Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Musselburgh GC

Also known as Monktonhall, this is an excellent 18 hole parkland course on the edge of Musselburgh, a small coastal town to the east of Edinburgh and is another of the 200+ courses that I'd already played when I started writing this blog. I played it again on 27June 2018 as part of my current work for a golf magazine, to identify and rank Scotland's Top 100 courses.

The Monktonhall course owes its origins to the Open Championship's long association with the town, which hosted the Open on what is now the Musselburgh Old Course 6 times in the 1870's and 1880's. Musselburgh as a town has had 5 Open Champions, winning a remarkable 11 titles between them, so Musselburgh has a uniquely important place in the history of golf. When the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers moved from their home at what is now Musselburgh Old to their current location at Muirfield in 1891, they took with them the local venue for the Open.  In an attempt to re-establish the town's link to the Open, the Musselburgh Town Council decided to build a new championship standard 18 hole course.  Unfortunately, land only became available in the 1930's and the 5 times open Champion, James Braid, who had become a renowned golf course architect by then, was commissioned to design the new course at Monktonhall, on the outskirts of the town.  The course officially opened in 1938 and has remained largely unchanged ever since, apart from some newer teeing grounds. Braid had commented at the time that "if you want a championship course, you need length."  That's the key word that still comes to mind, and as the Course Guide says, "to have any hope of conquering this course you have to be able to keep the ball in play while still being long off the tee."

The course can certainly be long, at 6842 Yards from the very back tees, but I played it again from the "more manageable" Yellow tees, at 6241 Yards, Par 69.  Interestingly, the course scorecard also provides a men's par and SSS from the Ladies' Red tees, recognising that for some (dare I say more mature?) members, even the Yellow tees provide an extremely difficult challenge.  This is a good idea that I wish more clubs would follow.

The course starts with a downhill tee shot on a 346 Yard Par 4, with OOB to the left of the fairway.  I'd not had time to warm up so it was no surprise that my tee shot, as overseen by watchful eyes from the clubhouse windows etc I suspected, headed hard left towards the OOB.  Missing that by a yard, I was happy enough to scramble an opening bogey on what was by far the shortest of the 13 Par 4s.  The weather had been  hot and sunny for what seemed like weeks on end, so the fairways were really dry and running a lot faster than might be expected of a parkland course.  Indeed, high spots on the fairways were clearly turning brown and crusty, with the course playing more like a links.  This is a side view of the front of the 2nd green with a ridge running at an angle to the green.  In typical parkland conditions, the front would be receptive to most shots but being so hard and dry, it was more difficult to judge how short game shots would play.  Indeed, my approach to the left side green had run 30 yards, almost finding the bunker on the right.  This was an early warning that although the course was playing shorter than normal, scoring well might still be very difficult.

The shortest hole is the 3rd, at a mere 124 Yards, but the target looked small from the tee, with bunkers aplenty to contend with.  Note the overhanging steep faces to the biggest bunker here.  I hit the green OK but my ball ran off a side slope, leaving an awkward pitch from bone hard fairway over a bunker.  Thankfully I managed a bogey. The 4th is a good and partially uphill Par 5 and by then I was noticing that the fairways were generously wide, such that a moderately mis-hit tee shot escaped real punishment.  However, length was still an issue and my trusty 3 wood was needed to get anywhere near to the green.  An easy enough par, but I bogeyed the next couple of holes after finding bunkers.  Next came the formidable 7th, a 441 Yard Par 4, requiring a really long drive if you're to have any chance of reaching the green in regulation.  If, like me, you don't clear the ridge in the middle of the fairway and don't bother to consult the Course Guide, you risk finding the large bunker some 60 Yards out from the green.  Some of the bunkers had extremely steep faces, and unusually, balls would hold on them, rather than run down to the bottom of bunkers.  I'd an awful lie in this particular bunker, with my ball at knee height, so another bogey on the card.  

