Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Slow progress


Regular readers of the blog will have noticed that I've not managed to play very many new courses this year and they may be wondering whether I'll ever get the rest of them played. I'd planned to do the remainder in 2015 but it's just not worked out due to a variety of caddying work, holiday and other commitments and a health issue that's grown in recent months.

This is a blog about golf, not health issues, so I'll keep it short.  I'd noticed over the summer that I was sometimes getting neck and shoulder pains when caddying and that I was getting tired rather than just walking around courses as normal.  The bottom line is that I'll be having major heart surgery very soon, so all being well I'll be back caddying and playing golf by next Spring.  I'll also be getting back to the challenge of trying to play every course we know about, but I doubt whether I'll get any more done before the surgery. 

Weather permitting I'm still playing a couple of times a week at Dunbar GC (my second club) and at the Glen GC and not worrying about the future.  There's clearly a heart problem that needs to be addressed but worrying certainly won't help. What will be, will be.  I'm just looking forward to the recovery process! This is one of my favourite holes, the famous 13th at the Glen GC. Hopefully, I'll be back there in the Spring. In the meantime, Season's Greetings to all my blog readers, everywhere. 










Friday, 4 September 2015

3 Lochs Holiday Park and Seaward Caravan Park Pitch and Putt Courses

As I've said before in this Blog, it's been quite difficult to identify all of the courses we'd need to play in order to achieve our ambition of playing absolutely every course in Scotland. There's no single fully comprehensive list that includes all of the private courses, those with less than 9 holes and those that don't feature on any lists but still have "fixed tees and greens, for the purposes of playing golf" which is our basic definition of a "golf course."  If we'd wanted to restrict ourselves to just playing courses that have 9 or more holes, including at least one Par 4, it would have been easy enough to know where we needed to go. However, since some pitch and putt and practice courses have holes that are considerably longer than some that are found on "proper golf courses" we think it's necessary to try to play such courses.   

It's difficult enough to get round the 600+ courses that have at least 9 holes, including at least one Par 4, so full respect to any who have succeeded in doing that. To any who prefer that narrower definition of a "golf course", please just allow us to be different.  Yes, we're probably absolutely daft, traipsing around Scotland in all weathers trying to play obscure pitch and putt etc. courses in remote parts of the country, but that's our chosen target. In reality, our ambition can only ever be to play every course we know about. OK, so maybe we'll miss a few that we never find out about.  If we do miss any, that'll be a shame, but equally, it's no big deal. We're simply doing our best for our chosen charity and enjoying the journey.  

Last year Graeme, a buddy who is playing new courses in pursuit of his own golfing and charitable ambitions, gave us a list of pitch and putt courses that he'd found in internet research, some of which we thought might fit our own definition of a "golf course." Although websites might claim to have a "family 9 hole pitch and putt course" or similarly worded attraction, we've found that it's difficult to know without a site visit whether particular facilities meet our definition. 

It's been a frustrating summer in terms of my own efforts to play new courses.  I've been pretty busy working at my own golf club in addition to caddying and taking holidays with Polly that whilst very enjoyable sometimes seemed like personal attempts to refloat various continental economies, but I digress.  Graeme had told us about a couple of courses in the far south west of Scotland that might need to be played, so I made the trip on 1-2 September 2015 to Dumfries & Galloway to play a couple of his suggestions.  My first stop was at the 3 Lochs Holiday Park, tucked away down a narrow single track road in deepest rural Dumfries & Galloway, a few miles west of Newton Stewart.  The park's website had mentioned a 9-hole Pitch and Putt course and after paying my £3.50 green fee, I found the course at the far end of the caravan park.  Since our definition of a golf course is that there must be fixed tees and greens, I was hoping to find a clearly laid out course.  Sadly, it was not to be. There were certainly 9 greens and flags and the fairways were also clearly identifiable, but I could only find 2 marked tees. To make it even more confusing, the flags did not appear to have been set in any particular order. On what I took to be the first hole, the flag was numbered 5 and the last hole was numbered 1.  Other flags didn't have numbers at all and as for the greens, the grass was so long that some of the holes were completely overgrown, making putting impossible.   

Overall, this facility didn't meet our definition of a golf course, so 3 Lochs is now off our list of Scottish golf courses.  I "played" it without losing a golf ball - no mean feat, given the length of the rough, but I didn't really score on any of the "holes" since they were all overgrown. For what it's worth, here are some random photos of the 3 Lochs lay out.



