A perfect sunny day to play the best inland course in the world. This is not ‘Probably the best inland course in the world’. There is no debate. This is no 1. The undisputed champion.
The latest edition of Golf World has new rankings for the top 100 courses in Britain and Ireland. Loch Lomond is no 21, down 7 places from the last list. Don’t understand or agree with that analysis, particularly as there are 3 inland courses ahead of it. I accept it is very hard to measure links against inland but not to rank LL as the top inland course is bizarre. Sunningdale Old and New are fabulous courses but have nothing like the grandeur or views that LL offers. Woodhall Spa is a fine course but to rate it above LL is just silly.
Semi rant over. I am playing in a four ball with the Motherwell captain and legend Keith Lasley as my partner against Scott Kincaid and Paul Smith who bought the round as an auction prize at Keith’s testimonial golf day. Paul has played the course before. Keith and Scott are LL virgins although Keith tells us he has walked the course during the Scottish Open. The whole experience is all I had hoped it would be. Lunch outside as we get to know each other and tell golf and football stories. Scott is the general manager of the Maybury Casino in Edinburgh and Paul says he has the best job in the world – running a charity for kids.
The course is not exactly mobbed. We are the only tee time after 235 so have the course to ourselves. Brief hit on the practice area gives me the chance to appraise my playing companions. Keith strikes the ball well, cleanly and powerfully. Not sure about his numeracy however as he claims he is an 18 handicap. About as likely as him pulling out of a tackle!! Think he must have double counted somewhere. Looks 9 at the most. Paul and Scott are a bit more variable on the range. Some good shots but a number not so great and they seem correctly handicapped at 21 and 28 respectively. I explain I am still getting mine back and we agree, as a compromise 11 each for them and 7 for Keith.
We meet up with our caddies at the first and go through the usual initiation where they work out just how good we are and then apportion the appropriate amount of respect that ability demands!! Bit of a worrying ceremony but we seem to pass.
Based on the practice area look see, if I’m honest I expected that Keith and I would ease away from our opponents relatively easily which shows how little golf I have played recently and the effect that has had on my judgement.!! Golf is never that simple. If it was, we would not be so in thrall to it.
There is no doubt Keith and I strike the ball better than our opponents but that doesn’t translate into winning golf. Paul and Scott are as good scramblers as I have seen. Especially on the front nine. In parallel, Keith is the biggest bandit I have met in 10 years. (I must get out more). He is single figures. Power fade from the tee and canny chipper and putter as he shows at the second, great saving putt and then wedges in for a par 5 from behind the 3 green. But we are only all square! Even after the signature hole par three 5th which plays 165 yds down to the Loch. Keith and I over the back with what looked like perfect shots, Paul and Scott on at the front and it needs another great chip from Keith to get the half. And then we lose the infinite par five next!
So 1 down playing my favourite hole, the long dog leg right par 4 7th. Loch running all the way along the right hand side and the clubhouse on the left. Trees in play from the tee – trees I try to drive over. Stupid! As my caddy wastes no time telling me. But 7 iron out of the rough to 85 yds then a great sand wedge to 8 ft and a good putt. But again for a half as Paul gets a 5 nett 4. Same on every hole! They are harder to shake off then Stuart Carswell. One down still!
But at the short par 3 8th next I hit a good 8 iron on and our opponents for once get into a mess they can’t extricate themselves from. We get back to all square. Until the shortest par 4 on the course. The ninth. Only 305 yds but bunkers as far as the eye can see. And beyond. Three of us go right as instructed by the caddies. Scott ignores that advice and is the long ball. I hit what I think is a good wedge but come up 2 ft short. Keith for once misses a couple of shots Paul duffs his chip but it runs over the first bunker and he has a chip. He gets to 20 ft. I pitch to 6. Difference is he holes. I don’t. 1 down at the turn!! What is happening?
My hope was that we would have a tight game in great weather but by tight I thought us a couple up at the turn, not one down. Strange because Keith and I are not playing badly, in fact he is playing very well.
I let him know on the 10th tee he needs to get even better!! And he responds. How he responds. Hardest hole on the course. 420 yds against the wind. Burn and water 225 yds out then a carry over more water, say 180 yds, to the distant green. Keith dismisses the hole. Good drive and then a fabulous wood over all the water to the heart of the green. Hole conceded. Back to all square.
The next is equally good. Long uphill par 3 playing over 200 yd carry.I hit a good rescue but it doesn’t get any run and stops dead 10 yds short. Keith bombs a 4 wood to the centre of the green and gets down in two for another win.
I continue the pressure at the next. Best drive of the day 270 yds straight and a SW to 8 ft which I hole. Two up.
I think Paul and Scott are tiring now as I win the 520 yd next as well. 3 up and into the final furlong. The fun 14th hole.Potentially drivable par four.Carry is about 225 but over the sort of jungle only seen in Tarzan movies.Paul makes the left hand bunker.I drag mine and am lucky to find it at the edge of the swamp. A few blows later we settle for a half in 4.
Now against the wind on the 15th to the green I find it hardest to hit. And I miss it again. Run over into the back bunker and can’t up and down it.Two up with three to go.
Would like to say the next is a Titanic golfing struggle but having fought and clawed their way round, our opponents sell out to a safe, % played par five. Keith and Scott decide to hit their drives down towards the 18 tee. Don’t really know why!! Dead. Paul played it well but then decided to duck his ball in the water in front of the green leaving me sole possession of the hole.
A win 3&2.
Even better golf to come. The 17th is an incredibly difficult par 3. Rough, bunkers. A hole highlighted by the loch.I hit 5 iron to 8 ft.Keith hit a 6 iron right over the flag but it runs to the back of the green.I manage to hole the putt and Keith gets his par.
Then the last. Sun setting on the Loch. Could be a painting by Turner. One in which our hero, our 18 handicapper hits it 320 yds. Starting it on the side of the loch and fading it back into the absolute dead centre of the fairway. Aye – 18 my arse as they say at the R&A.
The perfect finish to a perfect day.
It was match play so couldn’t / didn’t want to hold us up by holing out so score is not valid. But assuming a 6 for the lost ball on the 4th was round in 83. Par is 72 from the whites. Keith probably round in nett 63/4!