Any ranking of golf courses is/has to be subjective. Links - parkland? Its place in golf history? How I played? Weather? How easy to get on? Friendly or not? All of these and price/value for money affect the view. Some of these factors are ignored in my assessment - in particular weather and how I played - the most likely to vary.
I have put an overall score on each course and placed them into bands.
60+ should play at some point in your golfing career
70+ worth the extra effort to play
80+ must play
90+ remortgage the house, postpone holidays, anniversaries - jump in the car now and drive there!
Detailed rounds on a hole by hole basis are available for some of the courses but I am not sure the extra work of doing this is worthwhile (thoughts by readers welcome. I started out with that intention but pulled back a bit when I realised how time consuming it was to report accurately). A more complete but not hole by hole analysis, is attached for each course after the scoring.
Don't Look Back in Anger - My brother walking off the 12th Green with the tee and drop to the 11th green in the background
Carluke is a parkland course set at the top east side of the Clyde Valley with views back west to Lanarkshire and into Ayrshire. A relatively short track. Only 3 yds over 6,000 from the whites and just under 5,700 from the yellows. Par 70. SSS 69 from the whites - 68 from the yellows-the back nine particularly short at 2,600 but plays harder than that.
No one is quite sure when the course was first used but it has gone through 3 iterations since I played it in the 1950s. The course then had no official car park, just a rough road to some waste ground at the side of the first green. Very few cars. Virtually all the members walked from the town as I did all the years I played there.
So essentially , a working man’s course which has improved considerably with the additional drainage put in over the past 20 years and re-laid and changed greens. I am biased about it. It was the course I leaned to play on and grew up with. But even allowing for that for that it still scores above 60 because of:-
3 ease of getting on
4 most importantly the stretch of holes from the 5th to the 12th.
That is what makes it and lifts it up over 60. As good a collection of holes as most other courses scoring over 70.
The start is reasonably benign although the first is now a much harder hole than in my playing days - dense trees on the left prevent the blast over the dog leg - and the 3rd and 4th have also been toughened. But it is after that comparatively modest start that the course moves into impressive golf territory.
The 5th is a very good long par three to a semi elevated green which demands/ suits a high fade. The 6th is a lovely uphill driving hole with an interesting second to a plateau which looks like an upturned crater on the moon-always hard to judge what to hit to the green, even with a Bushnell!! as there is a fairly long gap from the start of the upslope to the hole.
The 7th tracks back down, parallel to it. On a good day fantastic views from the tee across the Clyde valley with Louden Hill in sight. Agood drive sets up the best second shot on the course to a green at a lower level, necklaced by the mature chestnut trees which guard it.
The 8th is a magnificent par three through a Sherwood Forest of trees to a deceptively long green. Really testing if you can't get maximum elevation on a medium iron.
9 is not as good a hole - fairly straightforward par 5 - but the drive on the 10th is the best on the course from the back medal tee to a sloping fairway and then a green equally inclined to the left.
All of this a drum roll for one of the top par 3s in Scotland. Glenburn. 112 yds downhill into a valley of trees, gorse, high grass to a green protected by an Atlantic Wall of bunkers at the front and Jocks burn at the back. Beautiful. Easier than it sounds!!? Pitching wedge. Straight. That's all that's needed!! This is a must play hole for all golfers. (And the first hole in one I had!)
Then the most unusual hole on the course - Hill O'Hope - Par 4 but only 240 yds so on paper sounds drivable. Apart from the 45 ft gap upwards between the tee and the hole!! So sensible 7 iron then SW or take it on with the big dog. Great challenge. And lovely view back from the green to the tee and the 11th green.
All in all a good batch of holes and a real test of striking, especially irons to greens.
The course eases down after those holes - although the long par 5 15th throws up an interesting third shot and the OB on 16 sharpens the thought process on the tee.The last is a nice, but short dog leg to a green framed by the Clubhouse main window. 4 iron - 9 iron and hopefully a birdie to set up pie, beans and chips at the bar.
Duddingston Golf Course –Right Down The Bloody Middle
Duddingston is situated at the south of Edinburgh, only a few miles from the city centre and right beside Arthur's Seat and Holyrood Park. Fantastic spot so close to historic Edinburgh and rated as one of the better parkland courses in Scotland. Set up in 1895 as the Insurance and Banking Golf Club – designed by Willie Park and extended in the 1960s/70s.