Note the use of heavy rough as hazards around the greens! The setting is pretty enough and with far more maintenance and basic investment in proper tees and flags, the owners could turn this field with flags into a genuine caravan park attraction.  As things stand, the place is better suited to dog walking (and that's what the only other people I met on the course were doing).

After that rather dismal experience, it was on to the nearby Wigtownshire County GC, a great little 18 hole links course hugging the shoreline at the top of Luce Bay.  This is one of a couple of courses that I'd only played with Polly in a foursome format, so it was good to play every shot this time.  My caddying this year has included area qualifying at Bruntsfield Links for The Open Championship, the Pro Am prior to the Scottish Open at Gullane and in the Scottish Seniors Open at Archerfield and I've also enjoyed playing at some prestigious courses in Scotland and abroad.  However, the greens at Wigtownshire County are definitely the best I've seen this year.  Fast, true and a joy to play.  The course is pretty flat and at only 5829 Yards off the Yellow tees, Par 70, it looks deceptively easy.  When I played it on 1 September 2015 the wind was generally helping on the Front 9 and birdies on the 1st and 8th holes meant I was 3 over par at the turn.  Holes 9-12 are particularly tight and difficult and when I turned into the wind for the last few holes, it was just a case of minimising the damage!  A gross 78 (net 68) was only possible thanks to some decent approach shots to the greens and some great putting.  I certainly don't remember making 7 successive single putts before, and 27 putts in total was pretty good too.  This little course is well worth playing and at only £30 a round, is great value for money.

From the sublime, back to the faintly ridiculous, I'm afraid.  I'd keyed the post code for the Seaward Caravan Park into my sat nav, since it had advertised itself as having a "9-Hole Family Pitch and Putt Course."  Sadly, the single track road I was on petered away into an overgrown muddy path, leading to a derelict-looking cottage with a single abandoned caravan.  Retracing my route, I followed road signs to the caravan park at Brighouse Bay, where I'd previously played its 18 hole links course and 9-hole pitch and putt course, but it was looking as though I'd have to search around for Seaward Caravan Park.  I eventually found it en route to Kirkcudbright, and after paying my £3 to the Warden, I also found its "Pitch and Putt Course." The Warden explained that some of the greenkeeping equipment was away being fixed, so I was fearing the worst.  Sure enough, the Seaward facility was almost on a par with that at 3 Lochs.  There were certainly 9 flags in a field and a few barely visible tee markers, one of which read "83 yards" without numbering the hole or suggesting a direction of play, so this is another that gets crossed off our list of courses.  I spent some time "playing" the course, but there was no clear sequence of holes and when I lost a ball played directly to one of the greens, I'd seen enough.  

Hopefully, there will be better trips before my journey around Scotland's golf courses is complete.  Next stop is probably around Inverness, where Graeme tells me there are a few "possibles" to check out. There are also some pretty good courses up that way that I might play again e.g. Strathpeffer and Muir of Ord.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Callendar Park Par 3 Course - Course no 664

This is a 9 hole Par 3 course measuring 965 Yards, Par 27, located in Callendar Park, Falkirk, and is operated by the Falkirk Community Trust on behalf of its owners, Falkirk Council.  I'd been meaning to play this one for a while but had never quite drummed up the enthusiasm for the 110 return trip.  However, SED GC,  the golfing society I'm a member of, was due to play the nearby Falkirk GC at Carmuirs in Falkirk on 3 July 2015 so that gave me the ideal opportunity to play Callendar Park.  3 July was a baking hot day and one round over the excellent Carmuirs course was tiring enough, so I was glad I'd opted to play this little Par 3 course rather than tackle another full round at Carmuirs.

The Callendar Park Course is currently open all year round but the Starter advised me that there is a proposal to close it during the winter months as part of Falkirk Council's wider cost-saving measures.  It seems there is local concern that if the course is not operated over the winter months it might not re-open in 2016.  It was certainly busy enough when I played it.  Like other such facilities, I guess it would get pretty quiet over the winter months but I hope it doesn't become another closure casualty. There were clear signs of abandoned bunkers and greens adjacent to the existing  course, suggesting that there had at one time been a larger course here.  It would be a shame if the Par 3 course closes completely, since it's apparently popular with locals who use the park.

