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.      

Friday, 13 May 2016

The Nestie Golf Course - Course no 665

The Nestie is a 6-hole short course operated by the Carnoustie Golf Links Trust and opened in May 2014 as part of a wider redevelopment of the Buddon Course at Carnoustie.  The Buddon now has 2 new holes and the Nestie was built on what was formerly the Buddon's 1st fairway, immediately to the left of the 1st hole on Carnoustie's Championship Course.  The Nestie is described by the Trust as a junior course, but  it's also open to adult members and non-members alike and is only reserved for juniors at specific times.  As such, it's a good practice facility for anyone playing one of Carnoustie's three main courses and being free, with clubs available for hire from the adjacent Pro Shop, it's ideally located for casual play by any visitors to the town and for complete beginners to learn the basics.  See the Buddon Course 1st tee and Championship Course 1st tee webcams on for aerial live streaming showing the Nestie Course. This is a photo I took from the 1st tee.  Note the greenkeepers hard at work in the background.

I'd arranged to meet Craig at Noon on 11 May 2016, who as regular readers of the blog will know, is one of the 2 guys that I'm playing all of the Scottish courses with. Craig lives within a Par 5 of the 1st tee on the Championship Course and is a member of one of the 5 clubs that have playing rights over the Carnoustie Links.  The 3rd and 4th Holes were closed for maintenance when we met up, so it initially looked as though my 210 mile round trip might have to be repeated at a later date.  Craig and I played the 4 remaining holes that were open and I practiced for a while around the old 1st green of the Buddon Course, now used for general practice.  Thankfully the Greenkeepers finished their work pretty quickly and the Nestie was fully open by 1330 hrs.  This is a view of the 3rd Hole, looking back to the Championship Course 1st Tee and the iconic hotel that overlooks the Championship Course.

As the photo above suggests, the Nestie wasn't in great condition.  The fairways had been heavily scarified and the greens were pretty bumpy and slow.  Scoring was generally difficult, as balls would take unexpected bounces and putting was really tricky.  This was my score on the completed full round -

Hole 1 -  65 Yards, Par 3 Score was 4, with 2 putts
Hole 2 -  66 Yards, Par 3 Score was 3, with 2 putts
Hole 3 -  64 Yards, Par 3 Score was 4, with 2 putts
Hole 4 -  44 Yards, Par 3 Score was 4 with 2 putts
Hole 5 -  55 Yards, Par 3 Score was 2 with 1 putt
Hole 6 -  40 Yards, Par 3 Score was 3 with 2 putts

So, 20 strokes in total with 11 putts on a course measuring 334 Yards in total.  Not the most demanding or interesting course I've played on my travels around Scotland, but good practice nevertheless and I'm glad that the Links Trust had the wisdom to add this little course to the excellent facilities at Carnoustie.  This is me on the 1st tee.  I don't know exactly when my next new course will be as I've got a golfing holiday to Turkey coming up later in the month.  At least I'm back playing again and looking forward to more trips around some of the more remote parts of Scotland on my continuing quest to play every course.  

For any readers who have not played the Carnoustie Courses before, the Championship Course can be an absolute beast and the Buddon and Burnside courses are also challenging in their own right, particularly on windy days!  Even if you're not playing, a trip to the Pro Shop beside the Championship Course 1st Tee is quite an experience - particularly if you're not expecting to pass what I assume is an exact replica of the Claret Jug!

Friday, 6 May 2016

Recovery - Complete!

In my last post, I mentioned that I'd be having major heart surgery.  The operation (a triple heart bypass, no less) was on 18 January 2016 and was a complete success.  The recovery was long and difficult and not something I'd want to ponder on too much. Suffice to say that after 15 long weeks I'm almost back to full fitness.  The physios cleared me to start playing golf after week 12 and I should be OK to get back to caddying by the end of May.  

So, it was back to the golf at long last, starting with a few holes at the Glen GC and Dunbar GC, the 2 courses where I'm a member. At the Glen, we're about to open a new 9-Hole course, using the first 4 holes of the existing course, a new tee half way along and adjacent to the existing Par 4 14th hole to create a new 165 Yard Par 3 and finishing with the last 4 holes of the existing course. We'll also have a separate score card so under our definition of what constitutes a golf course, our new Fouranback Golf Course has to be added to our list of Scottish golf courses.  It's not officially open yet, as the new tee still has to bed in but it's just about possible to play the new layout by dropping a ball beside the new tee.  I did just that a couple of weeks ago, for my first 9 holes after the operation.  I went round in a very rusty 45 strokes, but on 3 May 2016 I managed an encouraging 37, only 2 over par.  I'll do a full report once the course is open.

