Cawder GC lies on the outskirts of Bishopbriggs, a small town just North of Glasgow. The club has 2 fine 18 Hole courses, the Keir and the Cawder, both designed by James Braid, the renowned Scottish course designer and the first man to win the Open Championship 5 times. I'd played the Keir Course (a largely flat parkland course) a few years ago and liked it at the time, so I was really looking forward to playing the more demanding and longer Cawder Course. 19 April 2013 was a fine warm and dry Spring day with little wind and a perfect day for golf, so I sought out a quality course after my recent travels around some relatively modest courses in less than prime condition. Cawder GC as a whole oozes quality, as you'll immediately see when taking the long sweeping driveway through the course to the A Listed 17th Century mansion house, designed by Robert Adam, that is now the Club's impressive clubhouse.
The Cawder Course is 6090 Yards, Par 70 off the Yellow Tees and is a mixture of parkland over its lower holes and heathland in some of its more elevated parts. The greens looked great and were fast and smooth running and although there were still a few wet patches on some of the fairways, the course was in far better condition than I've seen at other West of Scotland courses so far this year. The course starts with a short Par 4, with your tee shot played blind over a small hill. Hit it straight and there's only a short iron to a narrow green well-defended by 4 formidable bunkers. The driveway to the clubhouse runs to the left of the fairway and in front of the green so take care, even after you've checked for passing traffic. I found one of the deep greenside bunkers with my second and escaped with a bogey. The 415 Yard Par 4 2nd Hole is even more tricky and calls for a long and very straight drive between bushes to your left and a stream to your right. The driveway also comes into play for your second shot. The 2nd fairway was pretty damp, so with little run I was still short in 2. Another bogey was reasonable enough.
The 3rd is a 408 Yard Par 4 and the 3rd tee is where the fun really starts and the course starts to show its teeth. This is a view from the tee. It's a 224 Yard carry to reach the top half of the fairway and get a good look at the green. Anything too far right will catch a severe downslope that runs the length of the hole, so favour the left side of the fairway if you can. There are no bunkers on this hole, but it's still Stroke Index 2, so be warned. Another bogey and I was beginning to wonder whether my recent run of decent play was about to grind to a halt. The 4th was slightly downhill and at 382 Yards, gave me my first par, even if I did need a single putt from under a yard after a good pitch and run from just off the green.
The 5th is slightly uphill (and very blind) to begin with but you should clear a couple of fairway bunkers easily enough if you're slightly wayward off the tee. However, your second shot needs to avoid a cavernous bunker that protects the right side of the green. I'd hit a poor second and needed a Mickelson-style lob wedge over the bunker. A couple of putts later and another bogey. Four over after 5 holes wasn't the start I was looking for. The 6th is the first of the 4 Par 3s, at 160 Yards and slightly uphill. An easy enough par there. The 7th is probably the prettiest of the front 9 holes, and at 490 Yards, is the first of the 3 Par 5s. This is a view of the green, with the 8th green in the far background. I had another easy par at the 7th and scrambled a par at the 133 Yard Par 3 8th, so maybe my final score might be not bad after all.
The 9th is an uphill sharp left dog leg Par 4 and at 364 Yards is rated Stroke Index 3. James Braid is credited with creating the fashion for dog leg holes in course design and this is a fine example of his work. The drive needs to be precisely aimed at a large chestnut tree and if you do that and find the middle of the fairway, you'll be near to a 150 yard marker. I've been hitting the ball pretty straight of late, but as this photo shows, I hit a really good drive on the 9th! If only I could be that accurate all the time, though. The second shot plays a lot longer than 150 Yards, so I was happy enough to scramble a par with a decent single putt from 10 feet. I was out in 39 with 15 putts. Not bad.
The 10th is a downhill 346 Yard Par 4 and should be easy enough if you hit even a reasonable drive. I hit my worst shot of the round, leaving myself 152 Yards to the middle of the green, as shown here. I tried a low punch with a 6 iron, hit the Silver Birch and had to settle for another bogey. The next 2 holes are both Par 5s, the first uphill, the next downhill. The 11th is pretty easy if you can avoid more deep greenside bunkering. The 2nd shot on the 12th is tricky, since you need to avoid going too far right, where a deep gully lurks, ready to swallow anything wayward. I'd only an easy 9 iron to the green after 2 decent strikes and after putting that 3rd shot to within 6 feet, my single putt gave me my sole birdie of the day. I was 4 over par after 11, but the last 6 holes on the Cawder Course are simply great fun and hugely difficult in their own ways, so the rest of the round was pretty challenging. Overall, this is as good a run of 6 holes as you'd wish to find - anywhere.