The course layout is actually pretty decent, with typically small greens, starting with the longest hole, as shown here, a 142 Yard Par 3.  My 7 iron tee shot hit the up-slope in front of the green but a decent pitch and single putt  was enough to rescue an opening par. However, missing any of the greens risked indifferent lies in clumpy rough, making scrambling quite difficult.  The greens were generally in need of closer mowing and feeding, with other signs that maintenance expenditure is kept to a minimum.  Most of the other holes were around 90-120 Yards apart from the slightly uphill 8th, at 139 Yards.  I managed to scramble 6 pars and 3 bogeys for a score of 30 gross, including 14 putts.  Not too bad, I suppose and enjoyable enough in the hot sunny conditions.

Here are some other photos of the course, in no particular order. I don't know how I managed to take these without capturing any other golfers in the photos, as the course was actually pretty busy!



 

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Did Tom qualify?

As I mentioned in my last blog entry about Bruntsfield Links, I'd agreed to caddy for Tom Coyne on 22 June in a Regional Qualifier for the 2015 Open Championship.  With 7 places in the final qualifying round up for grabs and well over 100 professionals and top amateurs from all over the world playing at Bruntsfield, competition would be tough.  Tom's preparation was to play 110 courses over the previous 56 days, travelling the length and breadth of Scotland and a few rounds south of the border.  We'd arranged to meet for an evening practice round over Bruntsfield Links on Saturday 20 June, but Tom got fog-bound at Benbecula Airport after playing some of the Western Isles courses, so that plan had to be abandoned.  He did get the chance to walk the course on the 21st, but his first  ever shot at Bruntsfield would be "for real" and with the closing chapters of his planned new book on the line, the stakes were pretty high.  I'd not really thought of it that way, but as Tom said, this was a once only shot at The Open and understandably, he didn't want " A Course Called the Kingdom" to close with an embarrassing anti-climax.

Last time we'd met, at the Glen GC early in his epic journey around Scotland, Tom looked pretty fit, but I had to have a second take when this lean, sun-tanned guy sauntered into view in time for some warm up shots before his allotted 1134 tee time.  He'd apparently lost 22 pounds in his 36 holes a day marathon (Tom - there's another dieting book there) and he thought his cholesterol count was still OK despite 50+ full Scottish breakfasts over the past 8 weeks!  

With so much as stake, Tom looked pretty calm when the PA announcement "and from the USA, Tom Coyne" called him to the tee.  A slightly dodgy opening drive into the right rough, a good 7 iron and a couple of putts later, and Tom was on his way.  Being last off in his threesome, Tom could watch what the 2 Pros in our group were playing, which I thought might be helpful.  Mark and Callum had both taken long irons at the 387 Yard 2nd, but Tom preferred his Driver, the idea being to go for the left side of the fairway, setting up a short pitch to the flag.  10 minutes later, a trip into the woods far right of the fairway and a treble bogey was a real set back.  With a couple of Par 5s coming next, we'd hoped to regain ground, but it wasn't to be.  Bogeys rather than birdies were very unwelcome and Tom was not settling into the round.  We needed something good to happen, and quickly.  However, an outward 43 (7 over par) put Tom right out of contention.  The aim for the back 9 was respectability and Tom did himself proud, with a far steadier performance.  Easy pars on 10 and 11 and an unlucky bogey on 12 helped steady the ship and we were soon onto the 13th tee.  I'd found the 13th to be the most difficult hole at Bruntsfield in my earlier round there, so it was great to see Tom hit a fabulous drive and a 6 iron to within 6 feet of this 455 Yard hole, slightly uphill, wind behind.  The 13th green is close to the 3rd green and although Tom might not have recognised him, the unmistakable figure of Andy Oldcorn was watching from the 3rd as Tom holed his short putt for an impressive birdie.

