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 www.georgegoldsmith.com/properties/kelly-castle 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?