Thursday, 4 June 2015

Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society

I'd played this course many years ago and really enjoyed it, but a curious turn of events led me to playing it again.  Some years ago, when planning a trip to play the wonderful links course at Carne GC in Ireland, I came across an extract from a book written by American golf writer Tom Coyne, entitled "A Course Called Ireland." This proved to be just about the best golf book I've ever read, full of humour and uniquely Irish episodes, as Tom walked his way around the Irish coastline, playing all the golf courses he came across.  I guess I've now played most of the courses he found, including gems such as Westport, Tralee, Ballybunion and Ardglass, and I really understood his experiences and love of Irish golf and its people.  I still remember asking for directions from a young lad in wildest Connemara and not understanding a word he said, but I digress! More recently, I read somewhere that Tom would be trying to play 107 courses in the UK over a 57 day period, including 90 in Scotland, for his planned follow up book  "A Course Called the Kingdom."  Knowing that I'd already played most of the courses in Scotland, the Golf Services Manager at my home club, Glen GC, asked me what I was doing on 4 May, as Tom was booked to play the Glen as part of his marathon trip.  I jumped at the chance to play with Tom and a couple of his American friends, Gene and Billy.  Here's Tom on the Glen's 14th fairway, with our famous 13th behind him. We'd a great time going round, swapping stories of our various golfing experiences. The scores weren't important, but somewhere around 78 for the 2 of us sounds about right.

The really important points from that game are that Tom told me his final round of his "Kingdom" trip would be at Bruntsfield Links on 22 June, at a Regional Qualifier for The Open Championship, no less.  When Tom learnt that I worked as a caddy, he asked me to caddy for him at Bruntsfield. I've caddied the odd round for a few top golfers, but a bag in the Open (even a Qualifier) will be a real thrill. I'd not played there for 20+ years, so I thought it would be sensible to play it again!  And so I played Bruntsfield on 3 June 2015 on a cool, sunny and windy day.

The Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society is the 4th oldest in the World, having been established in 1761. The Society's current course is in Barnton, one of the most affluent residential areas of Edinburgh dates back to 1898, as laid out by Willie Park Jnr. See for  more on the history of the club and on the history of golf in Scotland more generally.  Although the name might suggest otherwise, the Society's course is actually parkland in nature and measures 6130 Yards off the Yellow Tees, Par 70. The Open Qualifier will be played over a course measuring around 6550 Yards, but at least I'd get an idea of the layout and green characteristics to help Tom, since after 106 rounds in 56 days, I doubt he'll not have much time (or energy!) for a practice round. Fortunately, the Society's website at is really good, with great photos and descriptions of individual holes.  

The other good news for Tom is that the course is already in great condition with the greens in particular being true and smooth running. There's nothing quirky about it and accuracy rather than brute force is vitally important. For example, the opening hole is a 410 Yard  Par 4. The fairway slopes from left to right and there's an uphill second shot to a severely undulating green, primarily sloping from front left to back right. I'd left myself a short pitch to the green which finished just 6 feet below the hole, so an opening par was encouraging. The 2nd, as shown here, is a shortish downhill Par 4, easy looking, but the green is elevated on all sides, sloping from left to right. I'm guessing the 22 June pin position will be front left, bringing a tricky looking bunker into play!

Next come a couple of Par 5s, back to back.  The 3rd is only 487 Yards and is a Par 4 from
the Yellows. The 4th is the longest hole on the course, at 529 Yards for me and is the Stroke Index 1 hole. This is a lovely looking hole, with a downhill tee shot and a narrow 2 tier green. Next, the first of 4 Par 3s at Bruntsfield. This is 195 Yards from the Yellow tee, but will be a formidable 230 Yards for the Open Qualifier. I missed a 3 foot putt for par after finding a bunker, but this is a really good hole.  Next, a short Par 4 dog leg right, but the second shot is uphill and you won't see that the green slopes from back left down to front right. I was playing pretty well and only 3 over par when I got to the 7th, a 142 Yard Par 3. The green slopes wickedly from right to left, but the pin was on a flattish section on the left side, meaning the line was straight at the copper beech tree, as shown here.  An easy 7 iron duly took the borrow and finished 20 feet behind the pin.  The greens at Bruntsfield were great to putt on so I wasn't really surprised when my birdie putt actually dropped.  A couple of pars later and I was out in 37, only 2 over.

I liked the 325 Yard Par 4 10th, but I suspect there are easier ways to make par than carving your drive into the trees to the left, chipping out, hitting a wedge to 25 feet and holing the putt! I suspect that some over-ambitious would-be Open Qualifiers might be tempted to take Driver here, but the tee shot is blind OOB lurks to the left and bunkers protect the small green.  A more cautious approach might be more sensible, Tom. I thought the 13th was the most difficult hole on the course and at 445 Yards is the longest par at Bruntsfield.  The hole plays into the prevailing wind.  The pin was tucked away front left of the green, bringing a couple of bunkers into play. Generally, the bunkers here didn't look too testing but finding one here with my third shot still cost me a double bogey.  From there, holes 14-17 were pretty much downwind. The short Par 5 14th is a birdie opportunity, as shown here, but the green slopes from back right down to front left and is heavily contoured, so a long second shot is testing, particularly with OOB to the right of the fairway.  

The 17th was a 370 Yard Par 4 for me, with a generous fairway and a steeply uphill second, but I gathered from talking to the Greenkeeper that there's a Black tee which makes the hole a very demanding 447 Yards. The green is also pretty tricky so a par here is good - I stumbled to a bogey after a poor second.  The closing hole is a short 337 Yards from the Yellow tee and finishes in front of the clubhouse windows. I'd hit a decent drive but finished in light rough to the left of the fairway. I'd 116 Yards left to the middle of the green but by then it was a 2 club wind, and 9 iron was not quite enough.  I'd finished a few feet short of the green which is probably the most undulating on the whole course.  I borrowed around 8 feet for a 40 foot putt and even then that wasn't enough.  At least the pace was right and I holed out for a closing par, going round in 76 gross, net 4 under, with only 28 putts.  I'd really enjoyed the course and hopefully learnt enough to help Tom.  Even if all I do is carry his bag I'm sure that would help, as I'm not sure that 107 rounds over 57 days is the recommended preparation for an Open Championship Qualifier. Here's a last look at Bruntsfield. The green fee isn't cheap but it's well worth paying to play this excellent course.

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