Thursday, 18 September 2014

Heads of Ayr Golf Course - Course no 659

This is a 9 hole Par 3 course within the grounds of the Craig Tara holiday park in Ayr.  UK-based readers of a certain age who remember the former Butlin's holiday camps may wish to note that Craig Tara now operate the former Butlin's at Ayr.  I'm told that this little Par 3 course has been part of the facilities at this holiday camp for generations.  I tried to play the course earlier in the year during a dry spell of spring weather, only to find that the course was still closed after the winter and that it was still partially flooded, so clearly, it's only open for part of the year.  That was a wasted journey, but when I turned up on 17 September 2014 it was a warm sunny day so I was confident that I might finally get to play the course. The car park was deserted and the only signs of life were a couple of greenkeepers.  A sign on a closed down building nearby directed me to another part of the site (which is huge!) for the payment of green fees and appeared to assume that any potential golfers would know where to find the building in question.  When I eventually found where to pay my £9, the guy on the counter had no clue where to find a scorecard (one of the main ways we have of verifying that we've actually played all of the courses).  His first reaction was to suggest I'd get one down at the building beside the course car park.  That'll be the closed building with the sign directing you vaguely to the distant part of the site that I was stood in at the time! Hardly a welcoming first impression and I was glad that the greenkeepers were still around, since finding the 1st Tee was a challenge in itself.

Was it all worth the effort?  Yes, since this is a decent quality Par 3 course, well-maintained and laid out.  It's just a shame that it's tucked away in a remote corner of the park and access isn't obvious or easy. The course is parkland in nature and is laid out in 2 separate sections amongst trees and shrubbery at the west side of the park, close to the sea shore. At 1226 Yards, Par 27, it's not very demanding, but the greens are very small and although generally in very good condition, were on the slow side. That worked to my advantage, since any tee shot that missed the green left a simple chip that I knew wouldn't run too far, even if slightly wayward. The course starts with an uphill 80 Yard hole and an easy par. Next, there's a slightly more tricky 128 Yard Par 3 that's quite narrow, set amongst trees. The 3rd, as shown here, is only 105 Yards but there's not much room if you miss the green.  The course appeared to be getting trickier as it went on.

The 4th is a 132 Yard Par 3 with trees behind the green and a slight slope in front that killed my 9 iron tee shot stone dead.  I needed an 8, but I'd only taken a few clubs and that one was still at home in the garage. This is the 5th, a downhill 100 Yard hole.  I found the green with a very easy wedge and just missed the 20 foot birdie putt.  The 6th is a 158 Yard Par 3 played over a stream to a small plateau green.  I missed the green pin high left, fluffed a chip out of light rough and took a bogey, but this is a pretty difficult hole, and a timely reminder that I could drop shots on any course if I got too casual. 

Next, the Stroke Index 1, a 210 Yard  Par 3 with a narrowing fairway and tiny green, as shown here.  I needed a full 3 Wood to get to the front of the green for another easy par. The 8th is a 160 Yard hole. The scorecard gives different yardages for some holes between the Front and Back 9's but confusingly, there was definitely only one set of tees set out. It's only a Par 3 course intended for casual and family play, but it would have been nice if the course as laid out bore more resemblance to the scorecard!  That annoyance was even more apparent at the 9th, an uphill 155 Yard hole that was little more than 90 (take my word for it, I don't hit 155 Yards with a half-swung wedge!)  

I went round in 29 shots, 2 over par, with 13 putts, but I doubt whether I'd go back to try to beat that score.  The Heads of Ayr course is enjoyable and well worth the £9 green fee, but it needs better signage and a decent scorecard.  With a bit more effort, the holiday camp management could do a lot more with the course.  I was the only golfer playing the course on a bright and sunny morning, when the camp was otherwise pretty busy with late-season tourists.  It's worth seeking out for an undemanding stroll but if you want a more significant challenge, there are many other and far better courses in the area.  

