Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Glenholm Pitch and Putt Course - Course no 641

During the dark winter months just gone by I'd thought that sometime this year I might manage to complete the challenge of playing all of the 658 courses in Scotland that Craig, Stu and I had identified.  We've been adding newly discovered courses to our list as the challenge has progressed, but after so much effort to play courses and search out new additions, I'd genuinely thought we'd found all that there was to find.  It was therefore very surprising to get an e-mail from Graeme (another Scotsman with ambitions to play every course) with news that we were missing a substantial number of courses.  Douglas and I subsequently met Graeme and over a few beers it became clear that he was absolutely right, we'd missed a total of 30 courses, mainly of the pitch and putt and junior golf course varieties.  Graeme's research was clearly extensive and reliable, so here we now are, aiming at 688 courses in total.  Who knows, we might even need to add a few more, since although some well-established Scottish courses have closed in recent years and others are on the danger list, we know about a few potential new developments that might eventually be built. Unfortunately, some of Graeme's suggestions are in remote locations that I might not have time to get to this year, so I suspect that I might not finish playing all 688 courses until next year.

Glenholm is one of Graeme's suggestions and is a pitch and putt course near the village of Broughton in the Scottish Borders operated by the Glenholm Wildlife Trust.  The Trust's website describes the course as "a small community golf course or pitch and putt...shared with the farm's sheep who do a great job in keeping the rough down....it is not maintained professionally but through the hard work of volunteers it still provides an enjoyable challenge. The course has 6 greens and 9 tees which in combination produce 2 routes of 9 holes around the course.  The yellow tees (or front 9) are the easier.  The white tees represent a more challenging back 9."  The Trust's website also shows an 18 hole scorecard with a 1416 Yard, Par 61 layout.  The holes range from 55 to 111 Yards, with 7 of the holes ranging from 81 to 111 Yards being classed as Par 4s.    

Using Google Maps and the ML12 6JF post code, the course looked pretty decent so I set out in good spirits early on 23 June 2014 to play this latest addition to our must-play list of courses.

Sadly, this course didn't live up to expectations.  The farm's sheep had clearly been munching away elsewhere.  The rough was well over a foot high, the alarmingly narrow fairways would be classed as medium cut rough on most other courses and grass on the small greens was around 2 inches long. The Trust's website provides an excellent map of the course and although I'm well used to plotting may way around new course layouts without getting totally lost, this was one course that defeated my navigational skills. The afore-mentioned yellow and white tees were all missing (as was one of the 6 flagsticks I'd expected to see) and as far as I could tell, the layout of fairways on the ground didn't match the website map of the course.  Factor in the almost dead flat nature of the ground and the scope for confusion was almost unlimited.  This is a view of the 1st and 10th holes, or is it the 5th?  I really don't know for sure.

Here are some other views of various holes that correspond to the website course layout.  All very pretty but where are the fairways?

This photo opposite is almost definitely the 3rd and 12th, as viewed from beside the green for the 2nd, 7th, 11th and 15th holes. The absence of tee markers or anything that looked like a teeing ground made it impossible to follow the course precisely. Accordingly, I wondered whether Glenholm should really be classified as a golf course. Regular readers will know that our definition of a golf course is ground intended for organised golfing purposes with fixed tees and greens, regardless of the number of holes. I've decided to give Glenholm the benefit of the doubt since the Trust's website is so positive in its description of the course.  However, this course is clearly at some risk of being lost entirely if maintenance is not stepped up.  Balls even a few inches offline are likely to be lost and I just didn't get the website's reference to "an enjoyable challenge." Others might feel that Glenholm is only a very roughly maintained field with a few flagsticks planted at random for no obvious purpose.  

Given my navigational difficulties, it's difficult to be certain about my score.  I might have taken a wrong turning, but I did my best to follow the website map and played 18 holes, using 9 teeing areas and 6 greens, one of which didn't have a flagstick.  I lost 3 very old balls after being only inches offline in each case and decided that I'd adopt the rather unusual tactic of dropping a ball in the nearest playable position, without penalty, given the totally unreasonable condition of the course.    For example, when playing the 1st I was about a foot left of the green after my tee shot and lost the ball in knee high rough. I dropped another ball into shorter (but still heavy) rough under a yard away to the side and after a hefty (and lucky) swipe with a wedge got my second ball to within 5 feet of the hole.  Putting from there was "tricky" since the hole itself was under 3 inches wide such was the overgrown nature of the putting surface. I therefore decided to concede putts to myself shorter than 3 feet. On that basis, I went round in a notional 67 gross, net 56, with 35 putts.  I actually chipped in for an Eagle 2 on the  99 Yard Par 4 6th hole, but this wasn't one of my more enjoyable golfing experiences.

