Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Gleddoch Hotel - Academy Course - Course no 663

The Gleddoch Hotel and Golf Club sits high above the village of Langbank on the south side of the River Clyde. west of Glasgow.  I'd stayed there a few times on business and played the excellent 18 hole heathland course there one evening after a long day's work.  The main course is quite hilly in parts and is perhaps the best of the heathland/moorland courses along the Clyde estuary.  Try it if you're in the area.  It's a really good test and looked to be in great condition again when I played the Hotel's 4-hole Golf Academy course on 21 April 2015.  This little course is laid out in the grounds of the Hotel itself and you'll drive through the middle of it on your way up to the Hotel.

The first things I noticed about this course is that it needs some upgraded signage and better maintenance.  I measured the 1st hole, as shown here, at 112 Yards.  There was no sign at all, but this was clearly the logical start to the course, being closest to the Hotel, car parks and the main golf course.  This hole is steeply downhill, with excellent views north to Dumbarton and west to Ben Lomond and other nearby mountains.  A simple enough starter and an easy wedge to the green.  As I'd expected the green was slow and bumpy. Polly and have just joined Dunbar GC and its greens are fast and smooth running, so it was no surprise when I 3-putted this Par 3 hole.

The next hole, rather confusingly, was the Par 3 Hole 1 according to a sign on the tee and at 154 Yards, was steeply uphill towards the tee of the previous hole, starting almost at the entrance to the hotel grounds.  I'd only taken a few short irons and my putter, hence my bogey 4 at this hole.  Next and on the other side of the driveway to the Hotel, was the 3rd (signed as the 2nd, at 330 Yards). This hole is blind and downhill with a dog leg right after around 250 Yards to a small green, protected by a hole in the ground that many years ago was presumably a bunker, but is now just overgrown with weeds and moss.  

There's a path of sorts to the right of the green that takes you to a 4th tee and another blind tee shot, this time steeply uphill.  No tee signage, but the hole was around 395 Yards, with a dog leg sharp right after around 280 Yards, where a stream cuts across the narrow fairway. Another bogey there meant I'd dropped a shot on every hole, to go round in 18 strokes, with 8 putts.  This was not a great round, but the course isn't  a great test either. Indeed, my round was a rather dismal and under-whelming experience, despite the warm Spring sunshine.  

This 4-hole course is labelled as the Academy Course and whilst it might be useful for basic teaching, I doubt whether it would be particularly useful as a  warm-up for the main course, which I know is far better and a fitting partner to the excellence of the Hotel itself.  With some basic signage and more intensive green keeping this course could be real asset to the business. At present, it looks rather neglected.  A pity, because the setting is pretty good, as this final photo shows, with views to Ben Lomond and beyond. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Pitlochry GC - Lettoch Links Course - Course no 662

I'd played the fantastic Pitlochry GC course a few times in past years.  A real treat for anyone to visit, really friendly and a great test of your game.  Don't take my word for it, though, try it yourself and if that's not immediately possible, explore the club's excellent website, at I'd read somewhere recently that the club had developed a golf academy, driving range and a 6-hole Par 3 course and the website confirmed that, so a stop at Pitlochry on the way back from Auchendean Lodge on 14 April 2015 was an obvious opportunity to play the new Lettoch Links course.

This is not a links course, being laid out near the geographical centre of Scotland and about as far away from the sea as it's possible to get. Having said that, the name is pretty unimportant, as this is a really good and imaginative development that looks set to promote golf in the area and help the members to improve their game. I'd called in on a quiet Tuesday afternoon, but the course was impressively busy, with a large party of Norwegian golfers just leaving, having clearly enjoyed the course and the 19th. 

The holes on the Lettoch Links range from 35 to 89 Yards and are absolutely ideal for beginners or for general practice/warming up for more experienced golfers.  Indeed, as I made my way onto the course, a lady who must have been well into her 80s stopped me, just  to say hello and talk about the new course. She'd been playing with a young lad who looked barely of school age.  That's another thing I like about golf.  Had we passed in the street, I doubt if anything would have been said between us.  

This is the downhill 4th, an 86 Yard hole with a small green and a nasty looking bunker which I was pleased to avoid.  There was some light rough to the left and I was glad that the course was playing relatively slow, as this hole looked as though it could get pretty fiery on a hot summer's day. I was playing OK, and after an opening birdie on the 35 yard 1st hole, I was still 1 under, after finding the light rough here and escaping with a par. I almost came to grief on the 5th, as shown below, after missing the green to the left. This is the longest hole on the course, at 89 Yards and was played into a strong head wind, requiring a full wedge.