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Arbroath Pitch and Putt Course - Course no 658

I played this pitch and putt course in hot and sunny conditions after my excellent round with Craig at nearby Kelly Castle.  With 9 holes ranging from 32 to 65 yards and a total length of around 420 Yards, this little course wasn't much of a challenge, nor was it much fun. Although most leisure facilities on the beach frontage at Arbroath were open and relatively busy, the pitch and putt course was deserted, the booth for hiring clubs and paying green fees was closed and there were no flags in any of the holes.  I'd visited the course a few weeks earlier after playing at nearby Guthrie Castle and had the same impression i.e. the pitch and putt course was closed. However, Craig subsequently told me that there are never any flags in the holes. Maybe petty vandalism is a problem, or more likely the local Council that runs the pitch and putt course can't afford to pay anyone to collect the green fees, hire out equipment and put out the flags each day during the summer months, when apparently this little course is supposed to be open.

With no sign of anyone ready to tell me otherwise when I re-visted the course on 11 September 2014, I just assumed that the course was open, took my lob wedge and putter and got on with playing.  The course was generally very well maintained, making it easy to see where the greens were and the hole signage was good too, but the absence of flags made me feel as though I was tresspassing rather than enjoying one of Arbroath's beach-front leisure facilities.

Anyway, I managed to par all of the holes, apart from the 65 Yard 5th and the 58 Yard 7th, which I birdied after decent tee shots to within a few feet of the holes.  25 shots in total, with 11 putts wasn't bad but this was one round I was happy to get finished as quickly as possible.  It's a long time since I've been chased by the Parkie, and I'm not quite as fast on my pins as I used to be!

It's a pity that this course isn't at all welcoming, as it could be fun for families to play on a casual basis.  Here are a couple of photos, for the record, but I definitely wouldn't want to play this course again.


Kelly Castle Golf Course - Course no 657

We stumbled across this course when doing some internet research on courses around Arbroath, a coastal town a few miles north of Dundee.  What we found suggested that there was a family golf centre at Kelly Castle, so somewhat naively we'd initially pictured a modest pitch and putt facility attached to some kind of leisure centre or caravan park.  Closer inspection of the post code on Google Maps suggested that this was way wide of the mark and that we might have found another of the private golf courses dotted around the country. Anyway, when Craig, Stu and I had finished playing at Guthrie Castle  recently, (see Blog entry no 651) we did some exploring.  We were soon deep into a private country estate, facing an impressive ancient red sandstone castle which was clearly someone's home and which reminded us vaguely of the Tower of Lethendy castle.  Maybe we'd come to the wrong place, but Mike, the friendly estate manager, told us that there was indeed a 9 hole golf course on the estate. The course was maintained for the owner's personal use but the castle could be hired for a minimum of 2 nights for around £2000 and guests could play the course during their stay if they wished. Further internet research on suggested that if we could get up to 10 people together, our access to the Kelly Castle course and the luxurious castle accommodation could be a memorable trip, far removed from the humble hotel/bed and breakfast etc. accommodation that we've been using on our travels. 

However, since we were trying to play every course on our tight budget, Mike agreed to ask the castle's owner whether he'd let us play the course one day when he was away on business and there were no guests.  Sure enough a couple of weeks later, Mike was on the phone telling us that his boss would be delighted to let us play his course, so the date was set.  We'd play on the morning of 11 September 2014.  Unfortunately, Stu was busy and our buddy Douglas had to meet a client, so only Craig and I managed the trip. Craig's wife had had a baby boy earlier in the week so all in all, we were making a flying visit to Kelly Castle. Normally Craig would beat me easily off scratch but I'd had a gross 74 (net 7 under par!) at my course the day before, so there was no talk of me getting strokes before we started. Mike (a non-golfer) guided us around and gave us some of the history of the course.  Briefly, the castle's owner is mad keen on golf so with land to spare, he and Mike set about building a 9 hole course a few years ago.  Although there is a clear order to the holes, the exclusivity of the place means that it's possible to play any combination of tees and greens. There are currently only 4 tees and 4 greens at Kelly Castle but each tee serves 2 or more holes and it would be equally possible to create your own personal route or play the course backwards. We didn't want to take up too much of Mike's time and Craig needed to get back to Carnoustie where he lives, so we just planned to play the conventional Holes 1-9 route. That was the idea, but read on!