I don't want to be over-critical of the volunteers who have in the past looked after this little course, but for whatever reasons, Glenholm is currently barely playable, even for casual practice with old balls.  Hopefully the sheep will return and maintenance will also improve.  If not, this course will be lost. Simple as that. 

Friday, 13 June 2014

Another Private Golf Course - Course no 640

I suspect that few people either living in or visiting Edinburgh will be aware that within a few miles of the city centre there's a large house with its own golf course within its grounds used exclusively by the owner's family and friends. Understandably, the owner would rather we didn't mention either the name of his course or its exact location.  The course has been there for over 20 years and was designed by its current owner, to be played in a random running order, as the mood takes him.  There are 5 tees and 8 greens (one of which was closed for maintenance when we played the course on 13 June 2014).  The Greenkeeper suggested we tackle the course in a particular sequence, so here's what we played and my own score -

Hole     Distance (yards)    Par    My Score   Putts

1                      88                 3             4              3
2                    281                 4             4              2
3                    158                 3             5              1
4                    147                 3             6              2
5                    133                 3             4              2
6                    171                 3             5              3
7                    216                 3             5              2

Totals          1059               22           33            15

This course is parkland in nature, with mature trees coming into play on all of the holes. Indeed, the owner has resisted the temptation to prune trees back to preserve clear lines from tees to greens, meaning that on some holes blind shots are required.  This is a view of the 1st, a steeply downhill short Par 3 played over a stream.  This photo was taken to the left of the actual tee, since from there, only the very left side of the green is visible. The greens here are generally soft and slow, so putting was very difficult.  Craig, Stu and I were joined by our friends Douglas and Graeme (who is playing every course in Scotland  for a liver disease charity). Douglas and I made the green with our tee shots, but I had to settle for a bogey after under-estimating the slow pace of the green.

The 2nd hole here is the longest on the course, requiring a reasonably straight drive between large trees, as shown below. The fairways were pretty lush, soft and very slow running, so I needed Driver and a half-wedge to reach the green in regulation.  Two putts later and I'd managed my opening (and only) par of the round.

The 3rd and 4th holes are both downhill Par 3's played over a stream from a single tee high above and left of the 2nd fairway.  The trees around this tee almost completely obscure both greens, as shown below.  We opted to play both holes at once rather than walk all the back up the hill to play the 4th, so saving time and energy.  My drive to the 3rd found a greenside bunker and my drive to the 4th was short of the stream.  However, subsequent trouble in the bunker and in the stream cost me shots and 11 strokes for 2 short Par 3s was pretty poor!

These holes had been pretty tricky but Holes 5 and 6 were even more difficult, played from a single tee close to the 4th green, as shown here.  Holes 5 and 6 share the same green and are respectively 133 Yard and 171 Yard Par 3's.  This is the view from the tee! you need to be dead straight off the tee, clear the bushes and avoid the big tree to the right of this photo, and above all stay out of the stream that runs all the way down the right side of these holes.  After seeing my playing partners come to grief with their shots (we'd again played both holes at once to save time and energy) I laid up with a wedge onto the adjacent 2nd fairway, with the intention of chipping the balls onto the long 5th/6th green.  I don't remember ever laying up at a short Par 3 before and this plan came unstuck when I half-shanked my tee shot at the 6th, leaving myself no nearer the hole than when I started from the tee.  My scores of bogey and double bogey on these holes weren't great, but at least I wasn't fishing balls out of the stream, unlike most of my playing partners.

