Friday, 25 October 2013

Craibstone Golf Course - Course no 625

This is an excellent 18 hole parkland/heathland course just to the west of Aberdeen that was originally established in 1999 by the Scottish Agricultural College and since 2011 has been owned and operated by Marshall Leisure Ltd.  I played the course immediately after my earlier round at nearby Auchmill on 23 October 2013.  Although these courses are only a few miles apart and are built on similarly undulating land, the differences between the courses are like night and day.  Craibstone has clearly been built with far greater investment in drainage systems and overall was simply a joy to play from start to finish, despite the odd heavy shower and increasingly strong wind that added to scoring difficulties.  I'd arrived unannounced "on spec" at lunchtime and was given the warmest of welcomes.  The clubhouse Bistro was in full swing, but the course itself was pretty quiet.  I could start behind a 3 ball of members and with the surprisingly warm sun now out and almost 5 hours of daylight left, this was set to be a round to be savoured rather than rushed.  

Craibstone lies within a mile of the edge of the city but feels completely detached from it and only the occasional helicopter or plane overhead disturbs the peace of this place. I was hooked on Craibstone by the 1st hole, a downhill 323 Yard Par 4, as shown above. Good bunkering protects an undulating green, built to USPGA standards (and impressively firm, despite the recent rain).  An easy par there.  Next is an innocent-looking 130 Yard Par 3, but again, the green is far from easy to read (and I liked the attention to detail on the scorecard, with slope diagrams of each green).  The 3rd should be a simple Par 4 if you keep your ball straight.  Go left (like me) and a water hazard and heavy rough awaits - I escaped with a 5!  The 4th is really difficult so have a look at this hole from the 3rd tee and note the deep gully, bushes and water to be negotiated by your second shot.  The drive from the 4th tee is actually quite easy, but do not be fooled. Bogey here is good and infinitely preferable to the cricket score you could run up by being careless or over-ambitious.  The 3rd hole also offers you a good view of the long uphill Par 5 5th.  This hole is only 421 Yards but plays more like 500.  A heavy shower on the 4th and 5th holes added to the difficulty, as did being waived through by the friendly 3-ball in front.  I'd reached the 6th Tee in 3 over par.  Scoring well here would be far more difficult than at Auchmill, but I was loving the course, despite it's tricky opening holes and the uncertain weather.

Thankfully, the 6th offered some respite.  This 189 Yard Par 3 is actually slightly downhill and was definitely downwind.  The calm of the morning had been replaced by a stiffening breeze that would make the Back 9 "interesting."  The short walk from the 6th green to the 7th Tee goes past the clubhouse and the car park, but the 7th is downhill and officially the easiest hole on the course, so with the sun poking out from behind the rainclouds again, it was wet suit off and time for another par.  The 8th is another fairly simple hole, this time an uphill 296 Yard Par 4, but I'd found a greenside bunker and that cost me a bogey.  Holes 9-17 lie beyond trees behind the 8th and are more heathland in nature, suggesting that they were a later addition to a previous 9 hole layout.  I don't know if that's the case, but this part of the course has a slightly different feel to the holes nearer the clubhouse and as I was to discover, there were some fearsome challenges ahead.  This is the 9th, a 371 Yard Par 4 with a large pond and deep bunkering protecting the green.  I'd hit a good drive but the strong wind meant that I still needed a 3 Wood for my second shot.  I cleared the pond OK, but only just and a bogey meant I was out in 41.

The 10th is a good looking 128 Yard Par 3, playing far longer in the increasing wind.  I'd just missed the green and took a bogey.  The 11th is called  "Gruesome Glen" and is the quirkiest hole I've played for some time.  For starters, this is an uphill 355 Yard Par 4 played into the low sun (out again!).  The fairway (all of 9 paces wide!) lies in a hollow between gorse on the right and rough on the left.  Find the fairway and your blind second shot will be severely uphill to a long and very narrow plateau green.  Miss the fairway to the left (as I did, by a mere yard) and chances are you'll have a hanging lie with the ball well below your feet.  My second shot from there was uphill, blind, into the low sun and a heavy wind.  I opted for a 3 Wood, just missed the green chipped on to 4 feet and holed the putt for an outstanding par.  This is, unsurprisingly, the Stroke Index 1 hole.  This rather poor photo gives only a weak flavour of this challenging hole.

Having survived, the 11th, it was a long walk to the 12th, mainly uphill, it seemed.  I've had to adjust the colours on the photo below, also taken almost directly into the sun.  The 12th is only 148 Yards, but played to around 190, slightly uphill and directly into the wind.  The pin was tucked away back right of the green, behind a 4 foot high mound.  I'd only just cleared the path leading up to the green with my tee shot, bringing this little mound into play, so my bogey was actually quite good!

I'd reached the top of the course, but stood on the 13th Tee I was faced with yet another hugely challenging hole.  This time the tee shot should be played downhill to a flat area almost surrounded by gorse, trees and heavy rough, leaving a blind second shot steeply uphill towards the green. This is not a hole for the faint-hearted, as this view from the tee suggests.  I decided to try to play it as a Par 5, with a Driver and a couple of mid-irons.  The hole is only 377 Yards, but I'd missed the fairway left, so I hit a 9 iron into position for a blind uphill shot to the green. That strategy came unstuck in one of the bunkers to the right of the green (invisible from where I'd played!) my third shot.  I took a 7 which could have been far worse, given the scope for trouble on this hole.  It wasn't my favourite hole and having played it I'm still not sure whether it's necessary to have such severe bunkers to protect a blind hole.

The rest of the holes at Craibstone are easier by comparison, or perhaps more accurately, holes where seriously high scores are pretty unlikely unless you do something really silly. Even so, I dropped another 3 shots on the last 5 holes for a round of 83, net 72 with 30 putts. This is a view of the 18th fairway and the remnants of a heavy shower that just missed the course late in my round. Craibstone is a seriously impressive set up. I'd love to play it again sometime and would strongly recommend it if you get the chance.  If you're tempted, just don't take Holes 11-13 too seriously.  Par all three and you will have my undying respect!

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