The 1st Hole at Kelly Castle is a short downhill 139 Yard Par 3 that plays shorter than it looks, as shown here. The small green is wedged between a bunker to the front, OOB behind and the tee for the 2nd and 7th Holes.  Craig had an easy par to my opening bogey. The 2nd is challenging uphill 112 yard par 3 that as might be guessed, plays a lot longer than it looks. Factor in a small green that is shared with the 5th and 8th holes and a couple of deep bunkers, lined with wooden planking to around 70 degrees and this is an awkward little hole. Craig hit a good tee shot but finished closer to the 5th hole, so he holed his putt to that hole, claiming a birdie.  Not very fair, I thought, but it would be a very friendly game, as always between us.  At least I got my par but somehow was 2 down.  Here's a few views of the 2nd.  The first photo shows the bunkering to good effect.  The second looks across to the castle and highlights the slope on the green.  The third one was taken from the 6th tee, looking down to the 1st/6th green.

The 3rd Hole is a 238 Yard Par 4, played from the 3rd/6th/9th tee along the edge of the course.  OOB beckons left and long and the fairway is quite narrow.  With a shallow bunker in front of the green, this hole is tricky. We both managed fluky pars after driving close to the bunker. Next, the 141 Yard Par 3 4th Hole, with OOB perilously close on the right (and a wasps' nest under the tee!)  Another couple of pars.  The 5th is a very short 86 Yard Par 3 played from the 1st/5th tee.  The main difficulty here is that the 2nd/5th and 8th holes are all in a line so be careful to go for the middle of the three! Craig got a legitimate birdie to my par, so I was now 3 holes down.  I needn't have worried. Craig made a coo's erse of the 107 Yard 6th and got over-ambitious on the long 7th, a 298 Yard par 4 played blind up the hill towards a marker pole in the middle of the course, or in Craig's case, blasted over the trees above the 1st/5th Tee, never to be seen again. I gave him another go and his Mulligan 4 enabled him to half the hole.  The 8th is a 224 Yard Par 4 played from above the wasps' nest to the 2nd/5th/8th green. Par for me and bogey for Craig and he was dormie going to the last hole. This is a view of that triple green, with some futuristic-looking polytunnels on the neighbouring farm in the background. 

The 9th is a 117 Yard Par 3 that really hugs the OOB line.  It's really just an easy 8 or full wedge but you need to be straight and avoid the bunkering and OOB around the green. I scraped a par after we'd both found a bunker off the tee, but Craig bogeyed the hole.  We'd halved the match in 31 strokes and for me at least, 10 putts. So, although we'd planned a quick round, off we went to play Holes 1-3 again, parring each of them.  An honourable draw was declared and a fitting end to a hugely enjoyable stroll around this little course.  As Mike said, the course is still work in progress, but with the help of further investment in greenkeeping machinery and more extensive signage etc. the course will undoubtedly improve in future years. It's already a good test and if the greens are redeveloped to USPGA standard, (as is planned) and the bunkering is made more testing (to add to the challenge) this could be a great little course.  Local knowledge being key, I guess the owner wins a few wagers over the course!

As I've said, this course is only playable by the owner and guests staying at the castle but with so many great golf courses nearby e.g Carnoustie, Royal Montrose, Forfar, Brechin and Arbroath etc, Kelly Castle would be a great base for a group of golfers.  Equally, the accommodation looked hugely impressive for family celebrations - and what's not to like about a few nights in a Scottish castle with its own cinema, snooker room, bar and private golf course?