The 7th and last hole on this little private course is a 216 Yard Par 3, played over a pond towards a large house in the distance.  The green itself is hidden by the trees to the left of that house and my tee shot just barely clipped the very top of one of those trees, leaving me an awkward lie on the banks of a stream. I closed with another bogey, to go round in a lamentable 33, or 11 over par, with 15 putts. However, playing this course wasn't about the score, it was just about enjoying the kind hospitality of its owner.  We really appreciated having the opportunity to play here, so thanks once again to its owner.  We'll all be making charitable donations as a final thank you.  

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Colonsay GC - Course no 639

For any readers who find airport security an occasionally tiresome necessity, try the 25 minute trip to Colonsay from Oban Airport. Check in 30 minutes before take off is standard, but since this consists only of telling the pilot you're here so that he can tick your name on the passenger list, checking in is over before you know it.  One passenger was late so the pilot just waited a few minutes, hoping she'd turn up, as she subsequently did! My golf bag, complete with a change of clothes, camera, book and toilet bag was just over the 10kgs limit but since some of the 6 other passengers were under their limit, I was OK - Ryanair etc. please note! The BN Islander 2 plane is cosy at best and although Oban was cold and overcast, the weather was warm and sunny when we landed on Colonsay.  The airstrip is right in the middle of the golf course, so your only problem will be finding the 1st tee - the highest point on the course and a good 15 minute walk uphill to the Honesty Box, as shown here.  You might want to rest a while here and take in the outstanding scenery.  If you're travelling to and from Colonsay by plane on a day trip, you'll have around 7 hours in which to play the course so there's no rush. Indeed, chances are you'll be a handful of people on the course that day! If, like me, you're staying on Colonsay overnight, you'll have all day, so relax, take your time and enjoy. The only serious problem I had was that the weight limit on the plane meant I could only carry a small bottle of water.  (Tip - take a large empty plastic bottle with you when you fly in and ask the friendly groundstaff to fill it from their tap in the small airstrip building!)  You'll certainly need some water and food on the course, since it's a long walk - and the island's only hotel is the thick end of an hour's walk away along a twisting single track road.  

I've taken the liberty of quoting the following extracts from www.colonsay.org, the island's community-based website, which provides extensive background information on the course

"The 18-hole course is situated on indigenous machair, shortish grass growing in sandy soil, typical of the finest Scottish links golf courses.  When you arrive at the first tee, you will be struck by the beauty of the course’s setting.  Two beautiful, sandy Hebridean bays form the western fringe of the course: the first is called Traigh an Tobair Fhuair (“Bay of the Cold Well”).  The second is called Port Lobh (which, unfortunately, means “Malodorous Bay”).  Two burns traverse the course from east to west. From many points on the course, you can glimpse the sands of Ardskenish peninsular to the southwest.  The course is fringed to the northeast by the rugged, craggy Beinn nan Caorach (“Hill of the Sheep”).  20 miles out in the Atlantic Ocean (next stop, Canada), in most weathers, you can spot Dubh Hearteach lighthouse.  The panorama is completed by Dun Ghallain, a cairned headland where a mediaeval fort once stood.

To help you to visualise the course, think about the Masters course at Augusta, where every blade of grass appears to be meticulously manicured; then, picture the polar opposite!  Colonsay’s unique course is completely natural, having been designed by the Supreme Architect of Golf.  The greens are mown and rolled during the season by local golfers, with some help from the sheep and some hindrance from the rabbits.  In the winter, they are joined by the cattle of nearby Machrins Farm.  As a consequence, you may have the unusual task of having to clear some livestock from your line of fire before playing your shot.  Fear not, though: local rules allow preferred lies on all fairways and a free drop for balls disappearing into rabbit-holes or taken by the ravens.  More good news: there are no bunkers!  In keeping with the “primeval golf” theme, however, you will come across the occasional sheep-scrape in the sandy ground, which some believe to be the origin of the modern bunker.  At all times, if irked by the ruggedness of the course, you can find comfort in remembering that you’ll not find a lower green-fee anywhere.  You could also ponder the following verse, seen on a plaque on a memorial bench at Glencruitten Golf Course, in Oban:

“Getting somewhat crabbit?
Scoring over par?
Have a look around you:
See how lucky you are!”

