Sunday, 1 September 2019

Maverston Golf Course - 9 Hole Par 3 Course - Course No 672

When Craig, Stu and I played the then new Maverston 18 hole course in 2014, a 9 Hole Par 3 course was under construction inside the full course layout.  We'd obviously need to play that sometime so my trip to play the new Kings course in Inverness provided an ideal opportunity. I'd played at Hopeman on the morning of 30 August 2019 and it's only a short drive from Hopeman to Maverston, near the village of Urquhart in Moray.  The wind had really increased dramatically in that time and I was soon chasing my golf shoes and other golf gear blowing away across the car park.  Whatever I was going to play next, it would be a real test. 

The 9 Hole course is only 1250 Yards long, Par 27 but one look at the card suggested that even without the gale that was now sweeping across the exposed site, this little course would have some teeth.  The holes range form 101 to 187 Yards, but the wind and the elevated nature of most of the very small greens meant that my choice of clubs would be critical.  I'd put my putter, 58 degree lob wedge, 9 iron, 7 iron and 20 Degree Rescue into a light carry bag and enough balls to survive the evil looking heavy rough that looked ready to swallow anything hit or blown offline.  I'll not detail every hole, since this is one of the small courses that have to be visited if every course is to be played, rather than a significant course in its own right.  Truth be told, it's probably just for beginners and short game practice but with that gale blowing it was still pretty formidable.  I went round in 31, with a birdie 2 at the 135 Yard 5th and 5 bogeys on some of the longer holes.  Here are some photos of the course

31 shots, including 14 putts in a little under an hour.  No food in the clubhouse unfortunately and my drive home took well over 5 hours.  A long day, but I'd finally got back to Maverston.  I don't think I'll go there again, though, either to play the 9 or the 18 hole layout.  There are many other and to me at least, more enjoyable courses in the Moray area.   

Hopeman Golf Club

When I was planning my trip to play the new Kings GC course in Inverness, I knew I'd need an overnight stay, since it's a good 4 hour drive from home.  I'd also been wanting to play the 9 hole Par 3 course in Maverston GC, so I factored in playing one of the other local courses on the morning of 30 August 2019.  Hopeman was the choice, a course I was very familiar with.  Way back around 1985 my group of golfing buddies started what would become an annual golf trip to Elgin, staying for a week and playing twice a day at local courses, from Nairn to Cullen.  There are some really good courses up there, such as Nairn, Nairn Dunbar, Old and New Moray, Buckpool, Strathlene, Forres, Cullen, Spey Bay, Garmouth & Kingston and Elgin itself.  My favourite, though, was always Hopeman, a small unheralded village links course but for those in the know, a real gem.  I guess I'd played it about 20 times before my visit last week.  I'd kept a duplicate scorecard from my round there on 30 August 1998, when I played in Hopeman's Gents' Open, for their Andromeda II Trophy, in memory of a local fishing boat disaster.  I shot gross 77 back then, net 65 on a course that in some places was very tight, with perils aplenty, bouncy narrow fairways and more gorse than you'd ever see in a golfing nightmare.  I don't think I actually won but I do remember getting a substantial prize voucher and getting my handicap cut!  Maybe 2nd place, I don't really remember.

So, and by sheer coincidence, I was back at Hopeman exactly 21 years after that epic round.  I'd previously played Hopeman with the same group of golfing buddies, so it was really strange to be fronting up, early morning, to an almost empty car park, without Graham, Donald, Brian M (still missed terribly by all of us, one of life's unique characters. RIP my friend), Martin, JD, Chris, Brian B and other regulars.  Guys, it just wasn't the same this time round.  No banter, "stewards' enquiries," jokes, silly and heroic shots.  Just fond memories on every hole.  