Tom's game really steadied from then on and as his confidence grew, he began to relax and really enjoy the experience.  However, a dodgy drive on the formidable 17th led to a disappointing double bogey and with only the 347 Yard 18th to come, Tom's race was run. He was due to fly back home next day regardless of his score, but it was clear there would be no early return for final qualifying.  We'd a long wait to play the last.  After 110 rounds in the past couple of months, there was only one hole left.  Understandably, Tom was determined to par the final hole of an epic trip that had seen him tackle the greatest and most humble courses in Scotland, experiencing the worst and best golfing weather that Scotland has to offer.  Tom's Driver had not been his best club that day, so we agreed that 3 Wood might be be more sensible.  Thankfully, Tom hit a great drive setting up a 9 iron second shot, slightly uphill, to possibly the most undulating green on the course, right in front of the clubhouse windows and a few dozen spectators (but that's a few dozen more than usually watch Tom playing).  Tom hit one of his classiest shots of the day and I advised him to take his time walking onto the green and enjoy the moment.  OK, he knew that he'd not qualify, but this was the end of a long, long journey.  I'd an inkling of how he felt, having passed a few personal milestones on my own journey around Scottish courses and I was really hoping he'd hole the 20 foot uphill putt for a remarkable closing birdie.  He missed by a mere foot and holed out for a truly great par, given the circumstances.

Tom had done the back 9 in 2 over par and returned an 80, 9 over par in total.  He wasn't quite last, but it would have been understandable if he'd been pretty downcast after such a long build up to this Open qualifying round, with so much riding on it.  Mark and Callum were pretty stoic after their own scores had not been good enough to make the cut for final qualifying, but Tom's big smile coming off the 18th said it all.  He'd completed his journey by fulfilling an ambition to play in The Open and achieved a highly creditable score in the circumstances. His new book could have a positive ending and I was glad to have helped, albeit only marginally, in his final effort.  The gold-plated US Dollar coin I gave him as a new ball marker didn't bring him much luck, but I hope it improves in due course! Tom is a fine golfer and although I've had many enjoyable times caddying over the past 5 years or so, that round will live long in my own memory as one of the most enjoyable, so thank you Tom, it was a privilege.  We'd had a side bet on the US Open, with £5 on whether Justin Rose or Brandt Snedeker would finish highest.  My debt duly paid (no luck, Justin), I'll be trying hard to get my money back if and when Tom gets over here again, with time to play another new Scottish course.  After all, he's played less than a sixth of the courses we have here and he's missed some great (and more humble) tests.

"A Course Called the Kingdom" will doubtless cover his trip from start to finish and I'm really looking forward to reading it.  If it's anywhere near as good as "A Course Called Ireland" it will be an absolute joy.



  

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society


I'd played this course many years ago and really enjoyed it, but a curious turn of events led me to playing it again.  Some years ago, when planning a trip to play the wonderful links course at Carne GC in Ireland, I came across an extract from a book written by American golf writer Tom Coyne, entitled "A Course Called Ireland." This proved to be just about the best golf book I've ever read, full of humour and uniquely Irish episodes, as Tom walked his way around the Irish coastline, playing all the golf courses he came across.  I guess I've now played most of the courses he found, including gems such as Westport, Tralee, Ballybunion and Ardglass, and I really understood his experiences and love of Irish golf and its people.  I still remember asking for directions from a young lad in wildest Connemara and not understanding a word he said, but I digress! More recently, I read somewhere that Tom would be trying to play 107 courses in the UK over a 57 day period, including 90 in Scotland, for his planned follow up book  "A Course Called the Kingdom."  Knowing that I'd already played most of the courses in Scotland, the Golf Services Manager at my home club, Glen GC, asked me what I was doing on 4 May, as Tom was booked to play the Glen as part of his marathon trip.  I jumped at the chance to play with Tom and a couple of his American friends, Gene and Billy.  Here's Tom on the Glen's 14th fairway, with our famous 13th behind him. We'd a great time going round, swapping stories of our various golfing experiences. The scores weren't important, but somewhere around 78 for the 2 of us sounds about right.


The really important points from that game are that Tom told me his final round of his "Kingdom" trip would be at Bruntsfield Links on 22 June, at a Regional Qualifier for The Open Championship, no less.  When Tom learnt that I worked as a caddy, he asked me to caddy for him at Bruntsfield. I've caddied the odd round for a few top golfers, but a bag in the Open (even a Qualifier) will be a real thrill. I'd not played there for 20+ years, so I thought it would be sensible to play it again!  And so I played Bruntsfield on 3 June 2015 on a cool, sunny and windy day.

The Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society is the 4th oldest in the World, having been established in 1761. The Society's current course is in Barnton, one of the most affluent residential areas of Edinburgh dates back to 1898, as laid out by Willie Park Jnr. See www.scottishgolfhistory.org for  more on the history of the club and on the history of golf in Scotland more generally.  Although the name might suggest otherwise, the Society's course is actually parkland in nature and measures 6130 Yards off the Yellow Tees, Par 70. The Open Qualifier will be played over a course measuring around 6550 Yards, but at least I'd get an idea of the layout and green characteristics to help Tom, since after 106 rounds in 56 days, I doubt he'll not have much time (or energy!) for a practice round. Fortunately, the Society's website at www.bruntsfieldlinks.co.uk is really good, with great photos and descriptions of individual holes.  

The other good news for Tom is that the course is already in great condition with the greens in particular being true and smooth running. There's nothing quirky about it and accuracy rather than brute force is vitally important. For example, the opening hole is a 410 Yard  Par 4. The fairway slopes from left to right and there's an uphill second shot to a severely undulating green, primarily sloping from front left to back right. I'd left myself a short pitch to the green which finished just 6 feet below the hole, so an opening par was encouraging. The 2nd, as shown here, is a shortish downhill Par 4, easy looking, but the green is elevated on all sides, sloping from left to right. I'm guessing the 22 June pin position will be front left, bringing a tricky looking bunker into play!

Next come a couple of Par 5s, back to back.  The 3rd is only 487 Yards and is a Par 4 from
the Yellows. The 4th is the longest hole on the course, at 529 Yards for me and is the Stroke Index 1 hole. This is a lovely looking hole, with a downhill tee shot and a narrow 2 tier green. Next, the first of 4 Par 3s at Bruntsfield. This is 195 Yards from the Yellow tee, but will be a formidable 230 Yards for the Open Qualifier. I missed a 3 foot putt for par after finding a bunker, but this is a really good hole.  Next, a short Par 4 dog leg right, but the second shot is uphill and you won't see that the green slopes from back left down to front right. I was playing pretty well and only 3 over par when I got to the 7th, a 142 Yard Par 3. The green slopes wickedly from right to left, but the pin was on a flattish section on the left side, meaning the line was straight at the copper beech tree, as shown here.  An easy 7 iron duly took the borrow and finished 20 feet behind the pin.  The greens at Bruntsfield were great to putt on so I wasn't really surprised when my birdie putt actually dropped.  A couple of pars later and I was out in 37, only 2 over.

I liked the 325 Yard Par 4 10th, but I suspect there are easier ways to make par than carving your drive into the trees to the left, chipping out, hitting a wedge to 25 feet and holing the putt! I suspect that some over-ambitious would-be Open Qualifiers might be tempted to take Driver here, but the tee shot is blind OOB lurks to the left and bunkers protect the small green.  A more cautious approach might be more sensible, Tom. I thought the 13th was the most difficult hole on the course and at 445 Yards is the longest par at Bruntsfield.  The hole plays into the prevailing wind.  The pin was tucked away front left of the green, bringing a couple of bunkers into play. Generally, the bunkers here didn't look too testing but finding one here with my third shot still cost me a double bogey.  From there, holes 14-17 were pretty much downwind. The short Par 5 14th is a birdie opportunity, as shown here, but the green slopes from back right down to front left and is heavily contoured, so a long second shot is testing, particularly with OOB to the right of the fairway.  


The 17th was a 370 Yard Par 4 for me, with a generous fairway and a steeply uphill second, but I gathered from talking to the Greenkeeper that there's a Black tee which makes the hole a very demanding 447 Yards. The green is also pretty tricky so a par here is good - I stumbled to a bogey after a poor second.  The closing hole is a short 337 Yards from the Yellow tee and finishes in front of the clubhouse windows. I'd hit a decent drive but finished in light rough to the left of the fairway. I'd 116 Yards left to the middle of the green but by then it was a 2 club wind, and 9 iron was not quite enough.  I'd finished a few feet short of the green which is probably the most undulating on the whole course.  I borrowed around 8 feet for a 40 foot putt and even then that wasn't enough.  At least the pace was right and I holed out for a closing par, going round in 76 gross, net 4 under, with only 28 putts.  I'd really enjoyed the course and hopefully learnt enough to help Tom.  Even if all I do is carry his bag I'm sure that would help, as I'm not sure that 107 rounds over 57 days is the recommended preparation for an Open Championship Qualifier. Here's a last look at Bruntsfield. The green fee isn't cheap but it's well worth paying to play this excellent course.



Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Gleddoch Hotel - Academy Course - Course no 663

The Gleddoch Hotel and Golf Club sits high above the village of Langbank on the south side of the River Clyde. west of Glasgow.  I'd stayed there a few times on business and played the excellent 18 hole heathland course there one evening after a long day's work.  The main course is quite hilly in parts and is perhaps the best of the heathland/moorland courses along the Clyde estuary.  Try it if you're in the area.  It's a really good test and looked to be in great condition again when I played the Hotel's 4-hole Golf Academy course on 21 April 2015.  This little course is laid out in the grounds of the Hotel itself and you'll drive through the middle of it on your way up to the Hotel.

The first things I noticed about this course is that it needs some upgraded signage and better maintenance.  I measured the 1st hole, as shown here, at 112 Yards.  There was no sign at all, but this was clearly the logical start to the course, being closest to the Hotel, car parks and the main golf course.  This hole is steeply downhill, with excellent views north to Dumbarton and west to Ben Lomond and other nearby mountains.  A simple enough starter and an easy wedge to the green.  As I'd expected the green was slow and bumpy. Polly and have just joined Dunbar GC and its greens are fast and smooth running, so it was no surprise when I 3-putted this Par 3 hole.

The next hole, rather confusingly, was the Par 3 Hole 1 according to a sign on the tee and at 154 Yards, was steeply uphill towards the tee of the previous hole, starting almost at the entrance to the hotel grounds.  I'd only taken a few short irons and my putter, hence my bogey 4 at this hole.  Next and on the other side of the driveway to the Hotel, was the 3rd (signed as the 2nd, at 330 Yards). This hole is blind and downhill with a dog leg right after around 250 Yards to a small green, protected by a hole in the ground that many years ago was presumably a bunker, but is now just overgrown with weeds and moss.  

There's a path of sorts to the right of the green that takes you to a 4th tee and another blind tee shot, this time steeply uphill.  No tee signage, but the hole was around 395 Yards, with a dog leg sharp right after around 280 Yards, where a stream cuts across the narrow fairway. Another bogey there meant I'd dropped a shot on every hole, to go round in 18 strokes, with 8 putts.  This was not a great round, but the course isn't  a great test either. Indeed, my round was a rather dismal and under-whelming experience, despite the warm Spring sunshine.  

This 4-hole course is labelled as the Academy Course and whilst it might be useful for basic teaching, I doubt whether it would be particularly useful as a  warm-up for the main course, which I know is far better and a fitting partner to the excellence of the Hotel itself.  With some basic signage and more intensive green keeping this course could be real asset to the business. At present, it looks rather neglected.  A pity, because the setting is pretty good, as this final photo shows, with views to Ben Lomond and beyond. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Pitlochry GC - Lettoch Links Course - Course no 662

I'd played the fantastic Pitlochry GC course a few times in past years.  A real treat for anyone to visit, really friendly and a great test of your game.  Don't take my word for it, though, try it yourself and if that's not immediately possible, explore the club's excellent website, at http://www.pitlochrygolf.co.uk/visitors. I'd read somewhere recently that the club had developed a golf academy, driving range and a 6-hole Par 3 course and the website confirmed that, so a stop at Pitlochry on the way back from Auchendean Lodge on 14 April 2015 was an obvious opportunity to play the new Lettoch Links course.

This is not a links course, being laid out near the geographical centre of Scotland and about as far away from the sea as it's possible to get. Having said that, the name is pretty unimportant, as this is a really good and imaginative development that looks set to promote golf in the area and help the members to improve their game. I'd called in on a quiet Tuesday afternoon, but the course was impressively busy, with a large party of Norwegian golfers just leaving, having clearly enjoyed the course and the 19th. 

The holes on the Lettoch Links range from 35 to 89 Yards and are absolutely ideal for beginners or for general practice/warming up for more experienced golfers.  Indeed, as I made my way onto the course, a lady who must have been well into her 80s stopped me, just  to say hello and talk about the new course. She'd been playing with a young lad who looked barely of school age.  That's another thing I like about golf.  Had we passed in the street, I doubt if anything would have been said between us.  

