Monday, 5 August 2013

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.


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