The course is laid out in 2 sections, Holes 1-7 and 16-18 are separated from the rest of the course by an extremely busy railway line.  Holes 8-15 are on the other side of the railway and are also adjacent to the A1 main road from Edinburgh to East Lothian and beyond.  These holes were affected by rail and road traffic noise but were still very interesting.  The 8th, as shown here, played a lot shorter than its 386 Yards, the fairway was particularly dry and golden brown and lay slightly above the tee, so a good tee shot hit over the deep gully that found the fairway would run close to the green.  Similarly, the 9th, as shown below, was downhill and the only real concern was avoiding the little burn in front of the green.  A good hole!

I was out in an unremarkable 42, or 7 over par.  However, this wasn't too bad taking into account the length of the Par 4s.  From work that I do for our amateur golf governing body in reviewing the Standard Scratch Scores of courses for handicapping purposes, I know that a bogey golfer is considered likely to be able to hit a drive of 200 yards and a second shot of 170 Yards, including roll.  Of the 6 Par 4s on the Front 9 here, only the 1st hole is shorter than 370 Yards i.e. within range in 2 shots by a bogey golfer.  In other words, someone at my handicap level is likely to drop a shot at those holes unless they either hit longer than usual or can somehow scramble a par from short of the green.  For example, the 7th at Musselburgh is a meaty 441 Yard Par 4, so a bogey golfer might be expected to need 3 shots to reach the green.  Factor in the fairway bunker I'd found and this is a really difficult hole. 

The Back 9 has 7 Par 4s, ranging from 367 (close to the limit of the distance a bogey golfer could expect to hit in 2 shots) to a formidable 463 Yards.  Musselburgh is a good course, but by the time I'd finished I was wishing there had been a little risk and reward Par 4, driveable for the big boys and giving us shorter hitters some much needed variety in second shots.  There's nothing wrong with the occasional 300 Yard Par 4, well defended by bunkers etc. as necessary, giving players the chance to hit an accurate wedge, but I seemed  to be reaching for my 3 woods or rescue clubs after drives on the majority of the Par 4s.  For example, the 12th was a 463 Yard Par 4.  I'd hit a good drive and 3 Wood but still needed a pitch over a greenside bunker to reach the green.  Note the crow in this photo of that bunker. I landed within a yard of it and it never so much as turned its head as if to ask if that was the best I could do! The only time I'd get close to a birdie, I thought.  

Oddly enough, I also thought one of the best holes at Musselburgh was the last, a 424 Yard Par 4 that climbs up to finish in front of the clubhouse, as shown here. Once again, It's important to hit your longest drive, but this hole usually plays into the prevailing wind so good luck if you're a short hitter.  There's also a ridge  across the fairway so your second shot might be blind.  This hole is also a Par 4 (at 474 Yards) off the White medal tee and I wonder how many members can regularly reach in 2.  I'd gone round in 84, net 74, with 31 putts, so not too bad, I suppose.  The course had been in really good condition, with the greens in particular being excellent and I'd enjoyed the experience, in hot sunny weather.  Musselburgh is well worth playing but be prepared for some long holes and a really stern test.  As Mr Braid said, if you want a championship course, you need length.  The same can be said if you want to play this course really well.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

West Linton GC

This is an excellent 18 hole moorland course south of Edinburgh in the Scottish Borders and is another of the 200+ courses that I'd already played when I started writing this blog. I played it again on 8 June 2018 as part of my current work for a golf magazine, to identify and rank Scotland's Top 100 courses.

I hesitate to use the old "Hidden Gem" cliche, but this is a course that's well worth seeking out.  If you get it on the kind of windless, warm and sunny day that I had, you'll be in for a treat.  But take your A game too.  West Linton starts quietly, with a short Par 4 of only 277 Yards, but the 1st green, like so many here, is quite small and well defended by bunkers, so take care.  I didn't have time for a warm up, so my hooked drive into the trees to the left of the fairway wasn't the best of starts.  Time to manage a bogey and that done, the next was the shortest of the 5 Par 3s.  An easy looking hole but I found one of the bunkers, so another bogey.

This is the view from the 3rd tee. The 3rd is a modest 334 Yard Par 4, with the green partially hidden behind mounding to either side of the fairway.  What you won't see is that the left of the green is raised above some fearsome rough so miss the green at your peril. I'd an easy par but I knew from past experience of playing here that West Linton was about to show it's teeth.  The 4th is a 509 Yard Par 5 and the green slopes steeply down to rough and bunkers on its left side.  The pin was on the left so muggins here tries to get cute with his 3rd shot, only to hook it into deep rough.  A bogey was actually not too bad from there!

