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.

Montrose South Links Pitch and Putt Course - Course no 647

I played the 9 hole Montrose South Links Pitch and Putt Course on 9 July 2014 en route to Royal Aberdeen GC to watch the Scottish Open.  This little links course had formerly been managed by the adjacent children's play park but had recently become the responsibility of Montrose Golf Links Ltd, which looks after the Montrose Medal and Broomfield courses.  The South Links course is located beyond the practice area immediately behind the pro shop.  The course is only 701 Yards in total, with holes ranging from 63-102 Yards.  The 4 holes at 80 Yards and over are actually classed on the scorecard as Par 4s, making this a Par 31 course. Normally I'd expect a Par 4 to be over 250 Yards long, but as I'm not aware of any absolute rule on such matters, I guess it's for the owners of the many golf courses that are not officially registered to decide on the par of particular holes. Equally, we can only score our play against the scorecard provided to us, so despite it's extreme short length and its scorecard description as a pitch and putt course, the South Links would appear to be a "proper" golf course.  

I have a particular fondness for links courses in general, particularly in high Summer when these courses run fast, forcing golfers to use their imagination and create shots to suit the terrain and weather conditions.  The past few weeks have been pretty dry, warm and sunny in Scotland and one look at the South Links was enough to tell me that this little course would be running very fast.  The 1st hole looked burnt to a crisp and at only 86 Yards read as a Par 4 on the scorecard.  I'd taken my 9 iron, 58 degree lob wedge and putter onto the course.  I reckoned that any of those clubs would get me to the green easily enough, but I opted for a pitch and run with the 9 iron.  I landed the ball around 50 yards out but it finished a good 20 yards through the green in light wispy rough.  It then dawned on me that the course hadn't been watered much (if at all!) in the recent dry, warm and sunny weather.  A Par 4 was a decent enough result. Here are a few random photos of the course that I hope demonstrate the extreme dryness of the course.

The first 3 holes are 86, 102 and 80 yards long and are all classed as Par 4s.  I overhit my tee shots on each of these holes but scrambled a par each time.  The 4th is the first Par 3, at only 67 Yards. I opted to putt from the tee and still almost went through, leaving myself an almost impossible downhill putt from 20 feet.  I deliberately miss-hit that putt off the toe of my putter in order to deaden the stroke (try it sometime - it works!) but even that sailed past the hole, leaving me an awkward 15 foot uphill putt that, if it didn't drop, might come back to me.  I holed the putt to escape with another par.

I managed to score 3's on each of the remaining holes, including an unlikely birdie on the Par 4 7th (all of 81 Yards!)  Scary stuff and definitely the fastest running course I've played for a long time.  Great fun, though and a gross 30 (1 under par) with 14 putts was good scoring.  I didn't have time for another round, but a gross 30 without a bogey will do me anytime, even on such a short course. This course lies on the landward side of an old sand dune, with the children's play park on the seaward side.  The park was crowded with parents and kids having a great (and noisy) time on a hot summer's day.  Sadly, I was the only gollfer enjoying the South Links course. Play it if you get the chance, and enjoy!

Lochside Pitch and Putt Course - course no 646

Polly and I had decided to travel up to Royal Aberdeen GC to watch the Scottish Open from 10 July 2014, so travelling up on the 9th gave us a chance to play a couple of courses en route. 9 July was a baking hot sunny day, so we didn't want anything too strenuous.  With that in mind, we opted to play the 18 hole pitch and putt course at the Lochside Leisure Centre in Forfar, a few miles north of  Dundee.  The holes here range from around 50-100 yards, but with tiny greens that were slow and very bumpy and rough just long enough to lose a ball in, the course wasn't as easy as we'd expected.  Indeed, 7 bogeys testify to that and only a couple of birdies kept my score down.  For the record, I was round in 59 gross i.e. 5 over par.  Here are a few photos of this rather uninspiring little course.

In days gone by, a course like this would have been busy.  Sadly, we were the only people on the course, discounting the 5 young kids playing football using the 13th tee as a goal post. Changed days and I wonder about the future of the game if beginners' facilities like this go unused.  Still, maybe we'll get a better national football team some day!

