Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Hamilton GC - Academy Course - Course no 660

Polly and I played the 18 Hole parkland course at Hamilton GC a few years ago.  Since then the club have added a 5 Hole Par 3 Academy Course and driving range, with the new Academy Course being intended primarily for juniors and beginners. The Hamilton Golf Club has one of the best 18 Hole parkland courses in the Greater Glasgow area and is well worth playing. The new facilities complete the package for members and visitors alike.  When I left East Lothian early on 7 October 2014, it was pretty damp, but by the time I'd reached Edinburgh the sun had broken through and a good morning's golf seemed in prospect. However, I was soon in heavy fog on the motorway heading west, travelling at a snail's pace due to the fog and a bad accident blocking the eastward carriageway and other major roads in the surrounding area.  I'd been planning to play the 18 Hole Course as well as the Academy Course, but by the time I got to the club, still in heavy fog and a 4 Degree C temperature, it seemed more sensible just to play the Academy Course and find a quieter way home.

There's no scorecard for the Academy Course, but this is what I scored

Hole   Yardage         Par   Score    Putts

1           155                3        3            1
2             92                3        2            1
3             89                3        3            2
4           106                3        3            2
5           132                3        3            1

Totals   574               15      14           7      

As the yardages suggest, this is a pretty easy layout, made even simpler by the use of 6 inch wide holes, presumably to encourage juniors and complete beginners.  Bunkers protect most of the holes, but these shouldn't come into play if you're reasonably careful off the tees.  The Academy Course is an excellent facility for beginners and would be a good warm up facility before tackling the main course, which if memory serves, is pretty testing off the back tees.  Here are some random photos of the Academy course, starting with a view from the 2nd Tee to the 1st Green, with the Driving Range in the background -
 This is a view of the 2nd Hole -
 This is the 4th Hole, backed by a new housing development under construction.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Heads of Ayr Golf Course - Course no 659

This is a 9 hole Par 3 course within the grounds of the Craig Tara holiday park in Ayr.  UK-based readers of a certain age who remember the former Butlin's holiday camps may wish to note that Craig Tara now operate the former Butlin's at Ayr.  I'm told that this little Par 3 course has been part of the facilities at this holiday camp for generations.  I tried to play the course earlier in the year during a dry spell of spring weather, only to find that the course was still closed after the winter and that it was still partially flooded, so clearly, it's only open for part of the year.  That was a wasted journey, but when I turned up on 17 September 2014 it was a warm sunny day so I was confident that I might finally get to play the course. The car park was deserted and the only signs of life were a couple of greenkeepers.  A sign on a closed down building nearby directed me to another part of the site (which is huge!) for the payment of green fees and appeared to assume that any potential golfers would know where to find the building in question.  When I eventually found where to pay my £9, the guy on the counter had no clue where to find a scorecard (one of the main ways we have of verifying that we've actually played all of the courses).  His first reaction was to suggest I'd get one down at the building beside the course car park.  That'll be the closed building with the sign directing you vaguely to the distant part of the site that I was stood in at the time! Hardly a welcoming first impression and I was glad that the greenkeepers were still around, since finding the 1st Tee was a challenge in itself.

Was it all worth the effort?  Yes, since this is a decent quality Par 3 course, well-maintained and laid out.  It's just a shame that it's tucked away in a remote corner of the park and access isn't obvious or easy. The course is parkland in nature and is laid out in 2 separate sections amongst trees and shrubbery at the west side of the park, close to the sea shore. At 1226 Yards, Par 27, it's not very demanding, but the greens are very small and although generally in very good condition, were on the slow side. That worked to my advantage, since any tee shot that missed the green left a simple chip that I knew wouldn't run too far, even if slightly wayward. The course starts with an uphill 80 Yard hole and an easy par. Next, there's a slightly more tricky 128 Yard Par 3 that's quite narrow, set amongst trees. The 3rd, as shown here, is only 105 Yards but there's not much room if you miss the green.  The course appeared to be getting trickier as it went on.

The 4th is a 132 Yard Par 3 with trees behind the green and a slight slope in front that killed my 9 iron tee shot stone dead.  I needed an 8, but I'd only taken a few clubs and that one was still at home in the garage. This is the 5th, a downhill 100 Yard hole.  I found the green with a very easy wedge and just missed the 20 foot birdie putt.  The 6th is a 158 Yard Par 3 played over a stream to a small plateau green.  I missed the green pin high left, fluffed a chip out of light rough and took a bogey, but this is a pretty difficult hole, and a timely reminder that I could drop shots on any course if I got too casual. 

Next, the Stroke Index 1, a 210 Yard  Par 3 with a narrowing fairway and tiny green, as shown here.  I needed a full 3 Wood to get to the front of the green for another easy par. The 8th is a 160 Yard hole. The scorecard gives different yardages for some holes between the Front and Back 9's but confusingly, there was definitely only one set of tees set out. It's only a Par 3 course intended for casual and family play, but it would have been nice if the course as laid out bore more resemblance to the scorecard!  That annoyance was even more apparent at the 9th, an uphill 155 Yard hole that was little more than 90 (take my word for it, I don't hit 155 Yards with a half-swung wedge!)  