It's most famous son was RDBM Shade, Scotland's finest ever amateur player. Died tragically young but remembered fondly by all who saw him play. Nicknamed 'Right Down The Bloody Middle' by opponents - the legend is he never missed a fairway. (I saw him play once - some sort of regional teams’ event at Lanark. I was in a junior team. He was In the Edinburgh top senior team so, thankfully, we were not opponents!)
Duddingston is Gaelic for ‘sunny side of the hill' which shows that although the Gaels were fantastic warriors and lyric poets they were shi.. weather forecasters. It was teaming when I played there and members were being washed off the course.
6,250 yds from the yellows – par 72.
This is a neat, in fact pretty, course. Well maintained – very considered! – very Edinburgh! Very financial sector – very precise!!
My favourite holes were:-
No 1 - Deer Park. A good par 5. Bairds’ Burn on the left hand side coupled with rough trees and bunkers. So the shot is straight or up the right hand side on this right to left dog leg. A longish drive would leave the green gettable but anything left is a hackout and on for 3. A hole which suits a steady approach.
No 4 - Death or Glory. An uphill par 5 with a blind tee shot. The ubiquitous Braids Burn runs across the fairway about 80 yds before the Green so the second shot is well named. I like the layout – brave shot rewarded if hit well – the sensible shot short should ensure a par.
No 5 - Ditch. More straightforward and a short, typical parkland par 4. Slight dog leg right. A potential birdie hole but a harder hole than I thought at first as the green is very cantered and in summer it will be hard to get at any pin on the left hand side.
No 6 – Burn. Long par 3 which looks even longer because of a bunker in front of the green. Intimidating. I change my mind twice on what to hit, then fatally a third time when I swing. A hole which creates that sort of mind meltdown must have a lot of merit.
No 9 - Avenue. A short par 4. Tee shot to a ridge which then opens up to a pitch down to a large green with the burn in front. Lovely driving vista and short second.
No 11 - Woodlands. The start of the hardest section on the course. 3 very tough long par 4s, made even harder by the lack of run. Need to drive through the narrow funnel at the tee and still have a full rescue for my second.
No 12 - Village. Another uphill hole and the first view of Arthur's Seat at 2o' clock. Sun now out. Fantastic sight. Worth the admission price for the view.
No 13 - Temple. Back in the opposite direction. Uphill again and even better view back to Arthur's Seat. Bunker on the right about 240 out. Needs a full 5 iron to get onto the front portion of the long green.
No 14 - High and Dry. Beautiful short par 3. Tight green with the burn at the bottom and in fact the right front side of it runs directly down to it. Pin is on that side just at the top of that slope. Classic short hole – needs the balls to hit a full shot.
No 17 - Pond. Par 5. Great view and driving hole. The sort I really like. Raised tee, looking down into a valley with banked fairway and rough on the right and the pond in the distance on the left. Fantastic. Encourages a good drive. Green gettable in summer with more run so potential birdie hole.
No 18 – RDBM. The second hole named in honour of Ronnie Shade. Semi blind tee shot to a raised fairway. Best part of the hole is the view when the hill is crested. Clubhouse, then in the distance Craigmillar castle. Fantastic vista with the burn, again, and bunkers forming a barrier at the front of the green. Great final shot in.
Overall this is a course which fully justifies its reputation as one of the best parkland tests in Scotland. I didn't see it at its best in terms of the weather but some of the later holes are magnificently scenic. The views of Arthur's seat from the 13th and back up the 16th are worth the green fee themselves, the drive on the 17th is a classic high tee valley view, and cresting the slope at the last after a blind tee shot to see Craigmillar Castle in the distance behind the clubhouse is breath-taking.
|Quinta Do Lago South|
Quinta Do Lago South Content.
Fulford Heath Content
Glasgow Gailes Content.
Royal Troon Content.
Machrihanish 21st May - Specially designed by the Almighty for playing golf (Old Tom Morris)
A course set out initially in 1876, extended by Old Tom Morris to 18 holes from the original 10, and later slightly amended by Open champion J H Taylor and Sir Guy Campbell. In an era when virtually all courses have face lifts, tucks and liposuction Machrihanish remains its own self. Proud of its lines, wrinkles and creases – Machrihanish is driving Miss Daisy.
A course featured in just about every book on golf course from Britain's 100 Extraordinary Golf Holes (inevitably the first) to British Golf Links – The oldest golf book of its kind I can find – first printed in 1897 – I am lucky enough to have a facsimile reprint.
The section on Machrihanish is fascinating – a report on the course just after it was laid out. To pay respects to that book I have included a hole by hole commentary on this unique course.
