Hazlehead is a large public park in west central Aberdeen with 3 golf courses, rather unimaginatively named No 1, No 2, the 9 Hole Course and a 9 hole pitch and putt course, in addition to acres of open greenfield space and mature woodland walks etc. I'd played the 9 Hole course a couple of years ago (see Blog entry 551) and enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to playing the challenging No 1 course reputedly one of the finest parkland courses in North East Scotland. The park and its golf courses are all owned and operated by Aberdeen City Council.
Regular readers of the blog will know from my entries about other local authority-owned golf courses that in general, there tends to be poor investment in course maintenance and upkeep and that playing such courses can be a pretty underwhelming experience. I wondered whether Hazlehead No1 would be any different. The Council's website says that "Course 1 provides even the most experienced golfer a true test of their abilities. Designed by Alistair Mackenzie, the head architect behind Augusta National which has been at the forefront of some of golf's greatest triumphs in the masters, this course is specifically laid out to make the player think. Narrow fairways surrounded by trees and gorse can be unforgiving for wayward shots, however the reward for correct club selection and a bit of bravery can outweigh any fears in approaching the challenge. Hazlehead No 1 course will allow any golfer to mark how they have progressed and is a must for golf enthusiasts. The tranquil surroundings offer you a great escape and will allow you to become fully engaged in your game." Inspiring stuff if true. David, our great friend from the Glen GC, played his childhood golf at Hazlehead and remembers it as one of his all-time favourite courses, so Polly and I were really looking forward to playing it. 29 April 2014 was the date, the day after our excellent time at Westhill GC.
Sadly, 29 April was one of those dull, grey Scottish days, with a cool easterly breeze blowing in off the North Sea. No rain, but very damp underfoot and occasionally misty. I'd heard various negative reports about Hazlehead No 1, mainly that the Council had let it deteriorate through poor maintenance and neglect to the point that it had become an embarrassment, unworthy of its history and fame. There were certainly signs of this, but I was delighted to see that whatever state the course had been in, the Council was taking positive action to address problems. Indeed, the course had recently been closed for a while to allow major harvesting and management of mature pine forest throughout the course, tees had been rebuilt, and worn out/damaged sections of fairway had been re-turfed. Weed growth on greens etc had been addressed and overall, the course looked to be pretty good condition for early season. Being built on largely peaty soil and weaving its way through mature pine forest, heather and gorse, Hazlehead No 1 is not an early season course so I'd not expect it to be in great condition until later in the year, when forestry work may be more complete and patching etc on fairways has blended in more fully. It's clearly been in a fragile condition of late, but there were enough signs there when we played it suggest that No 1 is on its way back.
Overnight rain meant that underfoot conditions were pretty soggy and there was no run on any of the fairways. The greens were smooth-running but desperately slow to the point that for a long uphill putt on the Par 3 9th, my putter was completely the wrong club. A rescue club or 3 Wood might have got the ball up to the hole. Here are some photos from our round on No 1. As can be plainly seen, the course was wet, but picture, if you will, a dry warm Summer's day and a fast-running No 1 before you. Looks pretty good to me!
For me, one of the bests tests the of a quality golf course is that in even the worst of weathers it can still look beguiling and attractive. No 1 is still all of that, in spades. Mackenzie's basic design is still there and despite it still being "work in progress" No 1 is well worth a visit and superb value at £20.70.
Polly and I enjoyed its twists and turns, the variety of holes and the sheer tranquillity of the place, which in parts reminded us of Blairgowrie Rosemount/Landsdowne, and some of the other excellent heathland/forest courses we've played together over the years. But perhaps the most amazing aspect of this course is that with the No 2 Course and the other golfing facilities at Hazlehead, this major public park is within a few miles of the city centre. I hope the Council continues to invest in this famous old course and that its fully restored soon. Most of all, though, I hope that David gets the chance to revisit his childhood memories soon, playing this old course again. We usually play for a Pound in our bounce games at the Glen, so David, your challenge is to beat my gross 85, net 74, with 35 putts, as played off the Yellow Tees, from where the course now plays to 5957 Yards, Par 70. The usual Pound says you don't - challenge accepted?