I went round in 29 shots, 2 over par, with 13 putts, but I doubt whether I'd go back to try to beat that score.  The Heads of Ayr course is enjoyable and well worth the £9 green fee, but it needs better signage and a decent scorecard.  With a bit more effort, the holiday camp management could do a lot more with the course.  I was the only golfer playing the course on a bright and sunny morning, when the camp was otherwise pretty busy with late-season tourists.  It's worth seeking out for an undemanding stroll but if you want a more significant challenge, there are many other and far better courses in the area.  

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Arbroath Pitch and Putt Course - Course no 658

I played this pitch and putt course in hot and sunny conditions after my excellent round with Craig at nearby Kelly Castle.  With 9 holes ranging from 32 to 65 yards and a total length of around 420 Yards, this little course wasn't much of a challenge, nor was it much fun. Although most leisure facilities on the beach frontage at Arbroath were open and relatively busy, the pitch and putt course was deserted, the booth for hiring clubs and paying green fees was closed and there were no flags in any of the holes.  I'd visited the course a few weeks earlier after playing at nearby Guthrie Castle and had the same impression i.e. the pitch and putt course was closed. However, Craig subsequently told me that there are never any flags in the holes. Maybe petty vandalism is a problem, or more likely the local Council that runs the pitch and putt course can't afford to pay anyone to collect the green fees, hire out equipment and put out the flags each day during the summer months, when apparently this little course is supposed to be open.

With no sign of anyone ready to tell me otherwise when I re-visted the course on 11 September 2014, I just assumed that the course was open, took my lob wedge and putter and got on with playing.  The course was generally very well maintained, making it easy to see where the greens were and the hole signage was good too, but the absence of flags made me feel as though I was tresspassing rather than enjoying one of Arbroath's beach-front leisure facilities.

Anyway, I managed to par all of the holes, apart from the 65 Yard 5th and the 58 Yard 7th, which I birdied after decent tee shots to within a few feet of the holes.  25 shots in total, with 11 putts wasn't bad but this was one round I was happy to get finished as quickly as possible.  It's a long time since I've been chased by the Parkie, and I'm not quite as fast on my pins as I used to be!

It's a pity that this course isn't at all welcoming, as it could be fun for families to play on a casual basis.  Here are a couple of photos, for the record, but I definitely wouldn't want to play this course again.


Kelly Castle Golf Course - Course no 657

We stumbled across this course when doing some internet research on courses around Arbroath, a coastal town a few miles north of Dundee.  What we found suggested that there was a family golf centre at Kelly Castle, so somewhat naively we'd initially pictured a modest pitch and putt facility attached to some kind of leisure centre or caravan park.  Closer inspection of the post code on Google Maps suggested that this was way wide of the mark and that we might have found another of the private golf courses dotted around the country. Anyway, when Craig, Stu and I had finished playing at Guthrie Castle  recently, (see Blog entry no 651) we did some exploring.  We were soon deep into a private country estate, facing an impressive ancient red sandstone castle which was clearly someone's home and which reminded us vaguely of the Tower of Lethendy castle.  Maybe we'd come to the wrong place, but Mike, the friendly estate manager, told us that there was indeed a 9 hole golf course on the estate. The course was maintained for the owner's personal use but the castle could be hired for a minimum of 2 nights for around £2000 and guests could play the course during their stay if they wished. Further internet research on www.georgegoldsmith.com/properties/kelly-castle suggested that if we could get up to 10 people together, our access to the Kelly Castle course and the luxurious castle accommodation could be a memorable trip, far removed from the humble hotel/bed and breakfast etc. accommodation that we've been using on our travels. 

However, since we were trying to play every course on our tight budget, Mike agreed to ask the castle's owner whether he'd let us play the course one day when he was away on business and there were no guests.  Sure enough a couple of weeks later, Mike was on the phone telling us that his boss would be delighted to let us play his course, so the date was set.  We'd play on the morning of 11 September 2014.  Unfortunately, Stu was busy and our buddy Douglas had to meet a client, so only Craig and I managed the trip. Craig's wife had had a baby boy earlier in the week so all in all, we were making a flying visit to Kelly Castle. Normally Craig would beat me easily off scratch but I'd had a gross 74 (net 7 under par!) at my course the day before, so there was no talk of me getting strokes before we started. Mike (a non-golfer) guided us around and gave us some of the history of the course.  Briefly, the castle's owner is mad keen on golf so with land to spare, he and Mike set about building a 9 hole course a few years ago.  Although there is a clear order to the holes, the exclusivity of the place means that it's possible to play any combination of tees and greens. There are currently only 4 tees and 4 greens at Kelly Castle but each tee serves 2 or more holes and it would be equally possible to create your own personal route or play the course backwards. We didn't want to take up too much of Mike's time and Craig needed to get back to Carnoustie where he lives, so we just planned to play the conventional Holes 1-9 route. That was the idea, but read on!

