Thursday, 24 April 2014

Fisherrow Links Pitch and Putt Course - Course no 632

Well, it's officially early Spring in Scotland and a few nights ago I was thinking that with a bit of luck and lots of miles, I might finish playing every course in Scotland this year. I'd done 629 out of the 656 on our master list, so unless we found some more, I'd only 27 courses left, ranging from small pitch and putt courses to the Championship Course at Royal Troon.  That sense of satisfaction was a bit premature, since at 21:33 on 21 April  2014 an e-mail arrived from Graeme, one of the regular readers of my blog.  It seems that Graeme has also been doing the "all courses in Scotland challenge" and has played 525 so far.  He'd also been comparing his list of courses with those that I've done so far and had come up with another 30 or so that he suggested I might need to add in.  

If that wasn't news enough, some quick internet research revealed that most of Graeme's suggestions were either 9 hole or pitch and putt courses in far flung parts of the country e.g. Auchendean Lodge Pitch and Putt Course, in the gardens of a small Highland hotel (see  This was certainly the mother and father of hospital passes Good luck with that one, Google's Translate app - this idiom simply means unwelcome news in these circumstances!  I'm grateful to Graeme in that with his help, at least we've identified more courses that when played, will take us closer to our final goal than we'd otherwise have been able to do on our own. I'm still researching Graeme's suggestions -and some may be wide of the mark e.g. Innellan GC members play their course backwards, but only one day a year in an end of golfing season novelty competition for club members only, so I don't think that counts. a further couple of his suggestions had actually closed some years ago, so it remains to be seen just how many more courses need to be added to the list that Craig Stu and I are tackling.

Anyway, Graeme had also suggested the pitch and putt course at Fisherrow Links in Musselburgh, only a few miles along the coast from where I live in East Lothian.  I'd heard about this course a while ago but hadn't got round to finding and playing it.  I'm playing 6 new courses in Aberdeenshire in a few days' time, but with a couple of free hours on 24 April 2014, I set off to play Fisherrow Links, a 9 hole pitch and putt course, with holes ranging from 60 to around 100 yards.  The course only opened for 2014 a couple of days previously, so I was lucky in that there were new flags, direction arrows and all of the flags and tees were numbered. The fairways were neatly cut and although the greens didn't look great, they were reasonably smooth and true running.  I'd taken my wedge, an old putter and a couple of balls and for my £1.40 green fee, I'd a quick spin around the course.  The Fisherrow course is flat and unremarkable, but is a reasonably good practice facility.  It was disappointing that I was the only golfer on the course. Either that, or others had seen the weather forecast, as the rain came pouring down a few minutes after I'd finished. Here are some random photos of the course.

The greens were reasonably quick-paced, making them tricky to hit and hold from the tees.  I've been in reasonable form of late, so 26 shots in total, with a birdie on the approximately 60 Yard 4th and a total of 12 putts wasn't too bad.  I doubt I'd want to play the course again, though.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Menzies Hotel Par 3 Course - Course no 631

Tuesday 8 April 2014 was dry and bright in East Lothian and the day seemed set fair, so I started out on a 220 mile round trip to play a couple of short 9 hole courses, in Ayr and Irvine, in Ayrshire, in the south west of the country.  Ayrshire turned out to be windy, with sunny intervals and heavy showers.  My first course was to be the 9 Hole Par 3 course at Craig Tara, a caravan park and holiday centre just south of Ayr.  I found the course easily enough but it was closed for maintenance (and drying out, if the pools of standing water were anything to go by). So, it would be 220 miles to play the 1277 Yard Par 27 course within the grounds of the Menzies Hotel, in nearby Irvine.  

The hotel is quite impressive looking inside, and doubtless attracts many golfers keen to play on the many famous links courses nearby, but the hotel's golf course is pretty underwhelming. The fairways were soaking wet and boggy in parts and needed a good cut.  The greens were full of moss and other less identifiable growing things, bumpy, slow and uninviting, with several of the flagsticks missing.  The 5 flagsticks that were still in place were old broken plastic affairs with torn and faded flags.  This course urgently needs proper maintenance and investment in some basic golf course equipment.  As it stands, it doesn't offer an inviting surrounding to what appears to be a pretty good quality hotel.  This is a view of the 1st Hole.

Were we not trying to play absolutely every course in Scotland, from the internationally famous right down to the most basic and humble, I'd not have stopped to play this Par 3 course.  For the record, I went round in 31 strokes with 14 putts, counting a maximum of 2 putts per green, given the awful state of the putting surfaces and the overgrown holes, which looked as though they'd been in service for a year or more.  At least I didn't get wet, dodging the rain that threatened for a while during my 40 minutes on the course.

