Friday, 10 June 2016

Strathpeffer Spa GC - Junior Course - Course No 667

We'd found from internet research that there was a 5 Hole Junior Course at Strathpeffer Spa GC so my plan was to play this and another local course on my way back down from Dornoch.  I dropped into the clubhouse late in the afternoon of 8 June 2016, but there was no-one there other than the cleaner and no cars in the car park.  I took a stroll up to the practice ground behind the clubhouse but there was no sign of a Junior Course and I wondered whether it had been closed.  Polly and I had played the main Strathpeffer course many years ago.  It's very high on my personal list of "hilliest golf courses played" and I wasn't sure my current fitness level would make an evening round over this great village course an easy task. It was also perfect midgie weather! But don't let those comments put you off, because Strathpeffer Spa is well worth a visit, with stunning views to die for (and that's what I was a bit concerned about given my recent heart troubles). The course is simply stunning, no more so than the opening hole, a Par 4 of 330 Yards with the biggest drop from tee to green of any course in Scotland. Willie Park Jnr, Old Tom Morris and Harry Vardon all played a part in the evolution of the course layout and the quality of their work and imagination is still clearly evident.  A hidden gem, much as I dislike that cliche.

When I fronted up early on 9 June (another perfect midgie day!) the friendly lady in the club shop told me that there was indeed a Junior Course, beyond the 17th green, and I could take my car up a rough track to the car park beside the 9th tee.  Thankfully, there was a good course map.  This is the scorecard I created, using measurements on stones beside the tees -

Hole 1      93 Yards      Par 3       Score 4       Putts 2
Hole 2      69 Yards      Par 3       Score 2       Putts 1
Hole 3      62 Yards      Par 3       Score 3       Putts 2
Hole 4      48 Yards      Par 3       Score 2       Putts 1
Hole 5      70 Yards      Par 3       Score 4       Putts 2

Totals      342 Yards     Par 15     Score 15     Putts 8

This is an excellent facility for young and old alike and would be great for general practice, in addition to the more handily located practice ground.  I escaped just as the first cloud of midgies noticed that food (i.e. my blood) had arrived!  Here are a couple of views from the course - the 1st and 2nd holes (seriously downhill). 

I'd also had the nearby Coul House Hotel's Pitch and Putt Course on my list of courses to play.  This is a seriously upmarket country hotel, set in impressive grounds.  There's a pitch and putt course in the gardens, but with no fixed tees and 9 flags enabling play from anywhere in any order, this course didn't meet our definition of a golf course.  I played the layout as best I could and enjoyed viewing the gardens but at least I've been there and struck the name off our list. Here's a couple of random photos from the course.

Royal Dornoch GC Practice Course - Course No 666

As I've commented previously, one of our main difficulties in trying to play every golf course in Scotland is that there's no fully comprehensive list or even an agreed definition of what a golf course is and is not. For many, a course has to have at least 9 holes but we're going for anywhere that has fixed tees and greens, intended for playing the game in a set sequence of holes.  That of course encompasses some pitch and putt courses, private courses and practice courses. It's easy enough to find the courses that are registered with Scottish Golf and have members, but the more quirky end of our search is difficult to put it mildly.  On my occasional previous trips to Dornoch to play the Championship course, I'd noticed that there was a pitch and putt layout in front of the Dornoch Hotel and I had this is on my list of courses to play.  I also wanted to check out another layout in the area so I drove up to Dornoch on 8 June 2016 (4 hours+).  Sadly, the Dornoch Hotel "course" is no more.  It had previously provided a reasonably attractive frontage to the hotel, but all of the greens and holes (and tees if there ever were any) have merged into a rather untidy looking front "lawn" as this picture shows. Bunkers have been left to weed infestation and the overall effect is rather unappealing. I've no idea what the hotel is like to stay in but I'm certainly not tempted to find out.

On a previous trip to the area in 2012, Polly and I had played Dornoch GC's second course, "The Struie" - see my blog entry No 528.  I'd noticed that there were a few white flags visible between the Struie Course and the Club's large practice ground, adjacent to Dornoch Airfield, but it hadn't occurred to me at the time that this might be a new course to add to our list.  So, after my dismal inspection of the Dornoch Hotel frontage, I drove over to the Airfield, (at the end of Shore Road if you ever want to find it). Sure enough, there were some white flags and on closer inspection this turned out to be a short course of 3 Par 4s surrounding a double-flagged practice green, set aside for short game and bunker practice.  However, there were holes and tees cut half way along each of the Par 4s, making this a 6-hole Par 3 course. I don't know if these were intended as a permanent feature, but there were certainly 6 fixed tees and 6 greens and the guy in front was certainly playing golf.  Indeed, signs such as this one beside the 5th tee made it clear that general practice was not allowed, so the club has clearly intended that the 6 holes should be played as a golf course, rather than with a bag of practice balls from random positions.

I measured the course layout to produce the following scorecard

Hole 1    161 Yards      Par 3     Score  3     Putts  1
Hole 2    173 Yards      Par 3     Score  5     Putts  2
Hole 3    188 Yards      Par 3     Score  3     Putts  1
Hole 4      96 Yards      Par 3     Score  4     Putts  2
Hole 5    175 Yards      Par 3     Score  3     Putts  1
Hole 6    102 Yards      Par 3     Score  3     Putts  2

Totals     734 Yards     Par 18    Score 21    Putts 9 

This course was in excellent condition and looked to be ideal for juniors, seniors and newcomers to the game.  This is a view of the 2nd hole, with the village in the background - the church spire being Dornoch Cathedral. If you're ever in Dornoch to play the outstanding Championship Course (and that's surely a bucket list course if you like links courses) the little course by the Airfield would be a good warm-up.