The 1st Hole at Kelly Castle is a short downhill 139 Yard Par 3 that plays shorter than it looks, as shown here. The small green is wedged between a bunker to the front, OOB behind and the tee for the 2nd and 7th Holes.  Craig had an easy par to my opening bogey. The 2nd is challenging uphill 112 yard par 3 that as might be guessed, plays a lot longer than it looks. Factor in a small green that is shared with the 5th and 8th holes and a couple of deep bunkers, lined with wooden planking to around 70 degrees and this is an awkward little hole. Craig hit a good tee shot but finished closer to the 5th hole, so he holed his putt to that hole, claiming a birdie.  Not very fair, I thought, but it would be a very friendly game, as always between us.  At least I got my par but somehow was 2 down.  Here's a few views of the 2nd.  The first photo shows the bunkering to good effect.  The second looks across to the castle and highlights the slope on the green.  The third one was taken from the 6th tee, looking down to the 1st/6th green.

The 3rd Hole is a 238 Yard Par 4, played from the 3rd/6th/9th tee along the edge of the course.  OOB beckons left and long and the fairway is quite narrow.  With a shallow bunker in front of the green, this hole is tricky. We both managed fluky pars after driving close to the bunker. Next, the 141 Yard Par 3 4th Hole, with OOB perilously close on the right (and a wasps' nest under the tee!)  Another couple of pars.  The 5th is a very short 86 Yard Par 3 played from the 1st/5th tee.  The main difficulty here is that the 2nd/5th and 8th holes are all in a line so be careful to go for the middle of the three! Craig got a legitimate birdie to my par, so I was now 3 holes down.  I needn't have worried. Craig made a coo's erse of the 107 Yard 6th and got over-ambitious on the long 7th, a 298 Yard par 4 played blind up the hill towards a marker pole in the middle of the course, or in Craig's case, blasted over the trees above the 1st/5th Tee, never to be seen again. I gave him another go and his Mulligan 4 enabled him to half the hole.  The 8th is a 224 Yard Par 4 played from above the wasps' nest to the 2nd/5th/8th green. Par for me and bogey for Craig and he was dormie going to the last hole. This is a view of that triple green, with some futuristic-looking polytunnels on the neighbouring farm in the background. 

The 9th is a 117 Yard Par 3 that really hugs the OOB line.  It's really just an easy 8 or full wedge but you need to be straight and avoid the bunkering and OOB around the green. I scraped a par after we'd both found a bunker off the tee, but Craig bogeyed the hole.  We'd halved the match in 31 strokes and for me at least, 10 putts. So, although we'd planned a quick round, off we went to play Holes 1-3 again, parring each of them.  An honourable draw was declared and a fitting end to a hugely enjoyable stroll around this little course.  As Mike said, the course is still work in progress, but with the help of further investment in greenkeeping machinery and more extensive signage etc. the course will undoubtedly improve in future years. It's already a good test and if the greens are redeveloped to USPGA standard, (as is planned) and the bunkering is made more testing (to add to the challenge) this could be a great little course.  Local knowledge being key, I guess the owner wins a few wagers over the course!

As I've said, this course is only playable by the owner and guests staying at the castle but with so many great golf courses nearby e.g Carnoustie, Royal Montrose, Forfar, Brechin and Arbroath etc, Kelly Castle would be a great base for a group of golfers.  Equally, the accommodation looked hugely impressive for family celebrations - and what's not to like about a few nights in a Scottish castle with its own cinema, snooker room, bar and private golf course?

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Kemnay GC Beechbank Par 3 course - Course no 656

Polly and I had played the absolutely excellent parkland course at Kemnay GC in rural Aberdeenshire some years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Since then, the club has built the 6 Hole Par 3 Beechbank Course on land immediately adjacent to the main course. The Beechbank Course also includes a covered driving range and is an impressively laid out addition providing excellent practice facilities generally and ideal training facilities for beginners and younger (and older!) club members. This is a view of the 1st green. There are no bunkers and the greens are small, undulating and tricky to putt, so accuracy off the tees and on the greens is key.  The 6 holes range from 74 to 150 Yards, so you only need a few clubs and half an hour to get round.  I just wish more clubs had the opportunity to develop facilities like this, where complete beginners and youngsters in particular could try the sport and develop their skills without feeling intimidated or that they are getting in the way of adult members.  Unfortunately, many clubs only have their 18 or 9 holes and don't have anything that meets that need, stifling the potential to get new players involved in the sport.   

Here are a couple of other views of the course.  I can't speak highly enough about the Beechbank Course.  Absolutely superb, right down to the high quality tee markers, and a model for other clubs with the imagination, land and finance to follow.  I hope to play the main Kemnay course again sometime, as it's stuck in my mind as a really interesting and well-designed parkland course, which looked to be great condition when I played the Beechbank Course on 25 August 2014. If and when I play the big course again, I'll look across to Beechbank, remembering how I took an unremarkable 21 strokes and 9 putts to play its 6 holes, a stroll of only  768 Yards, Par 18.  Maybe I need more practice! 