Hopeman is a short 5368 Yard Par 68 links course off the yellow tees (5265 back in 1998).  The 1st is a 342 Yard 4 with a semi blind tee shot played slightly uphill to a heather and gorse lined fairway.  Avoid the bunker and you'll have an easy short iron to the green.  Except, the green is super slick and unless you're very precise you may just be paying it a fleeting visit with your approach.  Bogey here is entirely predictable and that's how I started this emotional return round. The next is where the fun really starts. 301 Yards, Par 4. Sounds easy enough?  Factor in gorse both sides and behind a ditch in front of the small elevated green with gorse behind and it's far from easy.  I'd hit a good straight drive (an essential element if you're to play well here) a short 9 iron pitch and a couple of putts, for a first par.  Next comes the first of the five Par 3s.  153 Yards, blind, to a green shared with the 6th Hole.  Hook it here and you might still be on the green, but 80 or so feet away.  A bunker protects the front right of the green so fly that and hold on tight and you'll be OK.  I got away with another par after 2 good putts.  

The 4th is a very flat 506 Yard Par 5, dog leg left.  Aim at the right side bunker and get past the trees on the dog leg corner to set up a long approach shot.  I missed the green on the left, leaving an awkward pitch over a greenside mound, but a bogey there was acceptable.  It was a long Par 4 back in 1998 and lengthening it by almost 50 yards has put further pressure on the tee shot.  Overall, an improvement I think.  The 5th is an awkward little hole, at 328 Yards, dog leg right.  The temptation is to try to cut across the dog leg but heather and gorse await anything short on that side.  I'd gone straight up the middle, forgetting that  the bouncy links fairways here can deflect even the best shots into trouble.  An outrageous bounce left me with a totally blind wedge shot over gorse to a hidden green.  I'd had that shot before, so knew it only too well.  Easy 4 after a good wedge and a missed birdie putt from 10 feet!  The tee shot for the 6th never really appealed to me.  The fairway looks wide enough, but the little bunker on the left caught me out, again! Bogey there was actually a good result.  The 7th is called "Ditches" so be warned.  This is a flat Par 3 of 178 Yards.  Go over the green at the back or miss it left or right and you may find a deep water-filled ditch, which is just lost ball territory.  I hit 20 Degree Rescue, 58 Degree lob wedge from just off the right side of the green and a 2 putts for another bogey.  This is the 8th, a 337 Yard par 4 that narrows considerably towards the green.  Just avoid the heather and gorse! 

Hopeman's 9th is an uphill 281 Yard Par 4 that plays a bit longer than you'd think.  Find the fairway and it should be a short pitch to the green.  This is one of the easier holes and par is important, given what faces you next.

The Back 9 is simply great fun if you've got enough golf balls on board. Think narrow, gorse, trouble, straight and don't panic.  The 10th is only 294 Yards, but is gorse lined and bumps in the fairway will deflect your tee shot one way or the other.  Get lucky here and you'll have a totally blind shot downhill to a sloping green, as shown here.  Get unlucky and you could easily run up a big score. I fluked a par after finding heavy rough from my straight drive, 6 iron to 15 feet and 2 putts.  

Next, comes the 11th, another narrow gorse lined fairway and more humps than a herd of camels.  350 Yards this time.  Driver, 6 iron, pitch from just off the green and 2 putts.  I've had far worse over the years here, believe me.

Is there a better Par 3 in Scotland than the 12th at Hopeman?  Indeed, I guess I've played around 900 courses in Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales, Sweden, Cyprus, USA, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, and Turkey.  At  4/5 Par 3s each, that's around 4000 Par 3s.  This is in my Top 3.  If you've played a better hole than this, you're a lucky and probably well-travelled golfer.  The 12th is called "Priesach" and is a 137 Yard hole, downhill, to a small green surrounded by gorse and/or sea.  Hit the green and don't 3 putt is all you have to do.  Factor in the exposed tee, high above the sea, the likelihood of a strong wind in your face and the sheer drama of the hole and you might be starting with an old ball! A view from the medal tee and below, and below that, a view back to the green from what is now the 15th tee.

Just a terrific hole that I wanted to play all day.  There was no-one behind so the temptation was definitely there.  I managed bogey with both balls! Back in 1998, the course routing followed a very long and steep path behind the 12th green, so it was quite a walk to the 13th tee.  I gathered from talking to the greenkeepers repairing a nearby path that the layout changed around 15 years ago, with the 13th tee being relocated to the left of the 12th tee, meaning that the 13th was rerouted and the 12th now sits on its own.  Once you've finished the 12th, you now have to walk back up the same path you went down, leaving your clubs at the top. Personally, I preferred the original layout, but it's still a truly great hole, well worth visiting Hopeman to enjoy.