6,235 yards from the white tees par 70 and more blind shots than you could shake a stick at – if that’s your idea of a good time.
No 1 – Battery 436. A drive over the Atlantic Ocean and beach. The more you bite off to shorten the hole the harder the drive becomes, the greater chance of playing the next from sand. We are playing from the back tees on this hole so as far left as we can be, on a rocky promontory which sharpens the angle to the fairway. Jura and Gigha stand out in the haze. I would have liked to hit some practice balls before lining up for one of the most important drives of my life. No second chances. The top opening hole needs a top shot. But no practice area or even a net so have to make do with a few stretches and swishes of my driver. I visualise the shot I want to hit. Aim for a high draw to use the wind behind. And I do it. Perfect. Absolutely perfect. Couldn't have pointed a laser more accurately. Trip totally worthwhile with that shot. That's what golf is all about. 6 iron to the front of the green. 2 putts. Par at the world’s best opening hole.
No 2 – Machrihanish 393. An elevated tee down to a half moon shaped fairway with a burn at the end (270 to find it). I go with 3 wood. I have an 8 in my hand. Shot is like the second to the opening hole at North Berwick. Up a steep hill with rubbish everywhere and a pot bunker two thirds of the way up to catch the under hit shot. I know there is dead ground over the top of the hill before the green. I know it but can't see it so don’t believe it so I quit on the shot, try and finesse it. It hits the top. Please stay. Stay with me baby. Stop in the name of love. No matter which song I choose to encourage my lame effort to defy the laws of gravity it doesn't listen. Pauses for a moment to torment me then pirouettes and declines gracefully into the bunker. Why do that? I hit a lifetime bunker shot but even that is 5 yds short of the green. But then an excellent approach putt to 3 ft and hole it for a fighting bogey.
No 3 - Islay 373. Back towards the ocean. Fabulous view. But not of the fairway!! It is a blind shot featuring the sea and islands. Again a majestic ball down the left centre. Ends up just in semi by 6 inches. Most of the fairway is to the right of the direction post! But I have a fantastic tunnel down the rest of the hole to an extremely long narrow green which seems to gather the ball from both sides, probably more from the right. Rather than hit a hard pitching wedge I decide to play a clever links shot. Punch an 8 iron, let it bounce before the green and then channel it on. Hit it too well. Runs up to the side of a deep bunker at the right of the green but instead dropping back down onto the green, carries on for a yard too much and dives in to the trap. My bunker shot is interesting! I am looking down a lift shaft to the hole. Only option is to come out at 120 degrees to the pin and use the slope to bring it back. I do but even so it is 25 ft away. Another bogey.
No 4 - Jura 121. Green on its own slightly down from the tee. Isolated in an ocean of rough. Hit a very good PW right over the pin. It bites and holds. 15 ft downhill for a birdie but I misread again and leave it 6 inches left. A longer version of the Postage Stamp.
No 5 - Punchbowl 388. Down wind and huge dog leg left. Semi-blind tee shot which I hit quite well but tight to the massive dunes which now obscure my second. I walk 25 yds right to get a view of the green and wish I hadn't! Looks like the pilot of a 747 has put it into a steep right bank, the tilt must be 30 degrees and I am hitting blind to it at the wrong angle - from the left hand side. Hit great 7 iron. Well it feels great. Can't hit it any better. But as I walk it’s not in sight on the green and nobody saw it bounce. Find it pin high but at the end of the wing tip, 20 yds right. Good lob wedge to 8 ft behind the hole hoping it would release back but it stays. On 3 of the last 4 holes the ball has not heeded my instructions - I am not the ball whisperer it would appear.
No 6 - Balaclava 348. Another raised tee with great views of everything but the fairway. Blind Pew would feel right at home on the opening nine. Again hit a good drive but again I miss the fairway by a yard. Bad uphill lie and I try to do too much. Hit it a massive 30 yds to the top of the dune but I now have a perfect view down to a beautifully contoured green with the pin towards the right side. The vista is too gorgeous to allow anything but a sublime shot and I oblige with a sand wedge to 12 inches. Saved the par.
No 7 – Bruach 476. Another blind tee shot but we hit the best 4 collective drives of the day. Within 15 yds of each other. Another blind shot with a huge mound to fly over and little/no idea of where the green really is. This is the blind leading the blind. I am last. The rest all hit excellent woods or rescues. I go with 4 iron. Melt it. Scale the summit to see two balls just short, one to the right and one in the centre of the green, about 20 ft short of the stick. It's mine!! Yes. Good birdie chance on stroke index 2. Three putts later I am less ecstatic about the glories of the hole.