Murcar GC Practice Course - Course no 655

In my Blog Entry 654 about the King's Links Summer Course, I mentioned that there were many better courses in the Aberdeen area.  The main course at Murcar GC (Blog Entry 313) is one of the very best and is as good an example of a traditional Scottish links course as you'll ever find.  Murcar also has a more modest second course that's still a good test and the members' package on offer at Murcar is completed by a huge practice area, complete with excellent short game facilities.  I doubt that many visitors to Murcar would know that tucked away below the main practice area there's a separate 3-hole Par 3 practice course.  It was only when Craig, Stu, Polly and I were playing the adjacent Royal Aberdeen GC Balgownie Course (Blog Entry 515) that we noticed this little course.  This course is ideal for complete beginners and is well away from any casual spectators (apart from players on Royal Aberdeen, immediately over the gorse at the end of this, the 2nd hole).

It took me 10 shots and little more time than that to play the 3 holes here.  The holes are around 100, 115, and 80 Yards, so it's not in the least demanding.  However, it's a great addition to the facilities at Murcar and as far as we are concerned, is a separate basic course in its own right, in that there are separate permanent tees and green, capable of supporting organised play.

King's Links Golf Course - Summer Layout - Course no 654

When I played the King's Links Course in Aberdeen on 6 November 2012, see Blog Entry No 554, I played the Winter layout, with parts of the course played backwards, in a different sequence or using tees to different greens from the Summer layout.  As I said back then, that layout was extremely confusing and not particularly enjoyable.  I hoped that when I eventually played the Summer layout, the experience would be more positive.  Thankfully, when Polly and played the Summer layout on 25 August 2014, the course actually matched the scorecard and the layout was generally easy to follow (though far from easy to play).

The King's Links Summer Course is 5799 Yards Par 71.  Most of the holes are genuine linksland, with sandy soil and typical humps and hollows, but the more inland and last few holes are less linksy, with a predominance of meadow grass rather than fescues. The course was in pretty good condition, apart from the greens, which were far slower than I'd expect of a Scottish links course in the Summer and were also surprisingly bumpy. This is a view back up the 1st Hole, an easy enough 355 Yard Par 4. Favour the left side of the fairway off the tee and you will get a clear view of the green.  Go right and you'll have a blind shot in, with a hidden bunker to negotiate.  I'd been expecting the 1st green to be fairly fast, but my 30 foot putt was woefully short, hence my opening bogey.  I also 3-putted the 2nd and generally struggled to get the pace of the greens during the first few holes.  Even when I managed to get the pace right, the bumpy greens made putting (literally) hit and miss.  My 5 single putts and 33 in total was down to a good short game after missing greens in regulation, rather than any great skills with the putter. 

The Front 9 at King's Links is over 500 Yards longer than the Back 9 and is by far the more difficult section of the course, with some pretty narrow and undulating fairways, blind shots and slow greens.  I was out in 44 with 19 putts and although I was swinging reasonably well (and actually got my handicap cut by 0.6 strokes a few earlier) scoring here was difficult.  The Back 9 starts with a tough looking slightly uphill 171 Yard Par 3, played to a plateau green.  I'd landed just short of the green and had a simple chip but Polly had been slightly shorter and had an almost blind shot. This hole plays into the prevailing wind and is one of the better holes on the course.  

The easiest hole is definitely the 12th, as shown here, as 246 Yard Par 4. This also plays into the prevailing wind but is still easily drivable.  I landed in a greenside bunker but a good sand iron to 10 feet set up my first birdie (and it's not often get to write "first birdie) in any Blog entry!).  My second was at the 457 Yard Par 5 15th, usually played downwind.  I'd hit a wayward drive into heavy rough and could only hack it out a few yards, but a good 3 Wood to 15 feet led to a rare second birdie. I'd mis-hit the putt but for once the bumps on the green were kind!

The last hole here is a 182 Yard Par with a main road immediately right of the hole. There's a high fence but it's wise to wait until the traffic is clear!  I'd a good closing par there for a Back 9 of 37, only 3 over par.  I went round in 81, net 70 or 1 under net par.  If only the greens had been better, I guess that score could have been significantly lower, but as we all know, "if only" features in most stories about golf scores!  Overall, King's Links is a pretty decent test but I doubt I'd rush to play it again. There are many other and better courses in the area.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Ross Priory Golf Course - Course no 653

This is a lovely little 9 Hole parkland course in the grounds of Ross Priory, one of the many buildings owned and operated by the University of Strathclyde.  The Priory and the course lie on the southern shores of Loch Lomond.  The course is reserved for play by University staff, but despite the rather forbidding "Private" signage at the front gate, the course can be played by the general public by prior arrangement for a very modest £15 green fee. This is me beside the 7th green with the Ross Priory building in the background. Pretty impressive as clubhouses go, but in reality also a building used by the University for a wide range of more serious academic purposes.  Douglas and I played here on 19 August 2014 after our short round at nearby Buchanan Castle GC earlier in the morning. Douglas had at one time been on the University staff (law rather than geography) and had last played here some years ago (which perhaps explains why we had to phone for directions after missing the turning off the main road from Drymen to Balloch).  