The 13th is now a 382 Yard almost flat Par 4, rather than a 339 Yard partially uphill hole.  I think I prefer the old layout.  However, I'm splitting hairs there as this is still a strong hole, played into the prevailing wind. The 14th as shown here, remains much the same and is a 370 Yard downhill Par 4, with a generously wide fairway, played downwind.   I like this hole, and if you play it sensibly, there's no difficulty in getting par.If like me you miss the green with your approach, bogey will probably be your best bet.  I'd 4 holes left to scramble a score, but I'd need 4 pars to equal the 1998 score of 77 gross.

The 15th is a delightful little Par 3 of only 122 Yards as seen here from the tee. With the wind helping, it was only a flick with a wedge to clear the bunker in front of the green and let the ball carry down the slope to the green.  Most times your ball will land on a downslope so holding the green is actually quite difficult.  My tee shot just ran through, but 2 easy putts from there and another par on the card.  The 16th remains a beast of a hole, uphill into the prevailing wind, its 367 Yard plays more like 430.  I played Driver, 3 Wood and 6 iron to reach the green in 3, but a good 15 foot putt rescued the par.  77 still on.

The 17th is the last of the Par 3's and is an uphill 191 Yards, gorse on both sides and at the back, a wall and more trouble.  Only the top of the flag is visible from the tee and i needed a solid Driver to reach the side of the green.  A great little 9 iron pitch and run to a few inches and 77 was STILL on!  The last at Hopeman is a really testing hole.  Your drive will be blind, through a chute of gorse and over a rise in the fairway and there's really nothing to aim at, as shown below.  388 Yards of trouble, with water in front of the green. 
I hit a good straight drive but I was mindful of the watery ditch in front of the green so a 27 Degree Rescue to 70 Yards was my choice, leaving a short pitch to the green as shown below.
The green is tiered and my pitch didn't quite make it to the top tier.  I'd an awkward 15 foot putt, double breaking uphill.  I could probably try 10 times and hole it once but first time was good enough!  32 putts on those excellent greens was good.  A closing par 4 is a Hopeman rarity for me and over the years I've had 6-8 at least.  77 on my return last week matched what I scored in 1998.  40 out and 37 back this time, 37 and 40 back then.  My handicap then was 12 and it's now 11 so I guess I'm not doing badly, 21 years later.  I'd really enjoyed playing Hopeman again, despite the ghosts of past memories intruding on every hole.  We all had great times there over the years and overall, the course is as good as ever.  To any readers who haven't played there, please give it a try if you can.

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Kings Golf Club - Course No 671

In post No 266 about my round at Torvean Golf Course in March 2010, I mentioned the disjointed nature of that course and how it was split into 3 distinct sections by the main road from Inverness to Fort William and a very busy local road (General Booth Road). I also said that some of the holes weren't particularly memorable. Looking back, the layout really wasn't great and the road crossings involved were difficult and disruptive. I also wondered about the safety aspects, particularly for young (and older!) golfers crossing those busy roads. The course wasn't in great condition back then and the clubhouse was tired, so when I heard the Highland Council were going to change the local road layout and would need much of the Torvean land, I was pleased to hear that they would be building a replacement course as part of the overall development. 

The Kings GC website ( advises that "The Kings Golf Club was established in 2019 and designed by Stuart Rennie. Originally the Torvean Golf Club, due to Highland Council investment in the Inverness West Link and redevelopment of the area, a new clubhouse was built, and an 18 hole Championship golf course, driving and practice area." The website is pretty informative and attractive but I really didn't know what to expect when I visited the new course on 29 August 2019.

The course is easy enough to find, even if my car's sat nav had never heard of it, or the new road the clubhouse sits on. First impressions were hugely positive. I would be playing the course on a weekday in very dodgy weather, but the large car park was almost full, the club house impressively busy and lots of golfers out there, despite occasional heavy showers. The club pro was very welcoming and told me that club membership was expanding and that, despite the course only being opened a for a few weeks, it was settling down well and the club was delighted with early progress on the new site.  This is a view of the clubhouse from the first tee, and a look across to the 18th green (and more about that excellent hole later!)

