee from the Deeside GC, where we'd played earlier in the week.  The Paul Lawrie Foundation does great work to encourage kids to take up the sport and I played the excellent 9 Hole Par 3 course here on 3 August 2013 at the end of our week-long excursion to Aberdeenshire.  It had a been a long week.  This was my 12th course in 8 days and on top of recent caddying, my body needed a rest.  Not bringing a trolley on the trip had been a mistake. Thankfully, this is a very short course at only 1217 Yards, Par 27 off the Yellow Tees.  The course is basically parkland but water comes into play on 7 of the 9 holes, so be wayward at your peril and pack some spare balls, you'll maybe need them.  

Take your time, and hit everything straight and you'll be fine. For example, this is the 140 yard 3rd.  A pond to the left of the hole also cuts in front of the left side of the green.  With the pin tucked away to the left side of the green, the safest option was to aim at the right of the green. My 8 iron came up just short, but a good chip and short single putt save the par.  I bogeyed the 4th, a 148 Yard hole with more water, on the right this time, after missing the green again.  Next, the longest hole on the course at 183 Yards, with more water.  I hit a 20 degree Rescue deadly straight to within 20 feet to set up another par - a fine strike.  My swing was holding up nicely, and only a few holes to go.   

This is the 7th and at 98 yards, the shortest hole on the course.  The green is very shallow and slopes from left to right towards a small C-shaped pond that extends behind the green.  Going straight for the pin would be highly ambitious, as the green is only 15 feet or so deep and the slope down to the water looked pretty slick.  The wise choice was a conservative play to the left side of the green and a couple of putts from there and I was pretty chuffed to do just that.

The 8th is 139 Yards with yet more water up the right of the hole.  I'd missed the green to the right, but there's a collar of rough there, so my ball stopped short of going into the water. Another good chip and I'd saved another par.

This is the last, a 159 Yard hole, played into a freshening wind.  It seemed sensible at the time to go down the grip of my 3 Wood and play a low punch, under the wind.  My Titleist Velocity  ball was still having a charmed life, having negotiated its way around the whole of the Trump Course the day before and avoided the many water hazards so far on this tricky little course.  as the second photo below shows, I went long and left, avoiding the water yet again. An easy chip from there with my Cleveland wedge and a single putt from 3 feet and I'd gone round in 28 gross, 1 over par, with 13 putts.  This is a really good Par 3 course, in great condition and a real test of accuracy and your short game in general.  I strongly recommend you give it a try.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Trump International Golf Links Scotland - Course no 610

The new Trump International Golf Links Course was clearly the centre piece of our Aberdeenshire trip. Polly and I played it on 2 August 2013, having read and seen most of the varying media coverage about Mr Trump's Scottish development. Could it really be the greatest golf course anywhere in the World? - we'd play it and try to form our own views. We'd booked to play the Trump as a 2-ball, but we'd been paired up to play with a couple of outstandingly entertaining and genial American guys, one of whom was husband to Stacy Lewis's coach. Adam and Chris had already played at Carnoustie and other Scottish links courses in recent days and were over to watch Stacy play in (and subsequently win!) the Ladies Open Championship being played over the Old Course in St Andrews.

Parts of the course, including all of the greens, were being micro-tined and sanded so Polly and I were able to book our tee time for £125 each, a welcome £70 discount on the normal price. The course was still in great shape, even if the fairways and greens were slower than might be expected of a true links course.  The new Trump Course is certainly visually outstanding and presents an exceeding difficult challenge, even from the White Tees, from where the course plays to 6329 Yards, Par 72.  This is certainly the best course in Aberdeenshire, well above the likes of Murcar and Royal Aberdeen, and amongst the very best that Scotland has to offer but the greatest course on the entire planet?  I'm not 100% qualified to make such a judgement, but I'd dearly love to meet whoever is qualified to make such a mind-bogglingly sweeping statement. Whoever they are, have they really traveled the length and breadth of the planet and assessed every course?  If so, how long did that take and how many courses were assessed under which criteria?  