Anyway, the 1st Hole is a gentle slightly downhill 260 Yard Par 4, dominated by mature oaks. The fairway is pretty generous but we'd both collided with one of the huge trees to the left of the fairway.  I scrambled a bogey and noticed that the greens might be faster than they looked! The 2nd Hole is where the course really gets your attention. This is a steeply uphill 363 Yard Par 4 that plays far longer than it looks and rightly is the Stroke index 1 Hole.  This is me by the hole on the 2nd, with a glimpse of the Loch behind me.  I'd hit a great drive and a decent 27 Degree Rescue to within a few feet of the green, only to see my ball roll back down the steep slope in front of the green.  A lob wedge from there, with the hole towards the front of the green, found the upper tier of the 2-tier green. I'd a 20 foot putt with 2 feet of borrow (followed by a 10 footer that wasn't as straight as it looked).  The 2nd green was lightning quick, but a 3-putt double bogey was poor after my first couple of shots on this difficult hole.

Next, the magnificent 3rd, a steeply downhill 366 Yard Par 4 with one of the best views I've seen for a long time.  There was an outing of 10 or so senior golfers some holes in front of us who were playing the course twice for their 18 Hole competition.  They'd used the 3rd for a longest drive challenge so naturally I was pleased to see my drive finish good 40 Yards in front of their longest drive marker. On closer inspection these golfers all looked to be in their 70's but hey, it's not very often I hit such a good drive, leaving only a downhill 9 iron to the green.  I scored an easy and very satisfying 4.

The 4th is a slightly shorter version of the 2nd, steeply uphill with a the hole cut towards the front of a small plateau green.  I'd hit a pretty good drive and my 27 Degree Rescue second shot finished pin high to the left of the green.  An easy lob wedge to the green ran further than I'd expected, leaving me another 20 foot putt.  Same result as on the 2nd, a 3-putt double bogey. This is a view of the 4th green from the 5th tee, with Ben Lomond in the background.  The course was in great condition, as I hope this photo suggests!

This is the 5th, a 431 Yard downhill Par 4, with OOB to the left.  The fairway is pretty wide as is the adjacent 4th (which Douglas's drive nearly missed, finishing just short of the 3rd fairway!) Still, a wild slice off the 5th is preferable to a hook, as this photo makes clear.

The 6th at Ross Priory is the only Par 3, a "mere" 160 Yards to a small green protected by a stream that runs in front of and to the left of the green.  This hole plays longer than you'd think so don't be short.  Holes 7-9 are over on the other side of the driveway, adjacent to the 1st.  The Par 4 7th is a slight dog leg right and slightly uphill.  It's not long, at only 344 Yards, but some mature trees come into play.  I'd hit a good drive up the adjacent 1st fairway after not finding the cut I'd been hoping for off the tee and i was blocked out by high trees protecting the left side of the green.  A good 7 iron to the front edge of the green was the best I could do, but a par after that wayward drive was a great result.

The 8th is a bit like the 1st, a short downhill Par 4.  This time trees to the right of the fairway come into play.  I'd only a short pitch to the green out of light rough, but caught a flyer that finished 20 Yards through the back of the green in more light rough. That cost me another bogey, but neither of us was really too bothered by the scores, such was the quality of the course and the views to Loch Lomond and beyond.  The last at Ross Priory is a 330 Yard Par 4.  If you ever get the chance to play here, aim your drive slightly to the right of a gap in the trees in the far distance.  The hole dog legs sharply left so don't (like me) go up the left side of the fairway.  Trees either side of the fairway block anything too far right or left off the tee.  The only option I had for my second shot was a low punched mid-iron with a touch of draw (aye right!).  My third shot was somewhat similar, leaving me a short downhill lob wedge to the green. Thankfully, I sank the 15 foot putt for a closing bogey, to go round in 44 gross, net 38.5, with 18 putts. 

The  Ross Priory course is only 2857 Yards, Par 35 but with only one Par 3, scoring is difficult and each of the holes has to be treated with respect.  Hit it straight, get your short game in gear and be very careful on the greens and you might just score well and wonder what all of the fuss is about.  However, hit the odd loose shot get blocked out by trees or get the speed of the greens wrong and this little course will eat you alive.  Douglas and I had a great round that will live long in the memory.  The scoring wasn't much to write home about but the course itself certainly was.  Try to get a game here sometime and see if you agree.  A word of warning, though.  There were no midges to be seen when we played the course, but this is prime midgie territory!

Buchanan Castle GC - Par 3 Academy Course - Course no 652

Polly and I had played the excellent 18 hole parkland course at Buchanan Castle GC some years ago, but I'd never played its Par 3 Academy Course, next to the driving range and surrounded by the main course.  Buchanan Castle GC is at the south end of Loch Lomond, not far from the Ross Priory Golf Course - another on my "still to do" list.  Douglas had played Ross Priory a few times before but we met up early on 19 August 2014, to tackle both the Par 3 Academy Course and Ross Priory.

The Par 3 Academy Course is 1249 Yards long, and a Par 27.  The fairways are pretty narrow but there's no real rough on most holes, just lots of trees to avoid.  However, stray offline on some holes and you're reloading, so be warned.  For example, this is the 1st Hole, a 154 Yard Par 3. Tons of space to the left, but brutal rough to the right. I'd hit a reasonable 27 Degree Rescue to the front of the green, but Douglas had sliced a medium iron way right into the heavy stuff.  Not a good start for Douglas, but I managed a par easily enough.