Colonsay Golf Course is reputedly over 200 years old, having first been played on in 1775.  It remained unchanged for nearly two centuries.  In the late 19th Century, the Misses McNeill, who ran the Hotel at the time, used to arrange for the greens to be mown and the tees maintained.  In 1909, local author Murdoch McNeill, wrote that Machrins was the best-known locality on the island: “that stretch of undulating machair that holds such a fascination for the golfer”. After the First World War, the holes were named by David Todd and fellow-visitors, collectively known as The Colonsay Thiefs, who sound like they might be suitable candidates for the Draught Export Golfing Society (DREGS).  Machrins Farm, at that time the thatched home of Mrs McPhee, was used as the clubhouse.  The course was mapped by JS Williamson, of Troon, in 1935.  Having been home to a small military base during the Second World War, the course wasn’t re-opened until 1978.  The airstrip, formerly an integral part of the course, was tarmacked in 2006, necessitating some modifications to the course layout.

The only time the course is really full is on the third Saturday in August, the date of The Colonsay Open (possibly) International All-Comers Golf Championship.  Weather-permitting, this is always a memorable day.  Informality is the order of the day: some wear wellies, others carry rapidly-emptying hip-flasks. The “Nearest the Hole” competition often becomes the “Nearest the Green” Competition.  As in all Colonsay golf, judges play alongside mechanics, ministers play alongside builders, women play alongside men and the young play alongside the less so.  At the ceilidh in the evening, there are prizes for pretty much everything but Pitchmark Repair of the Day.

The course measures 4,752 Yards and comprises four par 5s, eight par 4s and six par 3s.  Yardage-wise, the four par 5s, measuring between 341 and 391 yards, should be par 4s; however, they have been accorded par 5 status by dint of the degree of difficulty involved.  The 7th hole, The Fank, demands that you avoid the out-of-bounds airstrip, a large area of potentially fatal rough, a ball-eating burn, a fank (sheepfold) and a tight out-of-bounds fence at the back of the green.  The 14th, ominously named The Rushes, involves negotiating a large area of heavy rough that is every bit as ball-hungry as the burn.  The 16th, is birdie-able but the last of the par 5s, the 18th has caused many an eleventh-hour scoring collapse.

The par 4s measure between 238 and 317 yards; on the whole, they demand a good drive, followed by anything from a 5-iron to a wedge (depending on the wind) into smallish greens.  The first five par 4s are fairly hazard-free, as long as you can keep your ball out of the burn at the third.  The 8th hole, Ardskenish, is nearly driveable, on dry ground and with favourable wind conditions. The next Par 4, the 11th, is called Sand Dunes and it is the eponymous topographical feature, on the left, which presents the main hazard, along with the airstrip on the right.  The last of the par 4s, the 12th, is seen by many as the finest hole on the course: your drive will seek to avoid the rushes and rocks on the left, and the numerous rabbit-holes on your right; having safely negotiated these, you are faced with an approach shot to an elevated green, beyond which the Atlantic Ocean stretches to the horizon.

Your heart may have lifted on hearing that there are as many as 6 par 3s.  However, beware: only in one case (the 16th, at 120 Yards) is the green easily hittable.  Indeed, a hole-in-one has been recorded here: Colin Titterton, the late husband of islander Netta, aced it on 5th October 1986, thus earning a glittering prize from the Johnny Walker International Hole-In-One Awards. 

On the other hand, the 199 Yard 5th hole can demand anything from a driver to a 6 iron, depending on wind conditions.  The 9th and 10th holes  again feature the burn as a hazard.  The 13th a136 Yard Par 3  often involves crosswinds and it takes a fine tee-shot to get on in one.  The 160-Yard 15th, also often involves crosswinds and the green is not easy to hit.

To play a round of golf at The Old Course in St Andrews or at The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers’ course at Muirfield will cost you £130 and £190, respectively.  The green fees at a typical course in Scotland are between £20 and £50 per round.  At Colonsay Golf Club, you will have to part with £25, but it’s important to point out that this sum will be your annual joining fee!  Day tickets are priced at £5. You can pay either at the Hotel or in the General Store, where you’ll be issued with a tag to display on your bag (and to brag about back at your home club).  You can also pay at the Honesty Box at the first tee.  You can neatly foreshorten your round by playing holes 1-6, then the 15th to the 18th."

