So, you've just finished another intensive spell of caddying almost every day for 3 weeks on Renaissance (a serious walk at the best of times), Archerfield (almost the same level of physical test) and Luffness New (a relief by comparison) in hot and sticky weather. Your wife has been equally busy golfing locally and marshalling at Muirfield during the Open. A holiday is clearly required. Beach, books and beer? A cultural city break somewhere not so hot and humid? No, that would be too sensible. How does a week in Aberdeenshire sound, playing 15 new golf courses over 8 days? Challenging, to put it mildly. In fairness, we'd been planning this Aberdeenshire trip for a few months, but we'd really not factored in the physical demands of the lead up, by way of caddying, playing and marshalling. I'd lost 8 pounds in weight in the month leading up to our trip and fitness wasn't an issue. Stamina was the real concern - for both of us.
We travelled up from East Lothian on 27 July 2013 and I stopped off for a quick round at Lumphanan GC, a 9 hole parkland/heathland course a couple of miles away from our rented cottage. Lumphanan is a small village within the area known as Royal Deeside (after the River Dee and the royal castle at nearby Balmoral) west of Aberdeen. I'd already played most of the courses in the Royal Deeside area such as Braemar, Ballater, Tarland and Aboyne on previous trips, but I'd left Lumphanan until later after hearing from a local golfer that Lumphanan was particularly hilly. It's certainly that, but the course is short, at only 1819 Yards Par 31 off the Yellow tees and it was an absolute joy to play, from start to finish.
The Lumphanan club was first established in 1924, but I gather that membership declined after the Second World War and the later closure of the Royal Deeside railway line finally led to the club being disbanded in 1967 and the course falling into complete disrepair. Lumphanan might have remained on the (sadly still growing) list of lost Scottish golf courses, but for the efforts of the local community, who clearly wanted their course back. It took many years of hard voluntary graft by those locals, with borrowed equipment and generous donations of materials, but the new Lumphanan course was finally opened in 1994. It's easy in a sense for major new golf courses to be established if their billionaire owners throw limitless money at it (and I mention no name in particular!), but I imagine that it's really difficult for a small local community to rally together to achieve what for them must be a huge undertaking, with little or no money. As with many of the little 9 hole courses to be found across Scotland, the Lumphanan Golf Club is a cornerstone of village life, bringing villagers together for many social events as well as their love of golf. Golf in Scotland is all the richer for having such little courses in local communities. I just wish that the many thousands of golf tourists who visit us each year to play the famous championship courses would spend an hour or two at places such as Lumphanan. They'd learn so much about golf's place in our society.
As a casual visitor to golf clubs across the country, I often find that the warmest welcomes come in such village clubs and this was certainly the case when I arrived at Lumphanan. I'd been in touch with the club beforehand to arrange a tee time, but it was really humbling to be told by the Club Secretary that the members had collected £90 at a social event the night before that would be donated to Cancer Research UK. It's sometimes hard work to pursue our golfing challenge in cold wet conditions but its really rewarding when a small community recognises what we're trying to do by making such a generous gesture for a vitally important cause, so to the members at Lumphanan GC, thank you once again.
27 July 2013 was another hot and sunny day. The course starts gently enough with an innocent looking 179 Yard Par 3, but with my genial hosts looking on from the clubhouse windows, I felt under some pressure not to make a mess of the opening hole. The course as a whole was clearly in great condition, with the greens in particular looking outstanding. I'd noticed from the tee that the first green slopes severely from left to right, and that the pin position brought the greenside bunker into play. That's where my opening tee shot finished anyway and I was happy enough to make the green with my bunker shot and limit the damage to an opening bogey after just missing a lightning fast downhill putt for an unlikely par.
The key to playing Lumphanan is not length of the tee, its all about accuracy. Find the fairways, stay out of the bunkers and don't be too aggressive on the fast-running greens, some of which have wickedly difficult slopes, making putting a complex business that will punish the unwary. This is the 2nd Hole, a roller coaster of a 248 Yard Par 4, uphill overall. Right off the tee is pretty much dead. I'd hit a good drive and had only a short pitch to the green, which unfortunately for me finished a few feet left (and well above!) the green. I'd found the little bank that protects the left of the green and with the pin nearby, only a miracle chip would get me close enough to save par. Now those that know me will know I don't do miracles, but I can putt. I'd left myself a 20 foot uphill putt with around 2 feet of break. An unlikely prospect, but a good par after an outstanding escape.
The 3rd at Lumphanan is another short Par 4, this time 270 Yards, played across the hillside, with a blind tee shot and lots of tree trouble right of the fairway. The marker is a good line, but unless you hit a really long drive (and I don't do many!) your second second shot will also be blind. The 6th is the Stroke Index 1 hole, but I thought the 4th was by far the most difficult on the course. This is a 251 Yard Par 4 running above and in the opposite direction to the 3rd. This is the view from the tee. The fairway looked to be extremely narrow and the view from the tee was partially obstructed by a hillock that led me to think that the hole was a dog leg left. That was a bad mistake as my tee shot finished within feet of really heavy rough and gorse, leaving me an almost blind shot to the 2-tiered green. I was 20 yards or so away from the hole on what was probably the most difficult green on the course, so my 2 putts from there were pretty good. I was delighted to escape with a par!
The 5th is an uphill 122 Yard Par 3 that looks easy enough but this hole plays at least a club more than it looks. The 6th is another uphill Par 3, this time of 200 Yards and is the highest hole on the course. I needed a full Driver to reach the green. Go right off the tee and you might need to reload. Left or short leaves a difficult pitch. I got away with a par, but I could see why this was the Stroke Index 1 hole. The 7th should be an easy enough Par 4, but the tee shot is played blind over a marker and for reasons that still escape me, I completely duffed my 23 Degree Rescue, leaving an awkward blind 8 iron second shot out of light rough. My bogey was a fair result after that error. The 8th is a cleverly designed 155 Yard Par 3, so make sure you have a good look at the hole before you turn left and make the short climb to the tee. This is a view from the tee. It looks innocent enough doesn't it, but what you don't see is a little bunker in the middle of an upslope to the front of the green. That's where I went, so I'll know better the next time. Just remember to have a good look if you ever play here. It might just save you a stroke.
The 9th is an outstanding little hole to finish your round. This 161 Yard Par 3 is played from a severely elevated tee (and you might be glad that there's ample time to get your breath back and admire the views over the village and the surrounding hills) downhill over some ancient beech trees, or through the narrow gap that gives you a limited view of the green. Club selection might also be difficult. I took an easy 8 and missed the green to the left. However, a good pitch with my new Cleveland 58 Degree RTX wedge set up a tap in par.
I'd gone round in 35, 4 over gross par, with 15 putts, in little over an hour. I thought that Lumphanan was a really interesting and outstandingly presented course, so my regards to the greenkeeper, who should be really proud of his efforts and hard work. I strongly recommend you give it a try if you're ever in the Royal Deeside area. OK, it's just a small village course but 9 hole courses like this don't take long to play and you'll get a warm welcome, even on competition days. The course is quite hilly, but it's just a joy to play. Take a few extra balls though. Go seriously offline and you'll need them and if you're like me, you might be tempted to hit a second ball off the 9th. It's that kind of a hole. Just remember to repair your pitch mark afterwards as your ball will be coming down from a considerable height!
More severe challenges lay ahead but this was a great start to my week, so thanks again to Joyce and the other members I met at Lumphanan.