Next, a 203 Yard Par 3, with the small green well defended by trees, as shown here.  I was well short with my Rescue club, the longest in the 1/4 set of clubs in my light bag.  Douglas was taking no chances with a full bag, trolley and wet suit etc!  I'd a short pitch to the green for my second, but instead of the languid 50 yard shot I was trying, my full wedge cleared the green by miles and finished just inches short of high rough.  A double bogey was just sloppy play and I determined from there to concentrate better.  The 100 Yard 3rd is just a flick with a wedge, as is the 86 Yard 4th, so easy pars that could have been better.
This is the 5th, a 132 Yarder.  I'd a very easy 7 iron or a big 9 to choose from.  The 7 looked to be the better option but sailed 10 Yards through the back of the small green.  A par from there was pretty good! The 6th is another 100 Yard Hole, this time played into a slight wind.  An easy 9 would have been sensible, but again I was through the back and this time it cost me a bogey.  The 7th is a tight looking 202 Yard Par 3 that looks far longer than it actually is. This little course is almost absolutely flat (as is the main course), so with Douglas taking his driver and hitting another of the many trees, I borrowed that club (never a good idea in my experience) and hit an absolute stinker 40 yards right of the target, onto the middle of the 8th fairway.  A bogey from there was actually not too shabby!  The 8th is a good 145 Yard hole that again looks longer than it plays.  An easy 7 iron and an equally easy par.

And so to the last, as shown here, a 127 Yard hole. A good 9 iron was just short and I missed a shortish putt, closing the round with another bogey.  My score of 32 shots gross, net 26.5 with 11 Putts wasn't bad though and with better concentration and a lob wedge in my bag, could have been far better.  This is a fun little course and a good test of your short game skills.  The main course at Buchanan castle GC is well worth a visit, by the way, and if time permits a stroll round the Par 3 Academy Course would be a good warm up.  

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Guthrie Castle Golf Course - Course no 651

This is a parkland course that I'd been looking forward to playing for a long, long time.  It's well known that there's a golf course in the grounds of Guthrie Castle, by Forfar, a small town  a few miles north of Dundee. Details can be found in the castle's website, at www.guthriecastle.com but as that website stresses, the course is not open to the public and is only available to castle guests at privately booked weddings and other corporate and private events. Accordingly, we're extremely grateful to the castle's owners for allowing Craig, Stu and I (and Douglas) to play it on 6 August 2014 as part of our all-courses challenge.  The exclusivity of the castle, its course and the rest of  its grounds are a major element in the castle's marketing strategy, so please don't think you could blag your way into a game here. The castle's facilities looked to be ideal for weddings and other large events, so if you or your relatives or friends are getting married or celebrating something equally special, I guess that's the only way you'd ever get to play this course.  

After a glorious few weeks of hot and sunny weather across Scotland, reality set in early on 6 August, with dire warnings of torrential rain and flooded roads.  Douglas had to set out from Edinburgh very early to play Guthrie before Craig, Stu and I arrived, as he had to be in Ayr by 1400 hrs, meaning he had to play the course at the height of the morning's downpour.  My Scottish readers will be aware that "drookit" is a fine old word that describes neatly a person who has been caught out in the rain, so Drookit Douglas was not quite his normal cheery self when we met him in the castle car park just before 1100 hrs.  Craig and Stu had already played at Stonehaven GC that morning dodging the torrential rain that Douglas had played through and I'd driven north in.  Despite being soaked through, Douglas thought the course was magnificent and great to play, whilst being hugely challenging.  That about summed up how Craig, Stu and I felt after we'd played it, in weather conditions that improved as our round progressed.

The Laird's Course at Guthrie Castle opened in 1995 and is both visually stunning and well-designed to take advantage of the landscape surrounding the castle, from mature trees and significant elevation changes to a large loch that comes into play on some of the holes.  The course is a modest 2757 Yards Par 35 from the Yellow (back) Tees, but for your average player is hugely difficult, as Douglas rightly said.  The 1st hole looks easy enough, a Par 3 of 166 Yards played very slightly uphill, with the castle immediately to your right, with your tee shot being played over the main driveway.  The green is quite small and is tucked away between mature trees, and it played a club more than we thought.  We've found on our travels around every course in Scotland that there are "country yards" and "normal yards" in hole measurements, with the country variety being far longer than the scorecards suggest and on each of the Laird's Course holes playing far longer than the scorecard suggested.  We were each happy enough with bogey 4s at the opening hole.  The 2nd is a 357 Yard Par 4 and is the Stroke Index 1 hole.  My drive had just missed the fairway, but even the light rough was soaking wet and clinging so another bogey wasn't too surprising.  The photo above shows a view of the 3rd, a long sweeping largely downhill 292 Yard Par 4.  I'd hit a good drive beyond the large tree to the left of the photo but my wedge to the two-tier green was blocked by a stand of tall pines. Whoever first said that trees were largely air obviously hadn't played here and a double bogey from 70 or so yards wasn't too clever.