This is the last hole, a 43 Yard hole with a wickedly sloping 2 tier green and a little bank at the back of the green covered in tough rough.  I'd just missed the green and had an awkward pitch from the rough to a flag no more than 15 feet away.  Anything even slightly strong would leave a very testing long uphill putt, but I managed to pitch my ball dead for a closing par and a 1-under total of 26, with 8 putts.  £10 for a day ticket was good value and if id had the time I'd gladly have gone round a few more times.  However, it was still the thick end of a 3 hour drive home so I reluctantly made do with one round.  The Lettoch Links is a great addition to the facilities at Pitlochry GC, one of my favourite inland courses.  I certainly hope to play the main course there again sometime and when I get the chance to do so, I'll also try to beat my gross 26 on the Lettoch Links.

Auchendean Lodge Pitch and Putt Course - Course no 661

We'd had Auchendean Lodge on our list of courses for a couple of years thanks to Graeme, who'd somehow found it on the internet, together with a whole bundle of other obscure courses we'd not known about.  We'd just not got round to contacting Auchendean's owners and it was only when I was reading the Scotsman's property supplement on 9 April 2015 about a large country house and former hotel being up for sale (and more of that later) that I realised it was the same place.  A couple of e-mails and a phone call later and Ian and Eric had very kindly agreed to let me play their little course, normally only accessible to friends and hotel guests.

14 April 2015 looked pretty unpromising weather-wise and heading up the A9 to Aviemore before turning off to reach Auchendean, just south of Grantown on Spey, the rain was enough to dampen my spirits, despite this being my first new course in 2015.  I needn't have worried, as the rain finally stopped just as I approached the Lodge.  Ian and Eric were busy in the garden so I was delighted that they took a break and generously provided morning coffee and biscuits, much needed after my almost 4 hour drive.  Ian had a sore back but was keen to join me on the course, keeping me right on how to tackle what he modestly described as a "tricky" course.  Auchendean apparently has its own micro-climate, being sheltered between mountain ranges. It's also a lovely part of the world, with fine views across Strathspey and the Cairngorms, Abernethy Forest, the River Spey and the Cromdale Hills.  Ian and Eric had operated Auchendean as a hotel but with that business now closed, their next stop is a move to New Zealand.  I've never been there, but they'll be hard pushed to find a setting as grand as that at Auchendean.

The course is certainly "tricky" having been designed by Ian and laid out in 1989, meandering through their 1.5 acre garden.  An artist friend and had kindly designed their unique scorecard but the course had never been fully measured, so the guys were keen to see my laser range finder in operation.  The 1st hole is all of 31 Yards, as shown below. "All" you need to do is thread your ball between the witch hazel and birch trees, avoid a little stream in front of the green and stop short of the bush behind the green.  The course was still awaiting its first cut of the year, so the greens were a bit hairy.  This was actually helpful, as Ian and I found it difficult enough to  find and hold the small greens with our tee shots.

This is the 4th and the longest hole, at 48 Yards, with Eric on his way down to the green to capture the moment on camera. The trick here is to hit along the line of the OOB and hope you get a lucky first bounce. My luck was in, but Ian's wasn't and the gate to the adjacent forest came in handy. The photo below is Ian trying his luck at  the 7th, a 28 Yard long downhill hole that looked fiendishly fast, even this early in the Spring. The ideal line here is the tall green tree in the background, landing your ball just beyond the bush in the middle of the picture. We both found  that bush, hence my 6! 

This is the 8th, all 34 Yards of it.  The line here is over the stump, playing for the 6 foot gap between the birch trees, on the line of the chimney in the background.  Easy really, but I'd obviously used all of my remaining luck on that hole, as my tee shot at the 27 Yard 9th, as shown below was at least 10 yards too long, ending up on a path that was OOB. A closing double bogey 5 was disappointing, but my round here wasn't about the score (a gross 36, or 9 over par, with 15 putts by the way). It was about enjoying this little course and the generous hospitality of a couple of really great guys who went out of their way for a stranger. That's one of the things I love most about golf. It brings people together that wouldn't otherwise meet and my travels around the country have been enriched by meeting the likes of Ian and Eric.  I hope they really enjoy their retirement years in New Zealand and find a good golf course nearby or perhaps build their own Auchendean South Course.

It will of course be for the new owners to decide, but it would be a shame if whoever buys Auchendean Lodge decides against keeping Ian and Eric's little course.  The guys used to invite friends around for an annual Mid Summer's Night golf match - now that's my kind of house party!   

For more details of the sale see -  
Offers over £600,000 for the course also gets you a great house in an amazing country setting! 

Thanks again guys, it was my pleasure meeting you both and playing your little course.