This is the downhill 4th, an 86 Yard hole with a small green and a nasty looking bunker which I was pleased to avoid.  There was some light rough to the left and I was glad that the course was playing relatively slow, as this hole looked as though it could get pretty fiery on a hot summer's day. I was playing OK, and after an opening birdie on the 35 yard 1st hole, I was still 1 under, after finding the light rough here and escaping with a par. I almost came to grief on the 5th, as shown below, after missing the green to the left. This is the longest hole on the course, at 89 Yards and was played into a strong head wind, requiring a full wedge.



This is the last hole, a 43 Yard hole with a wickedly sloping 2 tier green and a little bank at the back of the green covered in tough rough.  I'd just missed the green and had an awkward pitch from the rough to a flag no more than 15 feet away.  Anything even slightly strong would leave a very testing long uphill putt, but I managed to pitch my ball dead for a closing par and a 1-under total of 26, with 8 putts.  £10 for a day ticket was good value and if id had the time I'd gladly have gone round a few more times.  However, it was still the thick end of a 3 hour drive home so I reluctantly made do with one round.  The Lettoch Links is a great addition to the facilities at Pitlochry GC, one of my favourite inland courses.  I certainly hope to play the main course there again sometime and when I get the chance to do so, I'll also try to beat my gross 26 on the Lettoch Links.




Auchendean Lodge Pitch and Putt Course - Course no 661

We'd had Auchendean Lodge on our list of courses for a couple of years thanks to Graeme, who'd somehow found it on the internet, together with a whole bundle of other obscure courses we'd not known about.  We'd just not got round to contacting Auchendean's owners and it was only when I was reading the Scotsman's property supplement on 9 April 2015 about a large country house and former hotel being up for sale (and more of that later) that I realised it was the same place.  A couple of e-mails and a phone call later and Ian and Eric had very kindly agreed to let me play their little course, normally only accessible to friends and hotel guests.

14 April 2015 looked pretty unpromising weather-wise and heading up the A9 to Aviemore before turning off to reach Auchendean, just south of Grantown on Spey, the rain was enough to dampen my spirits, despite this being my first new course in 2015.  I needn't have worried, as the rain finally stopped just as I approached the Lodge.  Ian and Eric were busy in the garden so I was delighted that they took a break and generously provided morning coffee and biscuits, much needed after my almost 4 hour drive.  Ian had a sore back but was keen to join me on the course, keeping me right on how to tackle what he modestly described as a "tricky" course.  Auchendean apparently has its own micro-climate, being sheltered between mountain ranges. It's also a lovely part of the world, with fine views across Strathspey and the Cairngorms, Abernethy Forest, the River Spey and the Cromdale Hills.  Ian and Eric had operated Auchendean as a hotel but with that business now closed, their next stop is a move to New Zealand.  I've never been there, but they'll be hard pushed to find a setting as grand as that at Auchendean.

The course is certainly "tricky" having been designed by Ian and laid out in 1989, meandering through their 1.5 acre garden.  An artist friend and had kindly designed their unique scorecard but the course had never been fully measured, so the guys were keen to see my laser range finder in operation.  The 1st hole is all of 31 Yards, as shown below. "All" you need to do is thread your ball between the witch hazel and birch trees, avoid a little stream in front of the green and stop short of the bush behind the green.  The course was still awaiting its first cut of the year, so the greens were a bit hairy.  This was actually helpful, as Ian and I found it difficult enough to  find and hold the small greens with our tee shots.


This is the 4th and the longest hole, at 48 Yards, with Eric on his way down to the green to capture the moment on camera. The trick here is to hit along the line of the OOB and hope you get a lucky first bounce. My luck was in, but Ian's wasn't and the gate to the adjacent forest came in handy. The photo below is Ian trying his luck at  the 7th, a 28 Yard long downhill hole that looked fiendishly fast, even this early in the Spring. The ideal line here is the tall green tree in the background, landing your ball just beyond the bush in the middle of the picture. We both found  that bush, hence my 6! 