The 4th at the Laird's course is a 148 Yard Par 3, played over the loch to a small plateau green, as shown here.  This is a great little hole, far more difficult than it's rating as Stroke Index 7.  Maybe on a drier day a ball struck into the banking at the back of the green might roll down, but given the soggy conditions we were playing in, the only option looked to be finding the green first time.  I'd just missed to the left, but a good pitch to within 4 feet helped to salvage a par. This is Craig and Stu posing on the 4th green, with Craig showing his better side by holding the flag the wrong way round!

The 4th could be the signature hole on a lesser course.  Your first glimpse of the 9th is actually from the 5th tee, but more of that later.  

The 5th is another 357 Yard Par 4, this time played from an elevated tee with the fairway banking away to the right.  I hit a decent drive and 3 Wood but only found bunker trouble, culminating in a poor treble bogey 7.  The 6th goes back uphill and is a dog leg right 350 Yard Par 4 that plays more like 400 Yards+, so be warned.  After another double bogey there, i was hoping for an easier hole than the 7th, a super-difficult 441 Yard Par 4.  I'd hit a decent drive and 3 wood and had just a simple lob onto the green from 40 Yards, but the bunkering around the green must be avoided.  I'd found a deep bunker with soaking wet heavy sand, so yet another double bogey.  My scorecard was looking pretty bad by now, so thankfully, I saw that the 8th was supposedly the easiest hole on the course, a 471 Yard Par 5.  The drive is easy enough, but from there the hole sweeps uphill and to the right to a shared green (with the 6th). I'd reached the light rough at the side of the green in 3 and a decent pitch left me with 4 feet for par.  Craig had already birdied the hole by the time I missed that putt, so bogey was disappointing.

And so to the finishing hole, and the signature hole at Guthrie Castle, as shown below.  This is an outstanding 175 Yard Par 3, played from an elevated tee over the loch.  The green hugs the shoreline and is also protected by a small burn to the right.  It's all carry and since the green is small and partially hidden by bushes under your line of play, the green looks almost out of range.  Craig actually hit the pin with his 6 iron tee shot, his ball bouncing back to leave him a slightly uphill 10 foot putt (which he would leave slightly short).  I'm not ashamed to admit I took my Driver from the tee (and my new Pro V1).  For once the yardage played correctly, as my tee shot landed 40 yards beyond the green in light rough.  From there, a good pitch to within 3 feet set up a single putt closing par. The Laird's Course at Guthrie Castle is an outstanding parkland course, full of variety and challenges, with some really exceptional holes. I went round in 46 gross, net 40.5 with 14 putts, well adrift of the decent score I'd been hoping for.  Maybe the wet weather played a factor. Given the exclusivity of the place and the very understandable restrictions on access I doubt I'll get the chance to play it again.  A pity, but at least I'll have my memories of great company and some laughs on a great little course.  Indeed, if I ever get round to compiling my list of outstanding and favourite Par 3s in Scotland, I suspect that the 9th on the Laird's Course will be featuring pretty high up.  I just hope that at least a few of my blog readers will get the chance to play here.  It's a special place.

A closing look at the 9th green and the castle.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Lanark Loch Pitch and Putt Course - Course no 650

This is another of the obscure pitch and putt courses that are to be found around Scotland and which, whilst pretty basic, still count as golf courses so far as Craig, Stu and I are concerned. This is a 9 Hole parkland Pitch and Putt course in the grounds of the Lanark Loch Public Park in the town of Lanark.  The holes are each around 50-70 yards long and are set out on a small and moderately hilly plot of land adjacent to the Loch.  The greens vary between  approximatley 100 - 200 square feet and are amongst the smallest I've found on my travels - and amongst the slowest. The course as a whole is cut to a reasonable first cut of rough length.  The greens are also cut on steep slopes, which probably explains why they are also cut a lot longer than might normally be expected.  Putting was a bit of a joke really, but with the course so short and the grass so long, an easy pitch anywhere near the green was enough to scramble a par, with either another short chip or a couple of putts.  I actually holed a 4 foot putt for a birdie on the 4th, so my round was 26 gross, with 13 putts.

The Lanark Loch Course is also next door to the excellent Lanark GC and there's a footpath that connects the course to the car park of Lanark GC.  I recommend you give Lanark GC a try sometime, as it's a great 18 hole heathland course in my humble opinion.  Whether you'd want to stroll down the footpath to play this pitch and putt course is rather more debatable, but for the very few others who are trying to play every course they can find in Scotland, this little course will have to be played.  In truth, it's pretty uninspiring, but at least it's done, and I'm one nearer my final target. Here are some other photos of the Lanark Loch Course.  Note the size of the 5th green in the first photo.  For scale, the flag is around 5 feet high!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Falkirk GC Par 3 Course - Course no 649