Here are some other photos of this rather dismal little track.  I've played it once and I'm afraid that'll do for me.  I'll try Craig Tara later in the year, when it's drier!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Maverston GC - Course no 630

At long last, after a long hard Winter, it's back on the road again, pursuing our quest to play every golf course in Scotland.  We'd been searching the internet a while ago and came across rumours of a new course being developed in the Morayshire countryside, a few miles east of Elgin.  The original idea had been to create an exclusive development around some luxury housing, with an 18 hole course and a shorter 9 hole par 3 course, serving largely the corprorate market and residents, but nothing on the internet suggested that anything had been built.  Over the Winter, we discovered that  the recession had limited the housing side of things and led to the owner's business plan being modified to establish a members' club open to visitors, alongside some future housing.  Indeed, we discovered that the 18 hole course had been built and although there had been limited play last year, this new parkland course would formally open to the public on 1 April 2014.  See for further details.

Craig, Stu and were due to play the new Maverston course at 0930 hrs on 1 April.  I'd picked up a bug of some sort during my recent golfing trip to Marrakech and was still way short of my normal fitness, so I just took it easy beforehand, staying overnight in nearby Elgin.  Craig and Stu are both pretty busy work-wise so I wasn't surprised to hear they'd crammed in some play on the 31st - but 72 holes over 4 hilly courses is a bit much guys!  My intrepid buddies had played Dunkeld & Birnam, Alyth, Glenisla and Pitlochry, stayed overnight at Craig's house in Carnoustie, got up at 0400 hrs and played the equally hilly course at Rothes before meeting me at Maverston.  Little wonder if the Maverston staff thought we were not your normal golfing visitors!

But before we get into this new course, a little about golf in Marrakech.  Polly and I hadn't known what to expect, aside from some late Winter heat and a culture shock, way outside our normal comfort zone.  Marrakech itself was fascinating from start to finish, from bartering in the souks, getting away from the tourist tracks to seeing how the locals really live, seeing some of the history and culture of the place and some of the street food (barbecued sheep's head or fried lambs' brains were available, but chicken tagine with almonds and lemons was more our style).  

The golf was disappointing overall.  We played El   Maaden, Palmerie, Samannah and Amelkis.  El Maaden was pretty good.  We’d hired a buggy for the standard 400 dirhams, the course was pretty quiet and in great condition, so a good start to the golfing side of the trip.  We weren’t so keen on Palmerie.  We’d been asked to play holes 10-27, but although holes 10-18 were pretty good, the signage wasn’t the best and we struggled to avoid getting lost.  Indeed, we were pretty staggered at the mile+ gap between holes 18 and 19, so thank goodness we had a buggy.  Samannah was by far the best course we played, with fast true running greens and overall, in great condition.

And so to Amelkis.  Oh deary, deary, dear.  When we arrived there seemed to be around 50 golfers hanging about, either on the practice range, the practice putting green or in the queue at the pro shop.  When we eventually got served by a rather surly character, I was told I couldn’t play as only my wife was named on the booking form.  The fact that the form clearly stated there were 2 golfers didn’t register.  We then asked about hiring one of the 10 or so buggies parked nearby, but none of these were available.  We’d need to take a pull trolley, so we hired a couple at 100 dirhams each and got a couple of receipts to give to the caddymaster, clearly marked 50 dirhams each.  A modest little earner for our man?  Next, we asked for a couple of scorecards.  I guess I’ve played around 700 courses world-wide, but I really can’t recall ever being told that I can’t have a card and that if we still needed one after the round our man might be able to help.  We eventually got one scorecard between the 2 of us, but others weren’t so lucky and only got a sheet of paper.  Now there’s 3 loops of 9 holes at Amelkis, the red, blue and green courses.  The map on the back of the card helps if you have very good eyesight, but at least we eventually found our way to the start of the green course.  We’d been paired up with a charming French couple who were more able than us to ask for directions to our 1st tee, but the thrill of pulling a trolley around Amelkis in 26 degree heat soon wore off, particularly when we noticed the couple behind us had somehow been able to rent a buggy, as had others behind them. We managed to complete 9 holes in around 2.5 hours before retiring to the bar. Golf in Marrakech was certainly different and at least my new putter did well enough to stay in the bag for the foreseeable future.

But back to Maverston and this is me, by the 1st tee, on a cold and overcast morning. Maverston turned out to be a good and interesting parkland course, measuring 6284 yards from the White medal tees and 6118 Yards from the Yellows, Par 70. Craig and I opted for the Whites and since the course had only opened to the public that day, I'd been winding Craig up about setting a new course record.  I needn't have bothered, since Craig was pretty knackered after 81 holes in little over 24 hours and any hopes I had of a really decent score didn't last long either. Maverston is built on rolling farmland, with trees coming into play here and there.  The fairways are generously wide and were in pretty good condition for the time of year.  We'd not been sure about how the greens would play.  They looked pretty good and were smooth running but were a lot slower than we'd expected, hence my 3 putt on the 1st, from all of 20 feet.  Indeed, we struggled to get the pace right all the way round and only some decent approach shots and some "gimmies" kept the scores down.