This new course is built on the coastline amongst naturally occurring sand dunes ("The Great Dunes of Scotland" apparently), and has clearly been designed and built to become a genuine links course of the highest quality.  It certainly looks the part superficially but the whole place was just a bit over-manicured for my taste.  I'm not an expert on grass types but the grass used for the fairways appeared to be too broad-leafed and densely matted than the typical fescues that are to be found on our links courses, producing fast-running fairways in the recently dry conditions. Indeed, our new American friends commented that there was surprisingly little run on the fairways and that the vivid green, dense and lush fairway grass looked more like parkland types they'd find back home, rather than the tightly cropped and fast-running golden brown turf that they'd played on the day before at Carnoustie. Maybe the ongoing course maintenance work had helped to produce such playing conditions, but when we'd finished playing one of the golf operations team advised us that over-seeding of the fairways with finer grasses was still planned and that in time the pace of the fairways would be greatly increased as the course matured fully. Maybe so, but in the meantime, the course is "work in progress" and some way short of what I'd expect a true links course to look and play like at this time of year after the recent dry and hot weather of recent weeks. This is clearly one of the very best courses that I've played in Scotland, but it's not yet fully mature, so who knows what it may become.  

We played here in bright sunshine with just enough wind to make it a real challenge for all of us.  The scoring was pretty poor all round, which I'd put down in part to the surprisingly slow fairways and greens (as affected by the course maintenance work I've mentioned) and some poor play generally.  Truth be told, the course beat us all quite convincingly, even if Polly and I took a couple of £'s off our new friends in a 4-ball better ball Stableford match. Find a bunker, go offline into the rough, miss a shot or misread a putt and this course will seriously embarrass far better players than me.  Adam, Chris and I opted for the White tees, but we could have chosen  any of 6 options, from the Red up to the Black.  And if you ever play here, have a look at the 18th Hole from the Black Tee, as shown here. " Awesome!" as Adam said succinctly. A mere 651 Yards into the wind from a severely elevated tee, with the North Sea to your left and Scotland to your right. The fairway starts around 40 yards beyond where my best drive would land on a calm day.  We played the 18th off the White Tee, a mere 586 Yards into a fresh southerly 2-club wind, so the hole was playing more like 610 Yards.

When I play new courses it's usually relatively easy to identify the signature hole or pick a personal favourite.  Not so here.  I suspect that the 18th might be the "official" signature hole that summarises perfectly what this course is all about.  However, there's not a weak hole on the entire course and as we made our way over, around or through rows of massive dunes almost every new hole prompted "That's just awesome" or similar comments from one or other of us.  Few of the other holes are visible from the one you're playing, so most stand on their own, adding to the theatre of this wonderful place.  We certainly stood on the 3rd tee for a while, as shown below, admiring the sea view and wondering just how we could play this 147 Yard Par 3.  The wind was coming at us from the right side, but the plateau green looked pretty small and what you don't see is that a river runs behind the green as a barrier between the green and the beach.  I'd hit a 27 Degree Rescue through the green onto a narrow shelf just short of the river, but a good pitch from there gave me an easy tap in for my first (or more accurately, my only!) par.

Surely that was the signature hole, until we climbed up to the 4th Tee.  Off the Black Tee, this is a 563 Yard monster of a Par 5, slightly uphill, with a river all the way up the right side of the narrow fairway, and 11 bunkers to avoid in the last 110 Yards, as shown below.  The Stroke Index 1 Hole. We were playing from the 460 Yard White Tee, but after coming to grief in one of the bunkers, my first 8 (there would be 3 more!) was on the card.

The 6th was another great Par 3, as shown here, with Polly at her Red Tee.  This played to 165 Yards off the White Tee and looked hugely difficult, but there's far more room than you might expect behind the dune on the left of the hole.  My trouble was hitting it far enough to clear the dune in the first place.  Double bogey, but at least I hadn't lost a ball. Meanwhile, Chris I'm afraid was still ensuring that Titleist had another bumper sales year.  I got to the turn in 51 strokes.  Disappointing, but none of us was scoring well and Scotland V USA Stableford match was even, with all to play for on the Back 9.

This is the 10th, another great hole.  This is a 495 Yard uphill par 5, stretching to 573 off the Black Tee.  With the wind directly behind us, we were heading roughly North.  I'd hit a good drive up the middle, but this is a view from the lateral water hazard to the right of the fairway, where Chris had lost another ball. Your second shot has to avoid 5 fairway bunkers and unless you're a big hitter, your third shot will be blind, with the green tucked to the left behind a large sand dune.  I was on the 3 but left my first putt quite short (the green had been tined and heavily sanded) and I had to settle for a bogey after 3-putting.

This is the 13th, a West-East running 178 Yard Par 3, played slightly uphill.  The wind by then was whipping across this hole from the South, adding to our difficulties.  I hit a good drive just short of the green, but Polly hit a great drive to within 15 feet for an easy par.  We were easing ahead of our USA opponents!

