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!