As with many of the other island courses that we've played on our travels, the Colonsay course is pretty rough in parts and far removed from the manicured conditions to be found on courses maintained more intensively, where sheep and cattle don't feature on the list of local wildlife.  The greens are small and hugely difficult to putt on, due largely to the rough nature of the ground, the occasional hoofprints and liberal quantities of sheep droppings and other natural hazards.  This is golf in the raw and scoring on this course will always be difficult, even in the kind of calm sunny conditions that I enjoyed when I played here on 3 June 2014 (Happy Birthday, Kirsty!!)  However, if you can watch where you're putting your feet, don't mind sharing the course with livestock from the local farm, and just want a fun round, this is a great course.  The layout is tremendous, making excellent use of the topography.  There are outstanding views all around the course and the course map on the scorecard is pretty accurate.  This is important, since in windy conditions the flags are likely to be blown out of the holes - and when I played it, the 12th flag had been blown away by an overnight storm.  This is a view of the 2nd green.  The 3rd tee lies at the top of the mound behind the green, a simply outstanding viewpoint across the course and out to sea - you'll want to linger a while there, I guarantee it.

The 7th was, for me, the most difficult hole on the course.  It's only 391 Yards but even if you hit a great drive, you'll still have to face this hole's greatest challenge, namely the swamp and stream in front of the green, hidden from view by a fold in the ground level, as shown here. If you under-club, you'll be re-loading (which is why I took a double bogey 7!) and if you over-club, chances are you'll be OOB.  A par on this beast of a hole is a great score.  The 8th green is the furthest point from the Honesty Box - where you can safely leave any other luggage etc.  From there, the 9th goes downhill, as a 206 Yard Par 3.  Don't be long off the 9th tee as anything beyond the green will be lost in rough and/or another patch of swampy ground.

This is the 13th, a 161 Yard Par 3.  You might want to take some time out to explore the rock formations behind the green and wonder at the collection of large pebbles that have been carried a few hundred yards ashore by past Winter storms. Sail west from Colonsay and your first landfall will be Canada, so the golf course is pretty exposed to wild weather.  The Stroke Index 1 hole is the 376 Yard Par 5 14th Hole.  You might think that a 376 Yard Par 5 would be pretty easy but you'd be wrong.  The drive looks easy enough, but you might struggle to find your ball amongst the various rabbit holes, patches of really rough ground and wild flowers (mostly white!) Your next shot will be either to lay up or try to carry a large area of swamp in front of the green, avoiding some rocky outcrops.  I got lucky, in that my drive finished on an upslope and a great launchpad for a my 3 wood.  Even then, I missed the small green and had to scramble my way to a good par.  This is a view of the 14th green from the 7th tee, highlighting the rocks and swamp that make this hole so daunting.

The closing holes work their way back up towards the Honesty Box and are mostly relatively easy. However, the 18th is an absolute brute of a hole.  There are no defined fairways on the course, just tees, greens and areas of grass in between, festooned with patches of rough, animal droppings, swampy areas and rocky outcrops.  The Stroke Index 2 18th hole is the most extreme example of this terrain on the whole course.  This 370 Yard Par 5  goes very gently uphill for the first 200 Yards, then very steeply uphill for the remainder. Your second shot will be completely blind, played over clumps of long maram grass and rocky outcrops to a tiny green nestling in a hollow.  There's no marker post to offer you a clue about the location of the green.  I got lucky as a 3 ball of visitors had played the first 6 holes and cut across to do 16-18, so I was able to follow their "progress" up the 18th.  If you ever play here, take a wander over to the right of the 1st tee for a look at the 18th green and try to remember where it lies in relation to that tee.  Doing so might just save you one or more lost balls and a few strokes on your closing hole.

Playing here isn't really about scoring well.  It's about enjoying a natural course in beautiful surroundings.  Colonsay is almost as remote as it gets and your travel and accommodation options will be limited, but making the trip will be worth the effort.  And the beer from the micro-brewery down by the ferry pier is also worth seeking out!

My score?  82 gross, net 71, only 1 over par, with 29 putts.  I strongly recommend you put this course on your bucket list and savour the slow pace of life that attracts so many to visit this little island each year.