This is the 14th, as seen from the Gold Tee.  This looked so inviting that Adam Chris and I played from here, making this Par 4 a daunting 410 Yarder (Polly's tee was 155 Yards nearer!) I'd hit a great drive and had only a 7 iron to the green, which I miss-hit, so another bogey.

This is the 16th, a 157 Yard Par 3, playing uphill to nearer 180 Yards taking the headwind into account.  I found one of the 7 bunkers protecting this green, but I was right up against the rivetted face and a good 6 feet below the green.  Double bogey from there was actually not bad!

We couldn't resist climbing up to the Black Tee on the 18th and if you ever get the chance to play here, you'll probably be drawn to so the same!  The 360 Degree view from there is just stunning, almost on a par to the 7th tee on Gullane No 1, still my favourite view of golf in Scotland.

Polly and I managed to scrape a narrow win against Adam and Chris - go Scotland!  Polly also beat me in our match, taking the running score to 6-2.    My own score here was a lamentable 105, net 94 with 34 putts, wildly adrift from what I'd been hoping for. And the 18th? A tremendous hole but way too long for me to reach in 3 blows.  I took an 8, a greenside sh--- with a wedge being the final ignomony.  I'd have been happy with a 7! We'd all loved the course - a truly great experience. I'd love to play the course again in a few years once it has fully matured. In the meantime, I'm really glad that I've played it. You'll need to make your own mind up about where this course stands in comparison with the World's greatest courses, but it's certainly well worth playing, even at £195 a head.

Aboyne Golf Centre - Pussycat and KittyCat Courses - Courses 608 and 609

I played these 2 short 9 Hole parkland courses concurrently on 1 August 2013 after my round over the Centre's Tiger Course.  The Pussycat Course is an 1800 Yard Par 31 and the Kittycat is a 1320 Yard Par 28.  Generally, both of these courses are set out over the same footprint as the longer Tiger Course and are intended to cater for casual play and in particular, occasional higher handicap golfers and beginners.  Accordingly, these courses are less demanding but cannot be played when the Tiger Course is open for play.  However, if the courses are otherwise empty, it's possible to play the Pussycat and Kittycat at the same time, if you know the layouts that is and don't find it too confusing.

The 1st holes on both the Pussycat and Kittycat are basically shorter versions of the 1st Hole on the Tiger.  However, the 125 Yard Par 3 2nd on Kittycat is played from the 9th tee on Tiger to the 8th Green on Tiger, as shown here.  This requires an accurate tee shot as you're playing side on to a very narrow inverted saucer green with deep bunkers on either side.  I hit a really good 8 iron to the green and had an easy enough par, but this is a really tricky hole, with no obvious bale out for beginners. From there, both courses follow the 2nd Hole on Tiger uphill, then take some different routing before turning downhill towards the Tiger 5th and 6th Holes.  I managed a Birdie 2 on the 5th on Pussycat - then again, it was only a 110 Yard hole, so no great challenge.

Perhaps the best hole on either of these shorter courses is the 8th on Pussycat, which goes from the 6th Tiger Course Tee to the 8th Tiger Course Green, as shown here.  This requires absolute accuracy to find and hold a very shallow inverted saucer green and it 155 Yards, this is a seriously difficult hole. Bearing in mind I was playing these courses in what had fast become torrential rain, I was really delighted to hold the green with my 23 Degree Rescue and make a great par. From there, the last Pussycat hole is the same as the 9th on Tiger, but the 9th on Kittycat is played from close to the 8th Green on Tiger to the 9th Green on Tiger. If all of this sounds confusing, I should perhaps stress that the Pussycat and Kittycat Courses were really not designed to be played concurrently.  I just did it that way because no-one else was daft enough to be playing golf that morning.  I'd fiddled my way around 3 new courses in a little over 2 hours and had got seriously wet in the process and I was glad to have my 4 x 4 to cover flooded roads on the way back to our holiday cottage and a well deserved beer (even if it was just barely lunchtime!)

Overall, I was impressed by the 3 courses at Aboyne Loch.  The Tiger is difficult and physically demanding, so a net 32.5 was really good and as the conditions worsened my scores of 34 gross with 17 putts on each of the Pussycat and Kittycat courses were pretty good too.  The Lodge on the Loch does golf breaks and looked to be an excellent out of town base for a golf break.  I'd certainly recommend you give any or all of these little courses a try.