The 5th is a huge 465 Yard Par 4.  Moorland courses can be quite damp at times, but the fairways were pretty dry, given our recent lack of rain.  Even so, a good Driver and 3 Wood meant  I was still well short of the green.  Another bogey, I'm afraid.  The 6th was an easy enough short Par 4 and next came what I thought was one of the best holes on the course.  The 7th is only 319 Yards, but your second shot will be steeply uphill, as shown here. Factor in the pin position I faced at the front of the green, 6 yards on, just beyond the start of a slope that, if you find it, might take your ball back down the hill.  I hit a really good drive and had a short pitch to the green, for an easy 4, but this is a seriously interesting hole.

Next, the formidable 8th, a 436 Yard Par 4 and the Stroke Index 1 hole.  Your drive will be blind over a hill.  Don't get suckered into playing too far to the right of the marker pole, since rough awaits there - as I found to my cost.  A dodgy double bogey was the best I could do, but I at least I parred the 147 Yard 9th, to go out in 41.  

The Back 9 starts with an easy looking 324 Yard Par 4, played slightly downhill.  However, the green is small (again) and I could only manage a bogey.  The 11th is another long Par 4, at 459 Yards, but if you struggle on that, the 12th is a downhill 191 Yard Par 3 that plays a lot shorter than it looks.  I missed my birdie putt, but got my revenge on the 13th, a 283 Yard Par 4.  The line off the tee is the small copse of trees to the right of the fairway, which slopes from right to left.  I really liked the variety of pin positions on the course, from easy to really testing.  The pin here was tucked away on the back right side of the green, with an evil looking pot bunker dead in line.  I could play safe or hit a Mickelson-type lob wedge.  Golf Truism No 1 is that most great shots go unwitnessed, while bad shots are often visible by crowds.  Suffice to say that my birdie was a tap in. Go me!

14 and 15 were, by comparison, poorly played. The 15th is another of West Linton's long Par 4s, at a formidable 453 Yards from the yellow tee.  I guess I could play that hole quite a few times before getting a par! Anyway, on to the 16th, a really good Par 4 at "only" 429 Yards.  The tee shot is blind over a hill that straddles the fairway, leaving a long second shot to a plateau green, as shown here.  You also won't see the dip at the front of the green when playing your second.  You might get lucky with the pin position, but when I played it on 8 June, the pin was right at the front of the green.  Bump and run was the logical shot but after my great lob wedge on the 13th, I tried again. Remarkably, I managed to get that 3rd shot to within 3 feet, even with the 4ball in front of me watching from the adjacent 17th tee!  Sadly, my par putt missed, but hey, who's this Mickelson guy anyway?

The 2 closing holes at West Linton are unusual, both being Par 3s.  This is the 17th, a 189 Yarder played over a water hazard. Distance perception is difficult too, since the hole is slightly uphill.  I managed an easy Par 3, so I'd got as far as the 18th tee in 76 blows. Not too bad, considering my difficulties with some of the longer Par 4s.  The 18th, as shown below, is a really tough closing hole, at 222 Yards, slightly uphill, with OOB to the right and the car park behind (not really as close to the green as you might think).  I'd been watching a couple of 4balls play this hole, with nobody getting close to the green in regulation. Not encouraging but I managed to hit a really good Driver (!) to within a foot of the front of the green.  However, I'd failed to notice that the green sloped uphill from front to middle, so a 3 putt from there was a weak end to a pretty reasonable round.  80 shots, with 33 putts wasn't too shabby, given that I'd a really bad cold and wasn't feeling too great. 

West Linton is a really good course, well worth a visit!  There's a good variety of holes here, and great views of the surrounding farmland and hills. Every aspect of your game will be tested and be accurate in your approach shots to the greens if you can!

