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!