Aboyne Loch Golf Centre - Tiger Course - Course no 607

The Aboyne Loch Golf Centre forms a central part of the Lodge on the Loch, an up market holiday, spa and golf complex on Aboyne Loch, just outside the village of Aboyne in Royal Deeside.  The Centre has three 9 hole parkland courses namely (in descending order of length and difficulty) the Tiger, the Pussycat and the Kittycat and a driving range.  Although the courses are primarily open to residents at the Lodge, I'd made arrangements to play all three courses early on the morning of 1 August 2013.  The driving range fits into the 7th and 8th fairways on the Tiger Course and as such, it's not possible to play the course when the range is open and vice versa.   I would be playing the Tiger Course before any residents were likely to want access to the range and time and energy permitting, play the other two courses concurrently, since most of the Kittycat holes fit inside the Pussycat holes, sharing mostly the same greens.

Anyway, as the name suggests, the Tiger is a seriously tricky golf course, despite being only 2612 Yards Par 34 from the White Medal tees that I used.  1 August had started overcast and the weather forecast for later in the morning was pretty grim, so with the course empty, apart from the Greenkeeper cutting each of the greens ahead of me, a quick first round of the day was my target.  The Tiger is perhaps best described as a hilly parkland course with small greens and after rain in recent days, slow fairways, meaning the course was playing its full length.  

The 1st is a gentle starter, being a downhill 256 Yard Par 4.  Easy drive to a wide fairway, short pitch to the small green and a couple of true running putts.  That was the easy bit over and done with!  The 2nd is an altogether tougher proposition, being an uphill ever steepening 340 Yard Par 4 that played to something like 390 Yards to a tiny green.  The fairway narrows considerably towards the green, which is perched well above you.  Even the drive is demanding, as some marshy ground immediately in front of the tee awaits anything miss-hit.  This is a view from the 2nd Tee.  A wide fairway, but clear the swamp first!  I'd hit a good drive and an equally good 20 Degree Rescue, leaving just a short pitch to 4 feet for a dodgy par.

From there, it's a steep climb up to the 3rd Tee.  Yes, it really is up that improbably steep path! The 3rd is only 194 Yards, but plays to around 240 as it climbs further up the hill.  I hit Driver, wedge and another short putt for a level par start.  I was really high now but much of the views, which the Greenkeeper assured me were simply stunning on a clear day, were shrouded in mist.  Thankfully, the 4th Tee is the highest point on the course.  The 4th is a steeply downhill 120 Yard Par 3 that's little more than a flick with a wedge and a long wait for the ball to find its way down, down to the green far below.  The 5th is another downhill hole, this time a 490 Yard Par 5 which for me anyway, was a clear 3 shot hole, tee to green.  The green itself lies to the left of the fairway, over an old wall/stream.  I thinned my third shot to the green, costing me a bogey. The 6th is a 137 Yard Par 3, named after the ancient graveyard lying immediately behind the tee.  The hole itself is tricky and anything short will quickly drown in the pond that fronts the green.  I'd a good par there with my (still) new ball.

At this low-lying part of the course intuition told me that the next hole would be uphill.  Sure enough, the 485 Yard Par 5 7th is a real lung-buster.  I was happy enough to reach the green in 4 lusty blows and 2 putt for a bogey.  I was also happy that I'd not chosen to play with a Yellow ball to offset the gloomy light and the ever-increasing threat of rain, since driving range extends over the 7th and 8th fairways.  Finding a Yellow ball amongst hundreds of Yellow range balls would have been challenging!  This is a view from the 7th Tee.  Just hit your ball over the swamp and the driving range shelter and start climbing.

The 8th green on the Tiger Course is also the target on the 2nd on the Kittycat and the 8th on the Pussycat and is by far the most difficult green on all three courses.  
This inverted saucer of a green is long and narrow, with bunkers front and back at the narrowest point, as shown above.  A pin position between the 2 bunkers, effectively in the very middle of the green, would be hugely difficult, so I was glad that the pin position was in a reasonably accessible spot when played from each hole on the different courses.  The 8th on Tiger is downhill 441 Yard Par 4, playing to nearer 460 in the heavy conditions.  A bogey was a good result and I needed a single putt!

This is the 9th on Tiger, a 145 Yard Par 3, played towards the Lodge over part of the Loch and a road, with the car park some 30 Yards behind the green.  I'd really not noticed that my car was parked in line with the pin, so with clear obstacles in front and the rainfall starting to get serious, I thought that my 27 Degree Rescue might be a prudent choice. The Greenkeeper had just finished cutting the green and was parked just off the back of the green.  I'm just glad that the ground conditions were on the heavy side, since my tee shot was at least 15 Yards too long.  On  a drier day, I'd have ended up in the car park. Still, a chip to a foot with my new Cleveland Wedge rescued an unlikely par.  I was round in 38, only 4 over par, with 14 putts, so not bad.