No 8 – Gigha 341. The most beautiful driving hole yet and that is a tough contest to win. High tee looking down on a valley of rough, fairway in the distance then more rubbish in front of an elevated green. Sun out. Just three putted from nowhere. What more could a golfer want. Hit it well. I have an 8 iron again, a club which has betrayed me twice already. The pin is at the very front of a highly banked green. The percentage shot is firm, over the flag, middle of the green. Against all the evidence so far I convince myself I can cradle my shot into the pin and go for the subtle, touch shot. It is certainly soft off the club head. Soft into the heather in front of the green. Hack out two feet. No lie but get it onto the back of the green and hit a fantastic putt dead for a strange six.
No 9 - Ranachan 354. We turn away from the ocean now and play at 90 degrees to the fairway which is visible from the tee. I am surprised by this development! A good ball, leaving a PW to the pin at the far end of the green. Nip it beautifully at last. Pitches and draws up 6 ft to the right. Birdie to be out in 40. But I miss!! 41 to the turn. I nearly start thinking it doesn't seem fair. Feel like I have hit numerous really good shots and only 3 bad ones. But when I remember the classic riposte to that complaint. 'Who telt you it was going to be fair?' I trudge to the 10th tee. In days gone by, during the years of excess the bank would have erected a marquee at the turn. A string quartet would be playing Bach and we would be met with flutes of Crystal champagne and sirloin mini sandwiches. It is not quite that decadent. We are handed a Mars bar each. Bon appetite.
No 10 - Cnocmoy 502. Proves as hard to play as it is to spell! We are now heading back home into a stiff but not killing breeze. Good drive but a bit short for once. No shot at the green which is 280 away. First I have to navigate the twin peaks which define the sides of the fairway. I hit a really good rescue for position. High and moving right to left so should set up a straight forward approach. Unfortunately a mischievous child must have dogged school seen my ball rolling majestically down the fairway and decided to throw it into the deep rough. That is the only logical explanation for finding it 2 feet above my feet in tangled grass!! I look for the culprit but they must be hiding. I have plenty of time to carry out the search as my team mates have decided to visit every part of the hole. We are scattered – looks a bit like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. I get it out - just SW in but two putt for a six. What a start back!
No 11 - Strabane 198. A long par 3, uphill to a very large green which slopes to the right. Shot on is a high fade which I attempt with a four iron but produce a high pull instead. It finishes pin high left. I am lucky and it runs round the top of the final bunker on that side about 10 yds off the green and 30 yds from the pin. Decide to play a cunning, canny shot and run it to the stick using my rescue. Hit it exactly 11 yds it surges proudly onto the green then pulls up!! I know I am going to 3 putt from there and I don't surprise myself. My initial inclination is to dismiss this hole as a bit bland but that is probably because I played it so badly. It is a better hole than that and if it was facing in the opposite direction and we had been hitting towards the sea we would have been singing its praises.
No 12 - Long hole 510. Well named! Back into the wind. Needs a good hit to carry the first trance of rough but we all manage that. I am the long ball. The green isn't reachable so I am playing for position, towards the huge hollow before the green. A large dune obscures and protects it on the right. Intimidating and grand together. As I have such a large target area I need to protect against a sloppy execution. So I pick a spot right on the pin at hit it at that. Really well. Probably the best strike of the round. Takes me down onto the pit, 75 yds short of the flag. Edgar Allen Poe must have popped out for a cup of tea as I am alone. Quite cut off. I misread my stroke saver. I think it says the green slopes right to left so aim off on that side. Push it a bit but am not worried as the natural contours will run it back. Walk up expecting to see a birdie chance. What I actually see is my ball 10 yds off the green. Mystified until I check the card again and see that it says the green slopes left to right. Literacy is helpful playing golf. Chip. Two putts. Another 6. Four over for the last 3 holes. Is breaking 90 my new target?