The big test of my recovery progress was to be a full 18 holes at Dunbar GC on 4 May. Polly had been playing nearly every day for the past week so decided she'd just walk the course with me.  To set the scene fully, there was a group of 11 visitors immediately in front of me. The 1st Hole at Dunbar is a gentle 460 Yard Par 5.  Hit a decent drive, lay up in front of the stream that cuts across the fairway 20 yards short of the green, hit any kind of pitch onto the big green and an opening par is there for the taking.  Having done that, the first 4-ball of visitors let me play through on the 2nd tee.  The 2nd is also a Par 5, and far more demanding. I rushed the tee shot, found a tricky lie in the rough and needed a good 3 wood to make the green in regulation.  Another par on the card and the 4-ball of visitors ahead of me waived me through on the 3rd, after playing their tee shots and reaching the side of the green.  The 3rd is a 152 Yard Par 3, played from an elevated tee to a long narrow green that's completely surrounded by deep bunkers.  The flag was at the back left of the green, but the green is right outside the clubhouse windows and is also overlooked by golfers walking to the pro shop, on the practice putting green and the 1st tee.  So, the 3rd is by far the most intimidating of the Par 3's at Dunbar and there's usually a crowd of casual observers - and the occasional ghoul in the bar watching for errant shots and bunker trouble.  Not a hole to trifle with or play badly!  This is a view from the tee, taken immediately after my round.

I'd forgotten my Skycaddie so Polly went back to the car - the car park is also adjacent to the 3rd, just to add to the pressure.  With the wind behind, I reckoned the hole was playing short, so I opted for an easy 7 iron.  The greens were running pretty fast so I thought that a ball landing on the down slope beyond the front bunker would run another 30 yards or so. I didn't really take long over the shot. I just hoped I'd hit the green and avoid making a fool of myself in front of the guys who'd waived me through and I was ready with the excuses - first game back after surgery, rusty swing etc. However, I hit the tee shot very well and the ball went almost exactly where I'd wanted it to and after running 70+ feet on the green, it went into the hole for my first hole in one.  I've been playing golf for around 45 years so I suppose it's about time I got lucky.  Polly missed the ball going but arrived well before I did, so hugs and handshakes all round and 2 bottles of whisky on the bar counter afterwards (and just where did all of these golfers suddenly come from?)  Luckily, I had my phone in my pocket, so here's me and the ball (now retired!) that did it for me.  I hope it takes me another 45 years to repeat the feat, but somehow I think I'd need to get lucky again long before then.

The rest of the round was pretty unremarkable and I needed that 1 on the 3rd in order to break 90 (i.e. 89).  However, this round was all about personal recovery and the closure of a very difficult chapter in my life's story.  I was pretty tired going up the last and I needed some strong painkillers to ease the various pains in my legs, arms and ribs. I'd been very fit immediately before the operation so it was a huge shock to find that after it I could barely walk a few steps without needing a rest. This round proved to me that my recovery was effectively complete. OK, I still need to get stronger and fitter before re-joining my caddying buddies, but I feel I'm no longer the recovering heart patient, I'm back to being the guy that loves playing golf and pursuing the ambition of playing every course in Scotland, just for my own satisfaction.  Next stop Carnoustie, where there's a wee course I've not yet played. I'm also playing  the excellent course at West Kilbride GC next week with some old golfing buddies, so I suspect that more celebratory whiskies will be purchased! 

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Slow progress

Regular readers of the blog will have noticed that I've not managed to play very many new courses this year and they may be wondering whether I'll ever get the rest of them played. I'd planned to do the remainder in 2015 but it's just not worked out due to a variety of caddying work, holiday and other commitments and a health issue that's grown in recent months.

This is a blog about golf, not health issues, so I'll keep it short.  I'd noticed over the summer that I was sometimes getting neck and shoulder pains when caddying and that I was getting tired rather than just walking around courses as normal.  The bottom line is that I'll be having major heart surgery very soon, so all being well I'll be back caddying and playing golf by next Spring.  I'll also be getting back to the challenge of trying to play every course we know about, but I doubt whether I'll get any more done before the surgery. 