With the rain by then fairly battering down, it was time to leave some clubs behind in the car and lighten the golf bag as much as possible before tackling the Pussycat and Kittycat Courses concurrently, to save time, energy and minimise the soaking. 

Torphins GC - Course no 606

As regular readers of this blog will know, our challenge to play every course in Scotland also means that we need to play every hole that a course offers.  Where a course offers alternative tees for even one hole, we also play such alternative holes, effectively turning a 9 hole course with 10 or more tees into an 18 hole course.  In such circumstances, we also play 2 balls at the same time rather than go round a course twice in order to play one or more alternative holes. This might sound complicated, but when energy, time and in some cases daylight is limited, it's a good way of ensuring that we play every possible course configuration in order to ensure that by the time we finish our challenge, we've played every hole on every course.

During the planning of the Aberdeenshire trip I noticed that the Torphins GC website describes its course as follows "Our 9 hole course is a good test of golf but enjoyable par 64 with stunning views of the Deeside scenery around Torphins from the highest tees.  A unique course with 13 different tees playing to 10 different greens."  The website goes to say that "It is officially a 9 hole course but to increase your enjoyment there are now 13 different tees playing to 10 different greens.  You have to play it yourself to make the most of the course."  I was having some difficulty working out how a course with 10 greens and 13 tees could possibly still be "officially a 9 hole course" so I was really looking forward to playing here.  The planned round on 28 July 2013 was aborted due to flooding and torrential rain, but there was an opportunity on the afternoon of 31 July 2013.  Polly took one look at this hilly little course and opted out, preferring her latest book, leaving me to wrestle with the conundrum of whether Torphins is a genuine 9, 10, 13 or 18 hole course.

The first clues lie in the scorecard, which lists a Front 9 measuring 2186 Yards and a Back 9 of 2186 Yards, from the Yellow Tees, making a 4452 Yard Par 64 course.  Four of the Front 9 holes measure differently on the Back 9, yet there are only 9 hole names.  For example, the 3rd hole shares the same tee with the 12th, but as the sign below indicates, there are 2 completely separate greens (these holes measuring 289 and 330 Yards respectively).

Holes 4 and 13 are played to the same green from completely different tees, giving holes of 208 and 237 Yards.  Holes 5 and 14 are played to the same green from almost adjacent tees, producing holes of 106 and 115 Yards.  Lastly, Holes 7 and 16 are played to the same green from tees only a yard apart, producing holes of 305 and 306 Yards.  A good map on the back of the scorecard helped, but with no one else on the course to ask directions from, course navigation was far from straightforward.  There was no flag on the 12th green and it was only after I'd completed my round that I read a notice saying that the 12th was temporarily out of play (for some unspecified reason) so my apologies to the club for playing that hole during my round. The Torphins scorecard clearly lists 18 holes played to 10 different greens from 13 different tees and when I played the course, I found 18 different tee markers, numbered 1-18. So, under the challenge rules that Craig, Stu and I have set ourselves, Torphins becomes an 18 hole golf course.

Leaving all of that confusion aside, the course is actually good fun to play and was in really good condition.  The 1st/10th is an uphill 207 Yard Par 3, rising ever more steeply as you approach the green.  I missed the green both times (2 balls in play to save time and energy) with my 3 Wood, so bogeys for Holes 1 and 10.  The 2nd/11th is a steeply downhill 230 Yard Par 4 and a first chance to really enjoy the surrounding landscape.  The course really is set in great countryside and with no-one else on the course apart from a mother and son practicing around what I later found to be the 8th/17th green, I had the course to myself.

The 3rd/12th tee is where the fun/confusion starts, as suggested by the sign shown above.  The single fairway splits in a Y shape and both the 3rd and 12th holes are steeply uphill.  Maybe its as well the course was otherwise quiet, since it took me a while to find the 4th and 13th tees and confirm that I was indeed playing to the correct single green. Holes 5 and 14 and the remaining holes were easier to find.  Having said that, Holes 6 and 15 were genuinely tricky to play and fully deserved their Stroke Index 1 and 2 ratings.  The tee shots are steeply uphill and need to carry over a small dyke, before the hole turns 90 degrees left for a steeply downhill and blind second shot to a small green.  Both holes are 370 Yards Par 4 and I needed a couple of decent Drivers to get past the marker pole, leaving short irons to the green.