Monday, 7 July 2014

Pitliver Estate Golf Course - Course no 645

Some years ago, an American golf professional realised his dream of having a Scottish castle and his own private golf course.  Unfortunately for him, his German girlfriend, who had helped finance the deal, left him for another guy.  The castle and the golf course were put up for sale and are now owned by a development company that is currently developing new courses being designed by Jack Nicklaus on the Ury Estate in Scotland and in St Lucia.  The Pitliver Estate is private but Douglas had played it a while ago and since it is literally just over the fence from Dunfermline GC, I thought I'd check it out after my round over the Par 3 Course at Pitfirrane on 7 July 2014.  

I was understandably nervous about intruding on private property without so much as a phone call to check that I'd get access to the course.  However, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Past the private property no admittance sign and onto the long driveway, I stopped the car to speak to a man clearly hard at work clearing overgrown shrubbery.  This turned out to be Mark, one of the owners and the friendliest of hosts, as it turned out.  I asked whether there was any chance I'd be able to play the course sometime but Mark almost got there first, saying "if you've got your clubs with you, just come on in. The course is almost never played so please, help yourself. Just park your car down the road a bit and I'll get you a scorecard."   Mark then led me to the 1st tee and told me that the course had been designed by Donald Steel (the leading golf course architect) and had opened in 1999.  He explained that weather problems in the past year had damaged the greens and that although much of the rough around the course had been cut back, the fairways were narrow and he hoped I'd not lose too many balls.  I was more than welcome to seek him out if I ran out and he'd happily give me some more! 

The Pitliver Course is a 9 hole parkland course measuring a short 2150 Yards, Par 31.  As Mark had advised, the fairways were extremely tight and only straight hitting and a good short game would keep the score down. I'm not over-keen on dogs generally, but Mark's golden labrador seemed friendly enough, though I wasn't so sure about his pair of gun dogs.  I needn't have worried, as one of the gun dogs kept me company around the first few holes until he got bored watching the spectacle of a strange golfer hacking his way around. The course starts with a slightly uphill 153 Yard Par 3 as shown here.  A good 27 Degree Rescue to the side of the green, an easy par and I was off to a good start.

The 2nd at Pitliver is a flat 443 Yard Par 4 where only the straightest of straight will do. I'd found the middle of the fairway off the tee, but a slightly wayward 3 Wood led to the first lost ball.  I scrambled a double bogey, but I'd only 5 more balls in my bag (all new). My friendly canine companion was clearly not interested in helping me search for my ball, so I was hoping that Mark wouldn't be too far away if I needed to impose further on his hospitality. The 3rd is a 348 Yard dog leg right Par 4. Easy enough if you steer clear of the bunker short left of the green, that is. That mistake cost me another double bogey.  This is the 4th, a 155 Yard Par 3.  As Mark had said, the greens at Pitliver were in poor condition, making putting very difficult.  I was happy to not 3-putt any of the greens, but scoring was still pretty tough.  I managed to par the 5th a short 262 Yard Par 4 played into the wind with the narrowest fairway on the whole course.  A good drive and a pitch to just left of the green was enough to scramble an easy par.     

This is the 6th, a downhill 115 yard Par 3 played over a small river.  A disappointing bogey there, after finding the small pot hole bunker to the left of the green.  If you ever play here, please note that if you climb back up the hill and tee off from the tee next to the 6th, you'll have missed the 7th completely!  As I eventually found out, the Par 3 7th Hole is actually tucked away up the hill and to the left of the 6th green.  There was a perfectly good map on the scorecard, but yet again I got lost, costing me an extra few hundred yards' walk. The 8th is the Stroke Index 1 Hole and is a dog leg right 355 Yard Par 4, played from an elevated tee.  Left is dead, as I discovered when my second shot hooked its way into oblivion on the other side of the river.  A second lost ball, but barring disasters it looked as though I'd be able to finish the round without Mark's further assistance. Another double bogey though.

The last hole at Pitliver is a 174 Yard Par 3.  A slightly wayward drive flirted with some seriously high rough and led to a closing bogey.  I'd gone round in a poor 41 gross, net 35.5 with 16 putts.  This is a seriously good course with an interesting mixture of holes.  I hope the greens recover, as in prime condition, this would be a really good test of anyone's game.  

I'd thought the Ury development might not happen, but Mark assured me that site work is scheduled to start after enabling works are in place so no doubt that'll be another course to add to our list in a few years' time.