When I played the main course here on 5 May 2010 (see Blog Entry 290) I'd noticed that when walking between the 5th green and the 6th tee there appeared to be a short par 3 course.  I didn't have time to investigate further so playing this little course had been on my to do list for over 4 years.  Polly and I played the main Falkirk GC course on 22 July 2014 and the idea was that I'd play the Par 3 course and time permitting, go on to play a 9 hole par 3 course in Callendar Park on the other side of Falkirk.  Polly hadn't played at Falkirk GC before (known locally as Carmuirs) but I'd really enjoyed the course In May 2010, so we set out early on 22 July 2014 for a good day's golf.  The weather forecast was to be hot and sunny but when we started the Carmuirs Course it was warm cloudy and humid.  It wasn't to last and by mid-round it was very humid, and getting hotter as we made our slow progress.  The main course was just as good as I'd remembered it and we were both playing pretty well.  We both liked this, the 8th, a rolling 476 Yard Par 5 played from an elevated tee.  It's a 170 Yard carry over a stream from the tee and a large bunker 240 Yards out will also catch your attention.  I'd just gone past that bunker with my drive and had a 3 Wood from there, played right of the green to allow the slope to carry my ball towards the green.  An easy enough birdie (and it's not often I get to say that!).  The longest hole is the 498 Yard 12th, a rolling Par 5 with a couple of blind shots that plays longer than it looks.

I went round in 84 gross (a shot more than in 2010!) but by the time we'd finished the heat and humidity was pretty uncomfortable.  The 9 Hole Par 3 Course lies at the top of what used to be Carmuirs' 1st fairway, before the course layout was changed some years ago. This view from near to the top of that old fairway (now part of Carmuirs' excellent practice facilities doesn't do justice to the steep slope and it's easy to imagine why this part of the course was taken out of play.  Once you've climbed this fearsome hill, the Par 3 Course starts with a flat and gentle 60 Yard hole.  An easy pitch and a lob wedge chip and run was enough for that one, so an opening birdie.  From there, it's a short stroll to the rest of the course - thankfully almost completely flat, with holes from 70 to around 160 Yards, all with fast running small greens.

This Par 27 approx 900 Yard course is apparently extensively used by juniors and for general practice.  The photos above show a couple of views of the course.  I went round in level par gross after birdies at the 1st and 4th and bogies at the 2nd and 8th.  However, by the time I finished the temperature had climbed to a humid 26 Degrees and although there was ample time for the short course at Callendar Park, my energy levels were low, so I left that one for another day.

Overall, I really like the set up at Carmuirs.  The main course is terrific and the practice facilities are pretty good too (and the chilli cheese burger and ice cold Guinness at lunchtime also went down a treat!).  I recommend you give this place a try.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Newburgh on Ythan GC - Foveran Course - Course no 648

Polly and I enjoyed watching the first round of the Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen GC on 10 July 2014, but the course isn't the best from a spectator perspective.  I'm also nursing a strained calf muscle so standing around on sloping ground for hours wasn't too clever, so we opted to play a local course on 11 July, rather than go to watch Rory etc. We'd enjoyed playing Newburgh on Ythan GC around 10 years ago, and since it's only a few miles north of Aberdeen and 5 minutes from the pub we'd been staying at, that's where we headed, early on the morning of 11 July 2014. Newburgh on Ythan is an excellent 18 Hole links course. The Front 9 is laid out on hilly ground offering outstanding views of the open countryside and out to sea/over the rest of the course and the adjacent nature reserve.  The Back 9 is flat, bordered by the River Ythan and its estuary. That part of the Aberdeenshire coast is rightly famous for its sand dunes and one of the biggest is clearly visible on this photo of Polly lining up a putt on the 16th green.  

When we'd last played the Newburgh on Ythan course I can't remember seeing a 6 hole pitch and putt course to the right of the 1st Hole, nor was this little course on our list of courses to play in our round-Scotland challenge.  It's easy enough to track the larger courses but as I've commented before, it can be difficult to find such little courses.  The 6 hole Foveran Course has its own scorecard and is generally used by junior members to develop their game to the point that they're ready to tackle the club's main course.  The course has holes ranging from 58 to 106 Yards and is a Par 18 measuring 513 Yards in total.  Here are a couple of photos of the course, first the uphill 3rd and next, the downhilll 4th.

Although quite a few clubs maintain separate courses designed specifically for juniors and general practice, I can't remember any others that were in such outstanding condition.  As these photos suggest, the Foveran Course had clearly defined fairways and light manageable rough (and some real jungle if you strayed seriously offline!) The greens were just as good as the greens on the main course, though cut slightly higher to help beginners cope with the small sloping surfaces.  No such consideration on the main course though.  On one of the Holes the greenkeeper had cut the hole on a slope.  After holing out for a bogey, I dropped a ball at the top of this slope and watched it roll around 20 feet - now that's really fast! Good fun to play, though.

The Foveran Course was easy by comparison and I went round in 17 gross, with 9 putts in little over 20 minutes.  If you're ever in the area, I strongly recommend you give Newburgh on Ythan GC a try.  The main course is only 5810 Yards from the Yellow Tees but is still a tricky Par 72. However, you might wish you'd warmed up by playing the Foveran first!

Another thanks to Russell in the pro shop for his generous donation to our charity.