I thought the best holes at Torphins were 9 and 18, played from an elevated tee, steeply downhill.  These holes are only 276 Yards from the Yellow Tee, but a more meaty 359 Yards from the Medal Tee higher up the hill.   Avoid the OOB to the left of the fairway and these holes are quite easy, given the width of the single fairway and the length of the hole, but the scenery is great and you know your tackling your final descent.

Torphins was a really fun course to play once I'd overcome my initial confusion about the layout. I was glad the course was quiet, enabling me to play a couple of balls concurrently.  Had it been busier, I would have had to go round it twice.  I recommend you give it a try, either as a 9 or an 18 hole course (or a 10 or 13?).

Newmachar GC - Hawkshill Course - Course no 605

We'd originally planned to play this course on 28 July 2013 but like all others in the area that day, it was closed due to flooding and torrential rain. Thankfully, we were able to reschedule our visit to Newmachar, so the revised plan was that we'd play their Hawkshill Course on the morning of 31 July 2013 and do their Swailend Course in the afternoon.  31 July was another sunny and warm day but nowhere near as humid as when we played at nearby Deeside GC 2 days earlier.  Newmachar GC is an impressive set up, with 2 excellent looking 18 hole heathland/parkland courses, a driving range, practice facilities and a great clubhouse overlooking the course.  We were really grateful that the club could accommodate us that day, as there was a men's medal competition over the Hawkshill Course.  The pace of play was pretty slow at times, but we were mindful that the guys around us were playing for their handicaps.  We had time to reflect on the course architect's work (the renowned Dave Thomas) and it was a real pleasure to take our time, admiring what had been done to create this excellent course.

Hawkshill is a championship-standard course measuring 6242 Yards Par 72 from the Yellow tees and is a stiff test from there (and it looked even more difficult off the back tees, judging by the efforts of the golfers around us).  The 1st Hole is named "Charlie Keith" in honour of a local community policeman who, frustrated by the pressures on Aberdeen's public courses and the waiting lists for membership of local private clubs, had the vision to build a new course in the Newmachar area (a village a few miles inland from Aberdeen).  

This wasn't a billionaire's dream, it was a community's desire to have its own course, so the now impressive Newmachar GC started from very humble beginnings.  The first moves were made in 1979 and by 1982 a site had been identified at Hawkshill, a local farm.  The local authority agreed to purchase and lease the land back to the fledgling club and in 1986 local volunteers started work to clear trees and define fairways, working to Dave Thomas's design and supervision.  Much of the site was heathland, bog and thick stands of silver birch and Scots pine, so I can only imagine the physical and financial difficulties that had to be overcome to create the course that we can all enjoy today.  The course was finally fully opened in 1990, with former boggy areas retained as ponds and streams and mature birch and pine trees helping to define the fairways.  Peter Alliss has commented "The Hawkshill Course at Newmachar is destined to become on of the top five inland courses in Britain."  Time will tell but for me, parts of Hawkshill reminded me of the outstanding courses at Blairgowrie GC - and its Rosemount Course is one of my all time favourite courses.

Hawkshill starts with a 370 Yard Par 4.  A couple of large ponds near the tee shouldn't trouble you and the opening drive is easy enough.  However, your second shot will have to clear an 80 yard wide pond, as shown here. I'd managed to just miss the wide fairway and had about 160 Yards to the middle of the green, but my lie wasn't the best.  An easy layup followed by a wedge to the green seemed more sensible, but the last 20 yards of the fairway slopes steeply down towards the pond and my careful layup trickled into the water.  A double bogey followed, but what a great opening hole.  It's 400 Yards from the Medal tee, so this hole must have been a real tester for the members playing ahead and behind us.  The next hole is a sweeping dog leg right 500 Yard Par 5, tree-lined all the way.  I'd only played 2 holes and was already telling Polly what a great course this was.

The 3rd hole is a short Par 4 offering some relief, if you can hit your drive laser straight, avoid the trees either side and hold your shot to the fast running green, avoiding a huge bunker protecting the front of the green.  I had a comfortable par there, but next was the Stroke Index 1 hole, followed by a succession of excellent holes.  Water comes into play again on the 9th, a 141 Yard Par 3 played from a slightly elevated tee, as shown here.  I played an 8 iron to the back left of the green and had an easy par from there, but the tee shot wasn't made any easier by watching the 4 members in front lose balls in the pond and the trees to the far left of the green.  I was out in 45 with 3 pars on the card and some loose shots in well over 2 hours, but I wasn't caring.  The course was simply stunning and we had another 9 to savour.