The "yellow tees" course starts with a 364 Yard Par 4.  My tee shot was blind, over a ridge in the fairway, or would have been, had I actually hit it far enough. I blame the 4 hour drive to get there!  Thankfully, I'd been cautious enough to take a walk forward to see what was hidden beyond the ridge. There's a small burn on front of the green, enough to persuade me to lay up short, as shown here.  An easy chip and a couple of putts and a first new hole completed. The 2nd hole is a short slightly downhill 303 Yard Par 4.  A reasonable drive, a punched 7 iron into the strong wind and the first of many heavy showers, and my first missed birdie, but an easy par. The next couple of holes are just over the 390 mark, but played much longer in the wind and rain, so double bogey, bogey wasn't too surprising.  Much of the 4th is uphill, with another burn to cross and a blind shot to the green so it's Stroke Index 1 status wasn't a surprise. The 5th, a "short" but uphill dog leg left 493 Yard Par 5 is a really good hole.  Played downwind, it was still a good test.  I laid up short of the dog leg to give way to one of the greenkeepers working on the fairway.  They're doing a great job!  

This is the approach to 5th green, slightly uphill and depth perception is limited. I'd caught up with a couple of members by then, who invited me to join them from the 6th, and were clearly enjoying their new home course. The 6th is a meaty 406 Yard Par 4, played across a side sloping fairway.  The bold line is over a fairway bunker, leaving a longish shot to a plateau green. I played a 23 Degree Rescue just short of the green, but a good chip and another missed short putt added another bogey to the card.

The 7th is the first of three Par 3's and at 159 Yards, downhill and downwind, played much shorter than it looked. My easy 7 iron looked very close but turned out to be all of 10 feet.  The green surfaces were outstanding throughout the course.  Medium paced but very true and smooth as you'd ever like to see, just a delight to putt on. That said, I misread the swing and a good birdie chance.  One of the guys had to walk in to go to his work, so Willie, a recently retired police officer and now school janitor (a safer task, methinks), set out to play the rest of the course.  Willie had only played the course a few times since it opened but it was clear that he and other members were delighted with their new surroundings.  The 8th hole is an awkward uphill Par 4 of 397 Yards that plays longer than it looks.  It's also side on to the prevailing westerly wind so it was no surprise that our tee shots found light rough to the right of the fairway.  A hillock of gorse bushes makes the approach shot from there totally blind and I really didn't have the energy to walk up the hill to get a feel for the shot.  Predictably, I missed the green with my 6 iron shot and a bogey followed.

The 9th is called "Rest in Peace" presumably because it is a potential score killer of a Par 4, played slightly uphill but for us, directly into the prevailing wind and a heavy rain shower.  I'd hit a decent drive followed by a 3 Wood but was still 20 yards short of the green.  A great 9 iron pitch to 2 inches (yes, really!) led to an unlikely par.  I was out in 43, or 7 over par, so not great, but I was already loving the course and having fun.  Buffer zone would be the target!  The 10th is "Rennie's Legacy" in tribute to the course designer and a 142 Yard Par 3 that's deceptively tricky. A burn cuts across 20 yards in front of the green and shouldn't really come into play, unless like me, you sky a 7 iron into the strong wind that was by then howling across the course.  A meek bogey, before the course turns sharply uphill.  The 11th is "Cemetery Hill" a 337 Yard Par 4 that played more like 390.  Driver, 3 Wood, 58 degree lob wedge and another missed putt added yet another bogey.  Par there might be a rare beast though. The 12th takes you up to the top of the course, with great views over to the city and surrounding hills.  Your tee shot needs to avoid a cleverly placed fairway bunker (which I missed by at least a yard!) to set up a slightly downhill short iron to the green, as shown above.  Yes, another bogey after just missing the green.  

This is the 13th, a really good 171 Yard Par 3, played directly into the wind.  Driver, would you believe? 9 iron pitch from just short of the green and a tap in putt for par.  The 14th is a really good downhill dog leg right 433 Yard Par 4 that plays shorter than it looks.  After the climb up the 11th and 12th, this hole comes as welcome relief.  Ground preparation works are currently underway for a housing development that in due course will lie mainly between the 14th and 2nd fairways, so maybe those folks will have good views over the course!  The 15th is the Kings' longest hole at a meaty 570 Yards off the White tee and a more manageable 524 off our yellow tee.  The fairway is generously wide, for now at least, and I managed an unlikely par after a good putt - the excellent greens again!