Weather permitting I'm still playing a couple of times a week at Dunbar GC (my second club) and at the Glen GC and not worrying about the future.  There's clearly a heart problem that needs to be addressed but worrying certainly won't help. What will be, will be.  I'm just looking forward to the recovery process! This is one of my favourite holes, the famous 13th at the Glen GC. Hopefully, I'll be back there in the Spring. In the meantime, Season's Greetings to all my blog readers, everywhere. 

Friday, 4 September 2015

3 Lochs Holiday Park and Seaward Caravan Park Pitch and Putt Courses

As I've said before in this Blog, it's been quite difficult to identify all of the courses we'd need to play in order to achieve our ambition of playing absolutely every course in Scotland. There's no single fully comprehensive list that includes all of the private courses, those with less than 9 holes and those that don't feature on any lists but still have "fixed tees and greens, for the purposes of playing golf" which is our basic definition of a "golf course."  If we'd wanted to restrict ourselves to just playing courses that have 9 or more holes, including at least one Par 4, it would have been easy enough to know where we needed to go. However, since some pitch and putt and practice courses have holes that are considerably longer than some that are found on "proper golf courses" we think it's necessary to try to play such courses.   

It's difficult enough to get round the 600+ courses that have at least 9 holes, including at least one Par 4, so full respect to any who have succeeded in doing that. To any who prefer that narrower definition of a "golf course", please just allow us to be different.  Yes, we're probably absolutely daft, traipsing around Scotland in all weathers trying to play obscure pitch and putt etc. courses in remote parts of the country, but that's our chosen target. In reality, our ambition can only ever be to play every course we know about. OK, so maybe we'll miss a few that we never find out about.  If we do miss any, that'll be a shame, but equally, it's no big deal. We're simply doing our best for our chosen charity and enjoying the journey.  

Last year Graeme, a buddy who is playing new courses in pursuit of his own golfing and charitable ambitions, gave us a list of pitch and putt courses that he'd found in internet research, some of which we thought might fit our own definition of a "golf course." Although websites might claim to have a "family 9 hole pitch and putt course" or similarly worded attraction, we've found that it's difficult to know without a site visit whether particular facilities meet our definition. 

It's been a frustrating summer in terms of my own efforts to play new courses.  I've been pretty busy working at my own golf club in addition to caddying and taking holidays with Polly that whilst very enjoyable sometimes seemed like personal attempts to refloat various continental economies, but I digress.  Graeme had told us about a couple of courses in the far south west of Scotland that might need to be played, so I made the trip on 1-2 September 2015 to Dumfries & Galloway to play a couple of his suggestions.  My first stop was at the 3 Lochs Holiday Park, tucked away down a narrow single track road in deepest rural Dumfries & Galloway, a few miles west of Newton Stewart.  The park's website had mentioned a 9-hole Pitch and Putt course and after paying my £3.50 green fee, I found the course at the far end of the caravan park.  Since our definition of a golf course is that there must be fixed tees and greens, I was hoping to find a clearly laid out course.  Sadly, it was not to be. There were certainly 9 greens and flags and the fairways were also clearly identifiable, but I could only find 2 marked tees. To make it even more confusing, the flags did not appear to have been set in any particular order. On what I took to be the first hole, the flag was numbered 5 and the last hole was numbered 1.  Other flags didn't have numbers at all and as for the greens, the grass was so long that some of the holes were completely overgrown, making putting impossible.   

Overall, this facility didn't meet our definition of a golf course, so 3 Lochs is now off our list of Scottish golf courses.  I "played" it without losing a golf ball - no mean feat, given the length of the rough, but I didn't really score on any of the "holes" since they were all overgrown. For what it's worth, here are some random photos of the 3 Lochs lay out.

Note the use of heavy rough as hazards around the greens! The setting is pretty enough and with far more maintenance and basic investment in proper tees and flags, the owners could turn this field with flags into a genuine caravan park attraction.  As things stand, the place is better suited to dog walking (and that's what the only other people I met on the course were doing).