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Eyemouth GC

When I started this blog in 2009,  I listed all of the 200+ courses that I'd already played, with the intention of writing only about those that I had yet to play  Nine years, too many lost golf balls, thousands of miles and a huge number of shots on 400+ golf courses later, and I've actually finished playing all of the 587 courses recognised by Scottish Golf plus many more unofficial courses.  A few folk have asked whether I have any plans to revisit and write about the "missing" 200+. The short answer to that is no.  However, as I'm now doing some work for a prominent golf magazine that involves playing our best courses (yes, I know, but someone's got to do it!), I will be revisiting some of those courses again.  Accordingly, I'll be adding to the blog as and when I'm playing these courses again (not forgetting the few unofficial courses that I've still got on my "to play" list.

The first course that I've visited again is Eyemouth GC, an 18 hole gem sited on cliff tops on the east coast of Scotland, just 10 miles north of the border with England. Eyemouth was founded in 1894 as a 9 hole course but the construction of a new road to Eyemouth Harbour in 1997 created the opportunity for the course to be extended to 18 holes. Eyemouth has 3 main claims to fame.  It's the first course you'll pass on the way up the A1 road from England, it's 6th hole is recognised as the most extraordinary hole in Great Britain and its 13th is, at 656 Yards, the longest hole in Scotland. But it also has another claim to fame, namely that it's as welcoming a club as you'll find. At most clubs, the back tees are reserved for competition play, but here, visitors are invited to challenge themselves against the very back tees on these two special holes.  A refreshing change!

Anyway, I fronted up on 9 May 2018, on a cool, dry but increasingly windy day, when this little course was clearly ready to bare its teeth. The 1st hole is a straight 506 Yard Par 5, with a couple of blind shots over small hills.  Just take the mobile phone mast in the distance as your line and avoid hitting the guys on the 2nd tee, Alan!  That done, an easy par start.  The 424 Yard 2nd (as shown here) was the Stroke Index 2 hole but I was playing it downwind so that was another easy par.

The redesign of the course has created some really good holes, this downhill 146 Yard Par 3 3rd being one of the best.  This would be a tricky hole, in full view of the clubhouse windows, but the addition of a pond in front of the green makes it really challenging. Long is better than short but very long, when the Greenkeeper was passing by, was just embarrassing.  A bogey 4 was OK.  The 4th is why you need to buy a Course Guide before playing. This is a 289 Yard Par, and Stroke Index 18. First time I played it shortly after the course had been extended, I (naturally) pulled out the driver.  I later found the ball when playing the 5th, on the other side of the road that now bisects the course.  Please note - the 4th is a dog leg that requires a 7 iron at most to stay short of bunkers that line the edge of the fairway, before the road takes over!  I played safe this time, but the increasing wind came into play, I was short with my second shot and another bogey was on the card.

The 5th is an easy looking slightly uphill and downwind Par 4, but there's a blind dip in front of the green, just to get you thinking.  By now you'll be anticipating the famous 6th, the most extraordinary hole in Great Britain.  But you've not gone all that way just to play off the Yellow Tee, have you?  No, you go out to the White tee and turn to look at the apparently massive gap in the cliff, with the sea a good hundred feet below, the wall of rock facing you, that sliver of grass and the top of the flag, just visible a formidably long way away.  You're glad that you're at the far end of the course, with no-one watching, until a couple of walkers stop to take in the spectacle.  You're maybe also wondering whether they've seen your first feeble effort with an old ball or whether you can brass it out, claiming you've done the impossible and are now going to play another ball from the easier yellow tee, just for the fun of it.  Please do not wimp out.  The 6th is one of those rare unforgettable holes that you just must play from the very back tee.  Club selection is key, as you obviously need enough to fly the gap, but the green is considerably higher than the tee and there's the wind....!  My 20 Degree Rescue did the job, just, but I was way left, over beside the next tee, so a bogey 4 was the best I could do.  Here are a couple of photos that give a flavour of this terrific hole.

The 7th is a short 324 Yard Par 4, played slightly downhill into the prevailing wind, running along the side of the cliffs.  Club selection is vital off the tee, as a good long  drive runs the risk of running into a deep cleft in the cliff face or if slightly too far right, into a couple of nasty bunkers.  I was happy with my bogey after flirting with a sheer drop to the sea, far below, after a wayward drive. This was my view for the 2nd shot and a landmark photo in my travels.  I've been using a now battered and old Sony Cybershot 7.2 megapixel camera for just about all of my blog photos since 2009, but it's now jammed, with no signs of life, other than an invitation to turn it off and on again, which then repeats itself.  Looks as though it wasn't indestructible after all!   