Lochgoilhead GC - Course no 638

We'd been trying to find time to play the 18 hole links course on the island of Colonsay for some years now and early June 2014 seemed to be a good opportunity.  The plan was to fly over from Oban Airport on 3 June 2014, play the course, stay overnight on Colonsay and and get the ferry back to Oban the next day, but as it turned out Craig and Stu couldn't make it, so I decided to do this trip alone, taking in the 9 hole course at Lochgoilhead en route.   One of the real upsides to playing every course in Scotland is that once in a while we come across a surprisingly good course where we least expect it.  One of the downsides is that when we're putting trips together we can plan for everything but the weather!  I'd booked the plane and accommodation a few weeks earlier, so I was committed, no matter what the weather had in store. 2 June 2014 dawned warm and sunny at home in East Lothian, but by the time I'd got within a few miles of Lochgoilhead, down a narrow twisting single track road with occasional passing places, the rain was getting progressively heavier.  

Lochgoilhead GC is a very short Par 3 parkland course, measuring a feeble 1870 Yards, Par 30, from the Yellow Tees, within the Drymsynie Estate Holiday Village.  Being so short, I reckoned the course would take me less than an hour to play and how wet could I really get? Very, as it turned out!  I'd waited until a real thumper of a shower was over before starting the course.  The 1st at Lochgoilhead is a downhill 166 Yard Par 3 with a huge and ancient oak tree on the left of the fairway.  I'd hit a reasonable drive just left of the green and decided to shelter under the tree to put the rain cover on my golf bag.  However, it seemed that every midgie for miles around was also taking shelter!  I had an extra strength midge repellent spray with me, but the humid air and lack of wind meant that I was soon being followed by clouds of midges, none of which took the slightest notice of the so-called insect repellent.  My expectations of a sub-hour round soon became a necessity!  The 1st was completed in something under 3 minutes, with a one-putt bogey.  The 2nd is a 194 Yard Par 3, as shown here.  Craig and Stu had played Lochgoilhead a while ago and told me it was a really pretty course, with outstanding mountain views.  You'll need to take their word for it, since as this photo shows, the mountains were shrouded in mist.  The 2nd is actually quite tricky since the line off the tee goes perilously close to another huge tree.  I scrambled a par after just missing the small green.

This is the 3rd, a slightly downhill 235 Yard Par 4 that's easily reachable.  I was pin high off the tee, but had missed the green again.  Still, the easiest par all day was a reasonable outcome, given the rain and midgie combination.  Three holes played, 15 minutes for 11 strokes.  Holes 4-8 are on the other side of a river, where the midgie reinforcements (as if any were actually needed!) lay in wait. The 4th is a decent 177 Yard Par 3 - bogey scored in record time. The 5th is one of the more difficult holes, requiring a dead straight drive short of a fairway bunker.  The hole itself is only a 245 Yard Par 4, but the fairway is really narrow.  I managed another easy par after a good drive.  

The 6th is a blind 161 Yard Par 3, with a marker post that's some yards to the right of where it should be - I flew a straight drive right over it and finished right of the green! Somewhere between the marker pole and the big tree is the real line.  The 7th is a slightly downhill 140 Yard Par 3.  I'd only packed a half set of clubs, since the luggage weight restriction on the plane to Colonsay was 10 Kilos.  The rain was pretty heavy at the time, so I reckoned a soft 27 degree Rescue club would be ample.  I should have tried the 7 iron instead as my tee shot was nearly in the river that runs behind the 7th green.  Another scrambled par, but I was making good progress and the rain had almost stopped. The 8th is a long 224 Yard Par 3 and well out of my Driver range, given the wet conditions. Still, a bogey wasn't too bad.  

The last hole at Drymsynie, as this course is more commonly known as, is an uphill 328 Yard Par 4.  I'd hit a decent drive, but a poor 9 iron left me stymied behind the large tree on the right of this photo.  Another bogey to close the round was disappointing, just as the sun broke through the clouds.  If I'd waited for the 50 minutes or so that it took me to play this course, I'd have had no rain and (probably) fewer midges to contend with!    I'd gone round in 34 gross, net 28.5, just under the net par, with 13 putts.  If I'd taken my time to enjoy more of the scenery and been luckier with the overhead conditions, I guess that a could have shaved a few strokes off the score.  Maybe next time, if I ever get to Lochgoilhead again.  I hope so, since this is a really good little course, well worth visiting and a bargain at a modest £13 a round.