Dunfermline GC - Par 3 Course - Course no 644

I'd played the 18 Hole parkland course at Dunfermline GC a few times in past years, but I'd completely forgotten that there was also a 9 Hole Par 3 Course there.  Dunfermline GC is also known locally as Pitfirrane and is a really good and testing course which I recommend you try to play if you're in the area.  Thanks go to Graeme for noticing that it I'd missed it when compiling our list of courses for our "all courses" challenge.  This is a view of the imposing clubhouse from the 2nd green of the Par 3 Course.

I played the Par 3 Course on 7 July 2014 after the round earlier that day at Strathallan School. The Par 3 Course is normally only playable by Dunfermline GC members and is ideal for juniors/beginners and those who either don't have the time for a full round or are no longer able to play the "big" course.  So, I'm very grateful to the club for allowing me access, given the charitable nature of our "challenge."  The Par 3 Course measures just 1063 Yards, Par 27, but with small greens and large trees bordering some holes, this little course wasn't as easy as it first appeared. This is the 65 Yard 1st Hole (to the red flag) shared with the 9th (played to the purple flag).  

An easy start, but other holes were far more difficult.  For example, this is the 7th, a 153 Yard hole threading its way between mature trees. Factor in a strong head wind and a tiny green and this was quite a test.  I was happy enough with a bogey there (one of five in the round!).  A score of 32 gross with 14 putts wasn't great, but this wasn't a course to be taken too seriously.  I wanted a quick round to avoid the risk of a soaking from some hefty looking dark clouds.  I'd normally have played such a short course with just a few clubs and left my bag in the car, but given the risks of rain, I took my full bag in order to have my wet suit handy.  Little wonder I attracted some odd looks from golfers playing the main course nearby!  

Strathallan School Golf Course - Course no 643

Strathallan is one of Scotland's leading independent fee paying schools and on its impressive campus a few miles south west of Perth, there's a 9 hole parkland golf course. The course is normally reserved for pupils, staff and their guests, so is lightly played.  The Summer Term had just finished and most of the boarding pupils and staff had gone on holiday, so the campus had an unmistakable off-term feel to it. Our buddie Graeme knew someone at the school so it was arranged that Graeme, Douglas and I would play the course on 7 July 2014 after reporting to Reception. Quite rightly, the School has to have careful regard to security issues, even during holiday periods.  The weather forecast was for sunshine and heavy showers and we'd driven up in occasional showers.  It looked as though we'd get a good soaking but this ominous looking cloud passed us by!

There was no scorecard as such but were each given a detailed course map showing a yellow route for Holes 1-9 and a Red route for holes 10-18 and 9 separate greens.  This suggested that whilst most of the Front and Back 9 holes used the same tees and greens, Holes 1 and 10 and 3 and 12 played from different tees, making Strathallan an 18 Hole Course.  However, when we played it there was only one set of tees for all of the front and back 9 holes, so we played Strathallan as a 9 Hole Course.  Since there was no scorecard, we estimated hole distances as best we could, my scores being -

                              Hole          Par         Yardage                Score              Putts

                                    1              4                 290                         4                    1   
                                    2              3                 222                         5                    2
                                    3              3                 141                         3                    1  
                                    4              3                 238                         4                    2
                                    5              4                 246                         3                    1
                                    6              4                 354                         4                    2
                                    7              4                 425                         5                    2
                                    8              3                 143                         4                    2
                                    9              3                 139                         4                    2
                                    Totals    31              2198                       36                  15

The course layout was not the easiest to follow, given the absence of defined fairways and the use of single tee markers in locations that didn't match up with the course map.  So it was a case of teeing up on the preferred side of each tee marker and guessing the location of each green. This is Graeme and Douglas en route to the 2nd green, located 120 Yards or so behind the large tree closest to the centre of this photo.  Apart from areas of deep jungle around the boundaries of the course and the greens themselves, the course was mainly cut to light rough length, adding to our navigation difficulties. Defined fairways would have helped but since the course appeared to be targeted at beginners/casual play, maybe the School just prefers to keep it that way.  For example, this is a view of the 6th/15th Holes with the green located slightly to the right of the tree in the centre of the photo.  

Perhaps the best hole on this little course is the 8th/17th, a 143 Yard Par 3 as shown opposite, played almost blind towards a small green with a collar of high rough in front and high rough and a large lake immediately behind.  However, the tee for this Hole didn't match up with the course map so it's entirely possible we played to the wrong green. Anyway, we enjoyed seeing and playing the Strathallan course, despite the lack of a scorecard and our resultant navigation difficulties, so another big thank you goes to the School and Graeme's friend for allowing us access. 