Scoring at Maverston was also tricky because the course is quite challenging, particularly from the back tees.  The Par 4 1st was pretty short, at only 286 Yards, but the second shot was semi-blind, uphill to a well-protected green.  A scrambled double bogey to start. Best holes on the front 9 are probably from 6-9.  The 6th is a monster 575 Yard Par 5, played to a small plateau green with a bunker greenside right that sits ready to collect anything remotely near it.  This is rightly the Stroke Index 1 hole.  OOB comes into play on the right, just to make it even more testing.  I'd mis-hit a 3 Wood 2nd shot so a bogey 6 wasn't too bad.  This is the 7th, a 174 Yard Par 3 played to another plateau green.  I'd hooked a rescue club drive wide of the green and my lob wedge found the back fringe.  Another couple of putts and another bogey.  The 8th is another Par 5, played from an elevated tee, quickly followed by a dog leg right Par 4 with yet another slightly elevated green, as shown here.

With the course being so new and Winter not that far behind us, the course was playing pretty slow generally, but by the turn we'd seen enough to suspect that once the course matures and gets quicker (including the greens) Maverston will be a really good test.

The front 9 is barely 3300 yards, but felt longer due to the various elevation changes (this is not
a flat course by any means), so we were pleased to find the 10th was a short Par 4, at only 293 Yards, as shown here.  Craig had been doing OK, but as he found out, go left off the tee at your peril, so that was the end of his bid for a great score.  Stu and I had been pretty poor on the Front 9 (I was a remarkable 8 over on the 10th tee!) so it could only get better.   I'd hit a good drive and had only a short pitch to the green, for an easy par.  A couple of decent shots on the 379 Yard Par 4 11th set up a rare birdie and steadier play on the Back 9 led to a respectable 39 gross for a total of 83, net 72, with 31 putts.  Not bad overall and an enjoyable round on Scotland's newest golf course.

We particularly liked the stretch of holes from 14-18.  This is the view from the 14th fairway on this long 434 Yard Par 4, the Stroke Index 2 hole.  A drive up the left side avoids the large fairway bunker, but you'll still have a long second shot, slightly uphill, to anothger plateau green, weel defended by 2 large bunkers, as shown here.  The green slopes from back to front so don't be short on your approach!  The 15th is another really strong hole, this time a 354 Yard Par 4 sharp dog leg right.  Your second shot will be completely blind, so you won't see the bunkering that protects the green or the proximity of whin and gorse bushes to the left of the green.  Ideally, the flagstick should be taller or the course managers should consider inserting a marker pole behind the green and as with any new course, there will doubtless be tweaks here and there as the course matures.

This is the 16th a 211 Yard Par 3.  The gulley in front of the green that hosts a couple of bunkers is far deeper than it looks from the tee, so don't be short!  The 17th is an innocent looking 359 Yard Par 4. Just go over the marker pole and you'll have a medium iron, downhill to a wickedly sloping green.  Go left, as I did, and you'll have a blind shot through mature trees, with the prospect of  a seriously high score.  I managed a bogey taking the direct route but I got lucky.  This is not the hole to hit a hook!

The last at Maverston is another fine hole, a 443 Yard undulating Par 4 a really good drive will clear the bunker to the right of the fairway, leaving an iron to the green.  If like me you finish just short of the bunker, do not top your 3 Wood into the back of the bunker, leaving yourself a 6 or 7 iron escape.  The bunker sand is currently soft and quite deep, making bunker shots quite tricky.  I hit a good 7 iron to within 30 yards of the green, followed by a lob wedge to a foot, as shown here.  This is Craig trying to get inside my 4th shot with his own 3rd.  He got his par, I got my bogey, and Stu? Well, his energy levels were gone long before we finished, as were his chances of a decent score.  I'd done not too bad, despite my Moroccan bug, but was pretty tired when we finished. We'd really enjoyed the Maverston course, a bold venture to compete with the many other well-established courses in the area.  We wish it well and it will be interesting to see the course again later this year, when we plan to return to play the little 9 hole Par 3 course that's currently under construction within the Front 9 holes of the "big" course.

With the weather remaining cold and overcast and  energy levels pretty low, you'd have thought Craig and Stu would have finished for the day, particularly with a long journey back down the road still to come.  No, they were keen to squeeze in another course, so I took them a few miles up the road to Covesea Links, the excellent short 9 hole links course just west of Lossiemouth. For them, that made it 108 holes in well under 36 hours.  Well done guys!  I was happy enough to play another new course as our epic journey continues.  Next stop for me will probably be somewhere around Aberdeen, later in the month.