After my earlier rounds at the Atholl Palace and Dalfaber courses on 18 June 2013, I wasn't really sure what to expect at the Ballindalloch Castle Golf Course, if I could find it. My sat nav didn't recognise the post code and as I was to find out, the course is a mile or so from the castle itself. More sensible folk might know that the course is on the main A95 road between Grantown on Spey and Keith. Ballindalloch Castle is reputedly one of the most beautiful and renowned castles in Scotland and has been lived in continuously by its original family since 1546. The Ballindalloch herd of pedigree Aberdeen Angus beef cattle was started in the 1860's, who are credited with starting this world-famous breed. The Course Guide goes on to say that the 6500 yard golf course "has been designed by Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie, both internationally recognised golf course architects with courses in over 15 countries. They have created a heady mix of challenging golf and aesthetic appeal. The 9 hole and 18 hole format provides a fair test for golfers of all standards, with the Championship quality greens being a notable feature. the course is set on the banks of the River Avon, among 150 year old oak trees and with marvellous views of the surrounding heather-clad hills." So much for the Course Guide stuff!
The Ballindalloch Castle Course is a parkland/heathland layout with 9 greens and 18 tees that can be played as 2 differing 9 hole layouts or as a full 18 hole course. Regular readers of this blog will know that in such cases, Craig, Stu and I always play the 18 hole options to ensure that we can genuinely claim to have played every hole that is available on each course.
The 18 Hole Course measures a 5593 Yards, Par 72 from the Yellow Tees (and a more hefty 6495 Yards Par 72 from the Medal Tees). I'd been caddying at Renaissance and Luffness New for the previous 6 days (and up to 6 hours a round in a tournament at Renaissance!) and this was my third course on 18 June, so rather than walk the full 18 at Ballindalloch, I opted to play the Front and Back 9s simultaneously. This can be a risky approach if you're wayward off the tee or aren't concentrating hard to remember your ball positions and scores when playing 2 holes at a time to the same greens! Fortunately, the fairways at Ballindalloch were generously wide and extremely well-defined. Indeed, I can't think of any inland course that I've played in the past year or so that's been in better condition. The course presentation and overall condition was simply outstanding and with hardly a divot mark in sight. The weather was warm and mostly sunny, I almost had the course to myself, I was playing and there were no midgies, so apart from being pretty tired towards the end of the round, this was a perfect end to a long golfing day.
The 1st/10th are 478 Yards Par 5 and 395 Yards Par 4. The tee shots are blind but thankfully the rough here is short and the fairways were wide enough, even for me. A bogey, par start but I was already liking the course. This is the 2nd, a 125 Yard Par 3, but a 155 Yard hole from the 11th Tee. I parred the 11th but took a double bogey on the 2nd after finding a bunker off the tee. The 3rd/12th are simply terrific Par 4s, 439 and 367 yards respectively, with completely different approaches to the fairway. A wall and water hazard come into play when playing the 3rd, but these can be carried more easily when playing the 12th.
The 4th/13th are both Par 5s, at 494 Yards and 520 Yards respectively. Both are hugely difficult and the 13th is rightly the Stroke Index 1 Hole at Ballindalloch. This hole is a dog leg right with both tee shots played on an upper tier, where the fairway runs out after 275 and 301 Yards respectively, leaving you with a long second shot that drops 100 feet or more to the second part of the hole, as shown here. Curiously, the band of heavy rough on the steep slope between these sections of fairway is all out of bounds. If your drive from either tee is short or left your second shot will be completely blind (and potentially lost), so good drives are absolutely essential. Further on, you'll find that the green is smaller than you'd hope for and 2-tiered, sitting at an angle to the fairway. Take your time playing these holes and just admire the outstanding quality of the green keeping on show. I took a 6 and a 7 by the way!
Holes 5-8 and 14-17 are on that lower section of the course alongside the River Avon. The above photo also highlights the different tees on the 5th/14th. The 5th plays as a straight 334 Yard Par 4 starting from the treeline to the left of the 4th/13th green, whereas the 14th is a 382 Yard dog leg left starting from the centre right of the above photo. Either way, these are really good holes, but take care as a greenside bunker may be hidden from view unless you hit long drives. Holes 6 and 15 are straight Par 4s with 4 fairway bunkers coming into play, particularly off the shorter 15th hole.
Next, the 7th and 16th, a couple of really pretty Par 3s. The top photo below is the 7th, a 180 Yard hole. The shorter 16th is only 103 Yards. I parred both holes, but needed a good bunker shot and decent putts.
The 8th/17th are hugely difficult as the shared fairway is narrower and both drives are blind. Factor in a large deep greenside bunker that I found when playing both holes and you'll be grateful for the bogeys that I scrambled.
The 9th/18th lie at the top of a steep path beyond the 8th/17th green. These holes are 378 and 397 yards respectively and being slightly uphill, play longer than you might think. This is a view from the fairway up to the final green. I'd hit decent drives but still needed my 3 Wood! I bogeyed both holes and my total of 86 with 32 putts wasn't brilliant, but my net 75 was only 3 over net par and I was pretty tired when I finished. I strongly recommend you play this lovely course if you get the chance. Ballindalloch is close to the excellent heathland courses at Abernethy, Grantown on Spey and Boat of Garten and there are many other top quality courses within easy reach. As of 19 June 2013 I've now played all of the courses in that area, but Ballindalloch is on the road to the Moray coast, where I really enjoy the many local courses up there, e.g. Elgin, Forres, Hopeman, Moray Old and New, Strathlene, Buckpool, Spey Bay, Garmouth and Kingston and Cullen, so I'll definitely be trying to play Ballindalloch again.
I really can't over-emphasise the quality of this course. There's even a micro-brewery and whisky distillery currently being built beside the golf course car park! How much better does it get?