16 is the last of the Par 3s and a stiff test in that wind.  This is a view from the tee.  Another slightly missed green and a saving single putt meant I was 1 over for the four Par 3s. Not too shabby, Alan! The penultimate hole is another really strong hole, at 452 Yards, uphill, with a penalty area water hazard to the right of the fairway.  a left side bunker comes into play, narrowing the tee shot landing zone and I needed a really good Driver and 3 Wood to leave a short pitch to the flag. I missed the 4 foot putt for par but I just needed bogey up the last to make my buffer zone (gross 83).

The course designer had used some of the original land on the previous course for the new 1st and 18th holes. The busy local road runs alongside the right of the 18th but isn't too intrusive.  Indeed, I'd forgotten how close the course is to roads and housing, since holes 2-17 are played in a peaceful countryside setting. Maybe that'll lessen once the housing development is built. I hope not, because Kings is already a really impressive course and it's last hole is probably my favourite, a 355 Yard Par 4. Your tee shot will be blind and slightly uphill over a hump in the fairway, ideally avoiding trees to right and left.  I'd hit a decent drive but was left with a downhill sloping lie for my 145 Yard approach shot to the green.  Normally no great problem, but the design had made clever use of an existing pond, by locating the green immediately behind it and in front of the clubhouse windows, as shown here. Rather than go for the green, and doubtless risk a lost ball, I opted to aim short of the bunker to the right of the green and take my chances from there.  The wind was gusting strongly across the hole so my approach shot ended up 20 yards wide of the green in light rough.  An easy pitch with my 9 iron, 2 putts and I'd gone round in 83, less 11, for a net 72.  Buffer zone with 31 putts, so not bad really, in difficult playing conditions.

I'd really enjoyed the course, which was in amazing condition, considering it had only opened for play a few weeks previously. The greens were simply outstanding.  There are lots of really good courses in the Inverness area already and this is another.  I really liked the set up and with club membership already increasing markedly, I suspect that Kings will quickly establish itself as one of the best courses in the area. £40 a round for a Scottish Golf member and £27 a head for outings are great deals, so what are you waiting for?  Get along to Kings and see for yourself.

A final word for my playing partner, Willie, who's wife is currently battling cancer.  My best wishes for her future health, Willie. I really hope that it's good news next week. Cancer hits most of us sooner or later, directly or indirectly and I'm just glad that Craig, Stu and I have done a tiny bit to raise funds towards research efforts.

Sunday, 25 August 2019

New Courses

Regular readers of the blog will know that I've previously recognised that playing every course is an evolving process, as new courses open and others close.  So, I'm excited by the challenge of playing a couple of new courses next week and returning to play an old favourite.

I played the Torvean golf course in Inverness in 2010 (Blog entry 266)  a municipal course that was operated by the Highland Council.  Since then, the Council has changed the road layout in the area, using land from the Torvean course.  Part of the deal was that the Council would replace the Torvean course and the new King's GC opened earlier this year on land adjacent to the original layout.  Early reports are that it is a great improvement on the original so I'm looking forward to playing the King's.

When I played the 18 holer at Maverston in  2014, a 9 hole Par 3 course on the site was still under construction.  It opened a while later so after I've played at the King's, I'll drive over and play that 9 hole course. 

I'll also be playing the terrific course at Hopeman GC, for around the 20th time.  This is a real gem and a truly great test as well as one of the most enjoyable courses I've played in my travels around Scotland's golf courses.  The first time I played it was around 1982, long before I started my blog, so entry No 1 simply lists it as a course I'd played before the blog was created.  I'm looking forward to seeing how the course plays these days and to try to complete the round without losing a ball, something that is very easy to do on the Back 9!  Narrow gorse lined undulating links fairways and treacherous rough abound, but some of the holes are simply outstanding, none more so than the epic Par 3 12th, one of the most photographed and spectacular holes I've played on my travels.I just hope the weather is as good as it was when this photo of that hole was taken!