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Dalmeny Estate GC - Course no 642

This course is located in the grounds of Dalmeny House, the ancestral home of the current Earl of Rosebery, just outside the west side of Edinburgh on the shores of the Firth of Forth.  The course is only played by members of the Dalmeny House GC (primarily estate workers) and their guests, so getting access here depends on being invited by a member of that club. Thankfully, Graeme our latest new friend and supporter knew a member, so Douglas, Graeme and I fronted up on 3 July 2014 to meet Martin, the most congenial of hosts, who very kindly enabled us to play this very exclusive private course.  I'd seen the course quite a few times from the air, as Dalmeny House is just north of the flight path into Edinburgh Airport when landing from the east, and there's an excellent coastal walk that takes walkers past the course, so it was great to see the course up close for the first time.  This is a view from the 1st tee back to the House and the 9th green.

This 9 hole parkland course measures 2251 Yards Par 31 off the Yellow tees and is pretty flat and easy walking. The 1st hole should be easy enough, as it's a 280 Yard Par 4 with the widest fairway you could wish for. That's also the hole's main defence.  The fairway is so wide and featureless that it's difficult to focus on a line.  I opened with a hooky 200 Yard drive and had just a short pitch to the green - which I somehow managed to miss!  A bogey 5 was poor. Next, a formidable 231 Yard Par 3, as shown here. The green slopes wickedly downhill from right to left and with the hole positioned awkwardly at the top of a steep slope on the green, the last place I wanted to be off the tee was front right, just short of the green.  Only the most cautious and accurate pitch would rescue par.  Double bogey was not on the game plan but the company was good and we weren't really concentrating too well.  That's my excuse anyway.  

Next, a 290 Yard Par 4 that should have yielded my first par of the day after a good drive. Sadly, a poor sand iron pitch led to another bogey. The 4th is a 172 Yard Par 3, played almost blind over a small hillock just in front of the green, covered in long shaggy grass.  Only the very top of the flag is visible from the tee, so a decent 23 Degree Rescue through the back of the green and a good pitch to under a foot set up an easy opening par.  The 5th, as shown below, is probably the best hole of the course, a 397 Yard Par 4 that's rightly rated the Stroke Index 1 hole. A line of trees across the left side of the fairway comes into play off the tee.  You can go right off the tee to leave yourself with a clear shot to the green but this would take you perilously close to the shore line, so I figured that laying up short would leave me with with a mid-iron over the trees to the green.  I just clipped the very top of one of these trees and a 9 iron from medium rough left me just short of the green.  Another good pitch and run to under a foot gave me a tap in bogey, but this was a good interesting and very tough hole. 

The 6th is a 245 Yard Par 3 that I suspect is well outside most Dalmeny Estate GC members' capabilities.   I'd hit a good drive but was still short and after a duffed shot needed yet another good pitch to rescue a bogey.  The 7th is a 188 Yard Par 3 that demands a dead straight drive through a narrow gap between mature trees.  I was only a few degrees left of ideal but found one of the trees and needed another good scramble to rescue a bogey.  

The 8th is played  in front of the House, as shown here, and is a 312 Yard Par 4.  The fairway is as wide as you could wish for and after a good drive I'd just a short wedge to the green.  An easy par and a good opportunity to see the House close up and admire the view out to the Firth of Forth, including the small islands of Inchcolm  and Inchkeith.  And so to the last, a slightly uphill 136 Yard Par 3 that played a lot longer than it looked.  I opted for an easy 27 Degree Rescue and managed a couple of putts for a closing par.  A gross 38, net 32.5 with 14 putts was not bad but as Martin rightly advised, scoring low around here is really difficult.  There are 5 Par 3s but each of them are tricky in their own right, with 2 of them being out of reach for most golfers (bearing in mind that this is a parkland course with fairways that I suspect are usually pretty slow).  

Here are a couple of views of the 9th hole, first from the tee and second, looking back towards the Firth, with Fife in the background.

We'd obviously played the Summer course on 3 July.  The club members use a completely different Winter course from September each year, played to the same 9 greens in a different sequence from different tees, so there are actually 2 courses here.  Martin has very kindly invited us back to play the Winter course, so I'm looking forward to that. It was a privilege to play this private courseand it will be interesting to compare the Summer and Winter layouts. I just hope the Par 3s are a bit easier!