After that rather dismal experience, it was on to the nearby Wigtownshire County GC, a great little 18 hole links course hugging the shoreline at the top of Luce Bay.  This is one of a couple of courses that I'd only played with Polly in a foursome format, so it was good to play every shot this time.  My caddying this year has included area qualifying at Bruntsfield Links for The Open Championship, the Pro Am prior to the Scottish Open at Gullane and in the Scottish Seniors Open at Archerfield and I've also enjoyed playing at some prestigious courses in Scotland and abroad.  However, the greens at Wigtownshire County are definitely the best I've seen this year.  Fast, true and a joy to play.  The course is pretty flat and at only 5829 Yards off the Yellow tees, Par 70, it looks deceptively easy.  When I played it on 1 September 2015 the wind was generally helping on the Front 9 and birdies on the 1st and 8th holes meant I was 3 over par at the turn.  Holes 9-12 are particularly tight and difficult and when I turned into the wind for the last few holes, it was just a case of minimising the damage!  A gross 78 (net 68) was only possible thanks to some decent approach shots to the greens and some great putting.  I certainly don't remember making 7 successive single putts before, and 27 putts in total was pretty good too.  This little course is well worth playing and at only £30 a round, is great value for money.

From the sublime, back to the faintly ridiculous, I'm afraid.  I'd keyed the post code for the Seaward Caravan Park into my sat nav, since it had advertised itself as having a "9-Hole Family Pitch and Putt Course."  Sadly, the single track road I was on petered away into an overgrown muddy path, leading to a derelict-looking cottage with a single abandoned caravan.  Retracing my route, I followed road signs to the caravan park at Brighouse Bay, where I'd previously played its 18 hole links course and 9-hole pitch and putt course, but it was looking as though I'd have to search around for Seaward Caravan Park.  I eventually found it en route to Kirkcudbright, and after paying my £3 to the Warden, I also found its "Pitch and Putt Course." The Warden explained that some of the greenkeeping equipment was away being fixed, so I was fearing the worst.  Sure enough, the Seaward facility was almost on a par with that at 3 Lochs.  There were certainly 9 flags in a field and a few barely visible tee markers, one of which read "83 yards" without numbering the hole or suggesting a direction of play, so this is another that gets crossed off our list of courses.  I spent some time "playing" the course, but there was no clear sequence of holes and when I lost a ball played directly to one of the greens, I'd seen enough.  

Hopefully, there will be better trips before my journey around Scotland's golf courses is complete.  Next stop is probably around Inverness, where Graeme tells me there are a few "possibles" to check out. There are also some pretty good courses up that way that I might play again e.g. Strathpeffer and Muir of Ord.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Callendar Park Par 3 Course - Course no 664

This is a 9 hole Par 3 course measuring 965 Yards, Par 27, located in Callendar Park, Falkirk, and is operated by the Falkirk Community Trust on behalf of its owners, Falkirk Council.  I'd been meaning to play this one for a while but had never quite drummed up the enthusiasm for the 110 return trip.  However, SED GC,  the golfing society I'm a member of, was due to play the nearby Falkirk GC at Carmuirs in Falkirk on 3 July 2015 so that gave me the ideal opportunity to play Callendar Park.  3 July was a baking hot day and one round over the excellent Carmuirs course was tiring enough, so I was glad I'd opted to play this little Par 3 course rather than tackle another full round at Carmuirs.

The Callendar Park Course is currently open all year round but the Starter advised me that there is a proposal to close it during the winter months as part of Falkirk Council's wider cost-saving measures.  It seems there is local concern that if the course is not operated over the winter months it might not re-open in 2016.  It was certainly busy enough when I played it.  Like other such facilities, I guess it would get pretty quiet over the winter months but I hope it doesn't become another closure casualty. There were clear signs of abandoned bunkers and greens adjacent to the existing  course, suggesting that there had at one time been a larger course here.  It would be a shame if the Par 3 course closes completely, since it's apparently popular with locals who use the park.

The course layout is actually pretty decent, with typically small greens, starting with the longest hole, as shown here, a 142 Yard Par 3.  My 7 iron tee shot hit the up-slope in front of the green but a decent pitch and single putt  was enough to rescue an opening par. However, missing any of the greens risked indifferent lies in clumpy rough, making scrambling quite difficult.  The greens were generally in need of closer mowing and feeding, with other signs that maintenance expenditure is kept to a minimum.  Most of the other holes were around 90-120 Yards apart from the slightly uphill 8th, at 139 Yards.  I managed to scramble 6 pars and 3 bogeys for a score of 30 gross, including 14 putts.  Not too bad, I suppose and enjoyable enough in the hot sunny conditions.

Here are some other photos of the course, in no particular order. I don't know how I managed to take these without capturing any other golfers in the photos, as the course was actually pretty busy!