I was glad we weren't playing off the Medal tees, as the 10th looked to be hugely difficult from there.  The Medal yardage is 356, starting from immediately below the clubhouse windows, with local members clearly speculating on the evidence of practice swings whether particular tee shots would finish in the pond that runs the whole length of the hole and between the end of the fairway and the green itself.  The 10th is only 297 Yards from the Yellow tee, and the fairway ran out at about 205 Yards from there.  I opted for an easy 3 Wood, narrowly missed a fairway bunker and had 85 Yards to the pin, as shown here.  However, with the pin so close to the front of the green, I overhit my wedge into rough at the back of the green, costing me a bogey.  For me, this was the best hole on the course.

I also liked this, the 13th, an awkward 384 Yard Par 4, aptly named "Purgatory."  The drive is easy enough if you're laser accurate or short of the pond that starts 200 Yards out from the tee, running along the right side of the fairway all the way to the green.  I was just short of the pond but from there, the fairway really narrows, with trees to the left and water to the right.  I stumbled to a double bogey after finding a greenside bunker. The second half of the fairway also slopes down to the pond, so a couple of really accurate shots are essential if you're to reach the green in 2 shots.  Another really strong hole!

Hawkshill then continues with a succession of testing holes, the most difficult being the 17th. Indeed, I think this rather than the 4th is the most difficult hole on the course.  The 17th is a slightly downhill 419 Yard Par 4.  I'd just missed the fairway to the left and had a decent lie in light rough, but I was still around 200 Yards out from the green.  In such circumstances I'd normally take a 3 Wood, but there's another large pond in front of the green and a stone-surfaced path to contend with, as shown here.  My only real option was to lay up, but I didn't do that too well and was left with an 8 iron 3rd shot over the pond.  I cleared the water OK, but finished in more rough behind the green on my way to another double bogey.

The last hole is a slightly uphill 351 Yard Par 4.  the left side of the fairway is best, avoiding a large fairway bunker and giving you a clearer line into the green.  Go right off the tee and you risk going into the bunker, or worse still drifting close to the OOB that runs all the way the right of the hole.  I went close to the OOB and had a blind uphill shot over a hillock to the green.  A bogey from there was the best I could manage after getting out of position off the tee. I was home in a poor 46 for a 91 stroke total, net 80, a massive 8 strokes above net par, with 33 putts.  Not good scoring by any means but I'd just beaten Polly narrowly, to take the running score to 6-1.  Polly had tried her heart out but Hawkshill was a really tough test for her from the Red tees.  Indeed, it's a tough test from any of the tees!

Hawkshill should really be a "must play" if you're in the area.  

We'd gone round in over 4 hours and were still pretty fresh.  Although the Swailend Course is reportedly slightly shorter and less demanding than the Hawkshill, we decided to play Swailend another day.  I've still a few other courses to play in the Aberdeen area anyway and that decision meant I could tackle the intriguing Torphins GC course instead.


Sunday, 4 August 2013

Kintore GC - Course no 604

It hadn't taken me long to play the short Kippie Lodge course, so with heavy showers on the weather forecast for later in the day, we headed off to Kintore GC's 18 Hole heathland course on a hilly site overlooking the River Don, around 13 miles inland from Aberdeen.  The club was founded in 1911 as a 9 hole course but was extended to 18 in 1991 by the addition of new holes to the north of the original layout.  This is me taking my stance on the 5th, the second of the new holes, and the Stroke Index 1 hole, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  The course starts with a 208 Yard Par 3, slightly uphill.  Next, an easy drive to the corner of the dog leg 2nd, a 453 Yard Par 5.  However, this hole then goes very steeply uphill, so take your time, savour the views and don't get too out of breath since the 3rd is equally challenging.  This hole is only 397 Yards, but your tee shot will be blind and there's a nasty little bunker to the left of the green that you won't see from the fairway.  I'd an awful lie in said bunker, leading to an equally awful quadruple bogey.