This is the 8th, all 34 Yards of it.  The line here is over the stump, playing for the 6 foot gap between the birch trees, on the line of the chimney in the background.  Easy really, but I'd obviously used all of my remaining luck on that hole, as my tee shot at the 27 Yard 9th, as shown below was at least 10 yards too long, ending up on a path that was OOB. A closing double bogey 5 was disappointing, but my round here wasn't about the score (a gross 36, or 9 over par, with 15 putts by the way). It was about enjoying this little course and the generous hospitality of a couple of really great guys who went out of their way for a stranger. That's one of the things I love most about golf. It brings people together that wouldn't otherwise meet and my travels around the country have been enriched by meeting the likes of Ian and Eric.  I hope they really enjoy their retirement years in New Zealand and find a good golf course nearby or perhaps build their own Auchendean South Course.


It will of course be for the new owners to decide, but it would be a shame if whoever buys Auchendean Lodge decides against keeping Ian and Eric's little course.  The guys used to invite friends around for an annual Mid Summer's Night golf match - now that's my kind of house party!   

For more details of the sale see -
http://search.struttandparker.com/residential/dulnain-bridge-grantown-on-spey-morayshire-ph26/42012.  
Offers over £600,000 for the course also gets you a great house in an amazing country setting! 

Thanks again guys, it was my pleasure meeting you both and playing your little course.  



Sunday, 15 March 2015

Dalmeny Estate GC - Winter Course

When I played the Dalmeny Estate GC Course in July 2014, I learnt that the course layout changed each winter, with separate tees and greens, making the winter course an entirely different course from the summer layout.  Accordingly, I'd have to return one day, courtesy of Martin the local member who'd very kindly invited Graham, Douglas and I last July.  I've been playing quite a bit over the winter but since most of the courses that I've still to play are not easily accessible or are only open during the summer months, I've not managed to play any new courses since my round at Hamilton, way back in October 2014.  As it turned out, the only date that suited us was Sunday 15 March 2015, so Graham and I joined Martin for what we'd thought would be a game on the winter layout, counting towards my own target of playing every Scottish course.

Martin hadn't had time to play at all over the winter, so it was as much a surprise for him to find that the winter layout is no more.  In previous years the course owner had found it advantageous for a number of reasons to change the course layout, but this hadn't been done this winter and it seems that in future years the summer course will be retained throughout the year.  So, that's one less course to do, I suppose, so if I have succeeded in identifying all of the courses, including practice courses, pitch and putt courses, those with less than 9 holes and all of the private courses on country estates etc., I now have 31 courses still to play.  That is of course a moving target as Scottish courses are currently closing at a faster rate than they are opening and that trend seems set to continue.  Maybe my target of 691 will change again if any courses close before I play them or if I find any more new ones to add to the list.  I'll try my best to play towards that target and see what happens, but with any luck 2015 will see me finish the long journey that's taken me many years and thousands of miles to complete.

Anyway, back to Dalmeny.  I said in my blog entry 642 that the Dalmeny Estate course was difficult. That was a significant under-estimation. The par of 31 is actually hugely challenging.  I'd met Martin and Graham on the 3rd tee.  They were going round this little 9 hole course twice.  I was planning to play only 9 holes, as I'd only got back from a holiday in Madeira very late on the Saturday night.  I was a bit tired, but after hacking may way round on holes 3-9, I decided to see if I could beat the 38 I'd scored last July over the same course layout.  I played pretty well and with more luck on greens that were considerably slower and less consistent than they'd been last July, the best I could do was another 38, or 7 over par, with 15 putts.  There's maybe 2-3 strokes I could shave off that total, but I doubt if I could consistently play to 10 here, given the general slowness of the fairways and the small size of the greens.  Indeed, some of the holes are just too long for me to hit in regulation. For example, the 6th, at 245 Yards is one of the longest Par 3's I've seen in my travels.  I'd move the tee forward a bit to make the challenge more realistic, given the chance!


A final comment on Dalmeny.  As might be expected of a course owned by an old aristocratic Scottish family, the Dalmeny course has had some famous visitors over the years.  This is a photo an old plaque by a large tree beside the 8th tee, showing that the tree was planted by General Eisenhower on 3 October 1946. I gather that Eisenhower only planted 2 trees on golf courses, the other being at Augusta and that as a result there is still a link between the 2 clubs.  Another tree behind the 8th tee was planted by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh in November 1953, but that's the end of my trivia about this particular course. Thanks again to Martin for inviting me to play the course again.  Polly and I have recently joined Dunbar GC, so I'll probably do a blog entry on it in due course.  But for now, that's me officially out of hibernation so with any luck my blogs will soon be more regular, as my travels around the country get back into full swing.