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