The next couple of holes start the trek inland and are short Par 4's, up then downhill.  I was out in 39, playing not too badly, but I knew from past Eyemouth rounds that the Back 9 would be more challenging, being almost exactly 400 yards longer, considerably more hilly and with some quirky greens.

The back 9 starts with a really good short Par 5, dog leg right.  A good drive is essential, to leave a second shot that must finish between the burn that crosses the fairway and the pond in front of the 2-tiered green.  It should be an easy enough hole with careful course management, but the wind caught my pitch to the green and blew it sideways left, so I had to settle for a bogey.  The 11th was my least favourite hole at Eyemouth.  At 279 Yards, this Par 4 might look innocuous in the Course Guide, but it's very steeply uphill into the prevailing wind, the green is only 21 yards deep and half of that is so steeply sloped from back down to front that a ball is very unlikely to hold unless it makes the top tier.  I'd hit a decent drive but still needed a 23 Degree Rescue to reach the green, only to see my ball run back down into one of the 3 bunkers defending the green.  This is a really tough hole, so be warned.  The slope on the 12th green is a bit like the 11th, so although this is a short 165 Yard Par 3, you must find the back of the green with your tee shot, played over a deep gulley.  The wind again came into play and I needed a my Driver to get there.

The 13th is Eyemouth's second signature hole an epic roller coaster Par 5, played downwind and downhill, with a water hazard running alongside the left of the fairway, culminating in a large pond in front of the green.  It's pretty meaty off the Yellow tee, at 590 Yards, but there was ample land behind and above the Yellow and White tees when the course was remodelled, so there's now a tiger tee at the highest point of the course, turning this into a 656 Yard monster. The longest hole in Scotland? I think so and if you ever play Eyemouth, be sure to take the walk and play this hole from the tiger tee, just for fun.  The  panoramic view from the tee is stunning and if you can nail your drive and the wind is helping, you'll be hitting one of your longest ever drives!  The second shot might be blind but the fairway was generously wide and left me with an unlikely chance of reaching the green in regulation, or laying up short of the pond.  I took the conservative approach and was happy enough with a 6.  A great hole! The 14th offers some relief and is an easy enough short Par 4, dog leg left, slightly uphill.  Easy enough if you find the right level on the 2-tier green, that is!  I just missed birdie after a good short iron approach.  

The 15th is the Stroke Index 1 hole and at 441 Yards, is the longest Par 4 at Eyemouth.   Another hole played uphill into the prevailing wind with a steeply sloping green and just to make it even trickier, a burn splitting the fairway that comes into play for your second shot.  I managed a 5 but in truth, I could probably play this hole many many times without getting a par.  The 16th should be relatively straightforward, but in the 6 or so times I've played this course, I don't remember ever getting a par.  The key is to position the tee shot at or beyond the corner of the dog leg, leaving a short iron to a plateau green, well defended by 3 deep bunkers.  I got the first bit right but found an awful lie in one of the bunkers with my second shot and trudged up the hill to the short 17th debating how I'd managed a double bogey!  The 17th is an inviting short Par 3, played over a small gulley, with banking behind the green to catch anything overhit.  An easy par and on to the last hole, a really good 530 Yard Par 5, played downwind.  Keep your drive to the left side of the fairway and be careful not to over hit your approach to the green, as seen here (a photo "borrowed" from an internet source).  I was nearer to the practice putting green after doing just that, hence my closing bogey!

I'd gone round in 84, net 74, with 32 putts.  The composite course I played was around 6300 Yards, Par 72, so a pretty good round in the circumstances.  I'd bogeyed both of the signature holes, but they'll both live long in the memory. It's a pity that Eyemouth doesn't get the huge visitor numbers it deserves, as it's great fun to play, even if your game isn't up to the challenge of some epic holes and sloping greens.  Do yourself a favour and give it a try, with a spare ball or 3 for your shots from the 6th back tee!