For starters, this is the 13th, a tight little 138 Yard Par 3, set amongst mature trees and rhododendron bushes and must be an absolute picture when the rhoddies are in full bloom. Four deep bunkers also come into play around the front of the green. Hit and hold the green with your tee shot or risk running up a really big score. There was hardly any wind but I can just imagine how scary this hole might be on a windy day! I hit my 27 Degree Rescue to the front of the green and had something like a 50 foot putt, easily into 3-putt territory. I still had 12 feet or so left after under-hitting my slightly uphill first putt, so a par there was really good in the circumstances.
More bushes and trees mean you don't really see the 14th until you get to the tee, but what a great hole this one is, all 445 Yards of it. This is the Stroke Index 1 Hole on the Cawder Course and one of the most awkward Par 4s you'll ever play. From the seriously elevated tee your drive needs to clear the big tree to the left of the fairway to give you any chance of reaching the green in regulation. Get that drive right, and you'll have about a 160 yard shot to clear the pond that cuts across the fairway, some 60 yards short of the green itself. This pond also comes into play if you tangle with the copse of trees to the right of the fairway with a wayward drive. You might be glad to know that there are no bunkers around the green. Make a mistake en route to the green and you'll probably have suffered enough anyway!
I'd hit a great drive and a good 3 Wood to within 40 yards of the green. I'd also foolishly put my mobile in my pocket (my excuse is that most of my caddying bookings come by phone), although mobiles are not allowed on most courses. Sure enough, the phone rang just as I was lining up a pitch and run 9 iron. My mate Graham phoning from Lanzarote to say hello. By the time we'd finished talking about how hot it was in Lanzarote, the guy behind had caught up and with my concentration interrupted, I thinned my pitch through the green into light rough and ended up taking a double bogey.
This is the 15th, a left dog leg Par 4 with the pond that I'd avoided on the 14th again coming into play off the tee. There are different Yellow Tees at 382 and 348 Yards and I played off the longer of the two. The tee shot is tricky, as the fairway cambers slightly, throwing anything hit too close to the pond even closer. The ideal shot is somewhere between the end of the white path and the right side of the bridge i.e. no more than 180 yards, leaving a pretty meaty uphill shot to the plateau green (again, no greenside bunkers). Hit your drive too far, i.e. anything beyond the right side of the bridge and you'll be blocked out by trees. However, the dog leg nature of the hole makes it very difficult to judge how far you can safely hit your drive. I went at least 20 yards too far and escaped with a bogey after my second shot hit a tree and almost rebounded into the pond.
It's then a short climb up to the 16th tee and the last of the Par 3s. This one is 144 Yards to a plateau green with severe bunkering and steep run offs that could take your ball into heavy rough (or unexplored jungle if you hook or overhit your tee shot). Just hit the green and don't 3 putt is the best advice I can offer. The bunker front left of the green is particularly nasty and with the hole positioned front left, my safety shot would have been to the right side of the green. However, playing a new course for the first time can be a tough test of my course management skills and it's sometimes too tempting to go for the heroic shot. In other words, I hit my ball through the green onto the fringe grass. A few foot further would have been an almost certain lost ball, so I was happy enough to settle for a bogey.
The Par 4 17th is one of those awkward holes that you underestimate at your peril. It's only 345 Yards, but your tee shot will be completely blind over a large hill. Pause before hitting your second to get your breath back and be aware that your uphill second shot will be longer than you might expect. You'll not get much of a view of the green either so check your distance carefully. I only got my par after hitting a 9 iron chip to within a yard, after under-clubbing with my approach shot from the fairway.
And so to the closing hole, the signature hole for the Cawder Course. This hole is simply outstanding and as fitting a closing Par 3 as you could wish for to end such a great course. The hole is 202 Yards, steeply downhill, with the magnificent clubhouse in the background. The green is circular and completely surrounded by 6 bunkers and the chances are you'll have an audience. The top photo is from the Yellow Tee, the middle one is from the Medal Tee and the bottom one shows my ball, around 15 feet from the pin (I needed a 3 Wood, by the way!)
I got my par OK, giving me a 78 gross, net 67, with 29 putts. Three under par net was pretty good. This is a great course. Not overly long, but full of interest and character and one which will test your game to the full. It might also severely test your patience if you don't keep things straight and there's tons of trouble on some holes if you go offline. Do yourself a favour and play this course if you can and ask someone to show you round the clubhouse afterwards.