Having started bogey, par, quadruple bogey, I'd been hoping for some relief, not a long Par 5 with the ominous name of "Lang Stracht" i.e. "long straight" as the next hole.  I managed a par there, stemming the flow of my remaining handicap strokes.  The 6th is a great hole, downhill at last, but the fairway slopes to the right, bringing a solitary tree into play, as shown above.  I was almost stymied by the tree and needed an outstanding shot to find the front of the green.  I took 3 more from there, but the outcome could have been much worse.   The newer holes at Kintore are all really good and I particularly liked this, the 7th, a 267 Yard Par 4.  A stream cuts across the fairway, making the tee shot tricky, before it turns to run along the left side of the green.  I only had a short pitch as my second and opted, foolishly, to see how far I could hit my new Cleveland wedge.  I got the shot hole high, but in the stream!  Note the gathering clouds, a portent of coming rain.  It was beginning to look like the weather forecast would be 100% correct.

Sure enough, light rain started as we played the 13th (the 12th being the last of the newer holes). The views from atop the course are outstanding and we could see that some miles away the rain looked pretty torrential.  We'd read comments about Kintore suggesting that the course was unbalanced, with the front 9 being far longer than the back 9.  There's certainly a 500 yard difference between these sections, but I really liked the stretch from 12-18.  These holes are generally short, but elevation changes, blind shots and uneven lies add to the interest, whilst giving an opportunity to recover strokes lost on the difficult earlier holes.  For example, this is the 15th, a steeply downhill 284 Yard Par 4.  The drive is blind but this hole will be drivable by bigger (and very straight) hitters.  I got a par the conventional way.  Polly really didn't take to the 16th, a steeply uphill 348 Yard Par 4.  The drive is blind, played over a hillock in the middle of the fairway.  Polly had a really strong drive but still couldn't clear the hillock.  Dynamite or a bulldozer was mentioned and whilst this hole is quirky to put it mildly, it certainly adds character to the course.

This is the 18th, another steeply downhill short Par 4, at only 305 Yards.  The worst of the rain was still  a couple of miles away as we teed off, so we got lucky.  I finished with another par for 39 on the back 9, but a few mistakes earlier in the round meant I'd a total of 86, net 75, for a net 5 over par score, with 28 putts.  

We both really liked Kintore GC.  It's only a little village club, but it looks to have come a long way since its early years.  The Kintore course is great fun to play and chances are you'll not notice the hills, given the quality of the course itself.  I strongly recommend you give it a try.

Kippie Lodge Golf Course - Course no 603

This is a private course on the outskirts of Aberdeen within the grounds of the Kippie Lodge Sports and Country Club, owned and operated by the Aberdeen Petroleum Club.  A big thanks go to the club for allowing me to play here, as the course is not normally open to non-members. The golf course is moderately hilly and the layout is good, without being severely challenging.  I played here on the morning of 30 July 2013.  The course was in generally good condition, but the holes hadn't been changed for a while and grass growing on the sides of some of the holes, making putting quite difficult.  Polly didn't play the course but just walked it, keeping my score.  This is Polly, walking up the short 117 Yard Par 3 2nd hole on another sunny and warm day - though that would change!

The Kippie Lodge course is very short, at only 1525 Yards Par 28 (8 Par 3's and a Par 4 at the 1st), but the greens are tiny and putting was tricky.  I wasn't playing particularly well, as my 34 score with 16 putts would suggest.  The best hole is probably the 214 Yard Par 3 6th, played slightly downhill, as shown here. Since this is a private club, I don't imagine that I'd get to play it again, but I'm grateful to have had the opportunity.

Deeside GC - Blairs Course - Course no 602

Polly decided not to play the Blairs course, a wise choice given the continuing sauna conditions on 29 July 2013.  The Blairs is basically a miniature version of the Haughton Course and at a modest 2515 Yards Par 34 is an easier test.  This is the 1st, a downhill 211 Yard Par 3 played from an elevated tee.  I missed the green to the right, found some rough and took an opening bogey.  I'd started immediately behind a young junior, but either the weather was taking its toll or I'm getting slow in my dotage, as he was quickly a couple of holes ahead of me.  Anyway, I was happy enough dawdling along.  Like the Haughton, Blairs was in great condition.  The greens were smaller and less complex but I was tired and the Blairs was challenge enough.

As with the Haughton, the last hole here is also the best.  The 9th is a 334 Yard  Par 4. Get your drive away and you're left with avoiding a stream that cuts laterally in front of the green.  I managed that OK and had a 20 foot putt for a closing birdie, which quickly became a 10 foot putt for par.  I'd simply lost concentration and was really wilting in the sun and continuing humidity.  I don't 3 putt from 20 feet very often, but at least the course had been played.  Another off the list and another milestone achieved. 600 courses played! I'd gone round in 38, net 32.5 with 19 putts.  The Blairs is an easy enough test and is a good companion to the considerably more difficult Haughton course.