I still had time for a quick 9-holer after my round at Newton Stewart before driving home, so inspired by a write-up in Derek Adams' "Nine-Holer Guide" I played the excellent Gatehouse GC course in the village of Gatehouse of Fleet on 23 September 2011. This author's assessment of the Gatehouse course is that "the challenging nine-hole course is one of the most scenic and well maintained courses in south west Scotland." For me, this is a considerable understatement.
Bearing in mind that I was already tired from previous golfing exertions, I'd been hoping that Gatehouse would be short and flat. Well, one out of two isn't bad, but although there's some serious slopes to contend with at Gatehouse, this daunting view from the 1st tee pushed my tiredness aside. It was immediately obvious that Gatehouse would be hugely challenging, with gorse, whin, blind shots galore all ready to frustrate even the most skillful golfer never mind a 10-handicapper like me. There's a steep path up to the clubhouse from the small car park and as you walk up, you pass some houses far below to your left and see the 9th green high to your right, so any hope that this would be an easy walk is quickly dispelled. The clubhouse is modest and cosy, just as you'd expect for such a small village course. Who needs the big championship courses and their fancy prices when wee courses like this are to be found throughout the country? The 1st hole here is 206 yards steeply uphill, requiring absolute accuracy to avoid an opening bogey or worse. By the time I'd guessed (correctly) where the green might be (bearing in mind it was a Par 3!) and escaped with a bogey, I'd also realised that this course was in amazing condition. Wigtown and Bladnoch had been soaking wet, even before the overnight rain and the Newton Stewart course had taken a hammering from the deluge, but here was a hilly moorland course, firm underfoot, with perfect fast running greens and manicured fairways. I'd even stopped on one of the holes to admire how well a bunker had been raked by the greenkeeper! For goodness sake get a life, Alan.
The 2nd is a scary looking blind 338 yard Par 4. The marker pole is a good line and there's a wide fairway beyond it. Go too far right of it and you might be playing this hole for a long time. Find the fairway and you then have another blind shot to a small green. Hit that, take your 2 putts and walk away with a smile on your face, just as I did. On the 3rd tee, try not to question the sanity of the course designer. Another blind tee shot awaits on this 288 yard Par 4, over a steep hill. Find your ball amongst the severe undulations on this fairway, guess it's an 8 iron to the green and after your blind approach shot find your ball again and 2 putt, as I did. The 4th is a 316 yard Par 4 with (and you're probably ahead of me by now!) a blind tee shot over a marker improbably near to what I suspected was OOB forestry land. Trust the marker, but I'd hit a slight hook and could only see the top half of the flag for my second. OOB awaited anything long or right, so a bogey there was acceptable.
Next comes the slightly downhill 120 yard Par 3 5th hole. With the wind from behind, I'd an easy 9 iron to the green and 2 putts later, I was 2 over par with 4 holes to go. However, the Gatehouse course has an absolute stonker of a Par 5 as its 6th. It's 532 yards with a generously wide fairway, but is mostly uphill into the prevailing wind. I'd hit a good long and straight drive but my ball was on a side slope and my second went way left, leaving yet another blind shot. I limped off with a 7 to go 4 over, but all was not lost. The 7th is a blind downhill 272 yard Par 4. This was my best drive of the round, finishing just short of the green. Aim at the marker sign in the trees and hit it as hard as you can. I'd an easy par from there. The photo above is of the 8th, a 186 yard Par 3 and my own favourite amongst the many really good holes at Gatehouse. Long, right or short is asking for real trouble. The wind was blowing straight up the hole and there's a slope to the left that feeds down to the green. Find that and you've still a good chance of making par. I'd missed the green on that side but the slope carried my ball down to the back of the green. It was downhill and downwind to the hole from there, but a couple of good putts and I was 4 over with "only" the 9th to go.
Derek Adams had the 9th as the course's signature hole and I'd probably agree (though how it's only Stroke Index 15 beats me). This is the view from the Medal Tee and below, the only marginally more informative view from the Yellow tee. The 9th is a steeply downhill 160 yard Par 3 and there's really very little to aim at from either position, so a final blind shot to finish with.
When playing one of the bigger courses in Ireland some years ago I'd gone to the expense of buying a Course Guide. On reaching just such a hole, the Pro's tip was "Hit the green and two-putt if you can." There was no escaping the accuracy and succinctness of that advice, but some comments about the prevailing wind direction, depth and receptiveness of the green etc might have helped (or more likely, drained me any remaining positive thoughts!) The view from the 9th tee at Gatehouse reminded me of that hole. Just hit the green and two-putt is sound advice for any Par 3, but particularly here. Gorse, bunkers, the path to the clubhouse, OOB and the gardens of the houses beyond all come into play. I managed to find the green with my easy 7 Wood tee shot and get my par for 37 in total, net 32, or net 1 under par, with 16 putts in total, without losing a ball. Indeed, finish your round with the same ball that you started with and count yourself lucky, given the large number of blind shots and bushes etc. Have even half the fun I did and you'll have had a great time. In my travels around all of the golf courses in Scotland there have been a few courses of the "seen it, played it, wouldn't rush to go back" variety and at the other end of the spectrum, courses that you know will stick in the mind for a long time. Gatehouse is undoubtedly one of those course that will stick in my mind for a long, long time, for the right reasons. I was pretty tired before I started my round at Gatehouse but it was only on my way back down the path to the car park that I remembered!
Gatehouse is just a wee village golf club in an area that is blessed by having many other excellent courses so if you ever get the chance to visit Dumfries and Galloway, by all means play the more famous courses such as Southerness, Portpatrick and Stranraer. However, don't miss the thrills and spills at Gatehouse if you're in the area. I'm normally not a great fan of blind holes, but given the contours of the land that this course is built on, there's no alternative, so just accept the challenge that the course offers and enjoy.