No 13 - Kilkivan 369. High tee again and blind shot but I hit another good drive down the right side .8 iron left. Not my favourite club today but a chance to redeem itself. Approach to the green looks very tricky from this far back. I try another links shot. Drop it 20 yds short and let it run up the slope onto the green. I hit it and think -yes. At last. Ball is rolling as I expected until it is sling shotted back off the green. What happened? As I get to the green I understand. The first 10 yds of the green is a miniature version of the north face of the Eiger. The pin is at the summit being held in place by a Sherpa wearing climbing gear and crampons. Then the green is shaped like the take off ramp on an aircraft carrier running away from the pin. What!!! If there is an area on which it is possible to land a ball and get it to stop close to the pin I can’t find it, having failed to pack an electron microscope in my bag. Come on!! This is a green which would have been rejected in a crazy golf layout as too extreme. I am a huge admirer of Tom Morris but when he was outlining this hole to the greens committee the convenor should have said 'come on Tam, screw the heid' and taken the whiskey bottle away at that point. I play 3 more great shots to escape with a 5.
No 14 – Castlehill 437. Looks flat and innocuous but after another great drive I am fooled by the distance to the green. I hit rescue thinking it is enough but against the wind it pulls up 30 yds short and I cannot get down in 2. Another bogey. When was the last par I had? Again on reflection a much better hole than I originally gave it credit for. Will be even more fun in summer when more run on the ball and the good drive can be followed by an attempt to chase a long iron through all the humps and dips.
No 15 - The Hut 166. I have found the answer to the overwhelming feeling that the back nine are nothing like as good as the first. Rather than being blinkered and focusing on looking down the holes we are playing, I gaze across to the right, to the ocean and magnificent views. It works and reminds me of just how special a course this is. It also helps me on the tee I think as I hit a solid 5 iron onto the green - a location studiously avoided by my team mates. This is a very good par 3. Reminiscent of the 16th at Muirfield. 2 putts for the first par since time immemorial.
No 16 - Rorkes Drift 232. Amazing name. Piece of history. This nine would have been laid out at exactly the time of that battle (Jan 1879). We are slightly less douty than the defenders of the mission and fail to match up to the challenge. I top a three wood but it scuttles 180 yds. Straight. Can't get down in two though so another bogey.
No 17 - The Burn 369. Slightly disappointing and straight down hole. OB on the left. I am in splendid isolation on the 17th fairway but when I point this out to my teammates I don't get the fully positive response I was expecting. I hit what I think is the perfect approach. Drawn six iron. But I don't draw it enough and it kicks off into the right bunker. I choose to leave it in on my first attempt but then explode out to six feet and actually hole the putt!
No 18 - Lossit 314. Back home. But feels a bit like an afterthought. Lesser version of the last at Prestwick but that has the attraction of being drivable. This isn't into the wind but I hit a solid ball and then a great 8 iron to 10 ft. I knock it through the break. No birdie finish. Shame, would have set the seal on a great course.
Perfect condition for playing. Sunny with a light breeze.
This is a must play course – hard to get to – hard to play with as many blind shots but a classic example of links golf – this is Walking with Dinosaurs – this is time travel – on a good day this is perfect in so many ways. Play it.
Turnberry Ailsa Content.
Loch Lomond Content.
|Old Course St Andrews|
Archerfield - Fidra - Hansel and Gretel?
The course is located on the East Coast between Muirfield and North Berwick links and on the same estate as The Renaissance (but not under the same management).
There was a short course on the Archerfield grounds dating from the 19th century but that fell into disrepair and the modern Fidra course and its sister course - the Dirleton - were put together by a local entrepreneur, Kevin Doyle, at the same time as restoring Archerfield house in 1994. The courses were designed by David J Russell, the ex-European tour player. It is a private members club with a huge American style clubhouse and ample practice facilities augmenting the golf. Just under 6600 yds from the blue tees but felt longer. Par 72 with a conventional configuration of pars. Four par 5s and par 3s and the rest 4s.
I have taken some time to finalise my thoughts on the layout because I was struggling to categorise the course. Links or inland pine forest? Or both? I am still not sure and probably need to play it again in summer to nail it properly.
This is a good golf course but I am not certain just how good. Does it have the potential to be a great course - make it into the top 100 in the UK (Golf World 2014). It is in the next 100 at present which I feel is a fair reflection.
In the preamble to this section I said I would try and not let the weather conditions affect my view of a course. But on this occasion I am struggling so I might be slightly off track in my assessment.
We played on a fairly dull day with dew on the course. That I think influenced my opinion as I fell into the course more as the sun broke through and the fairways dried out. I do have a worry though about how the course would feel on a wet darkish day in February. Lots of pine woods. Positive – no undergrowth so easy to find balls. However, in bad weather would it be like the Roman legions tramping through dank Germanic forests never quite sure when the Huns would strike? Or like the fairy tale - Grimm!! Hansel and Gretel lost in the woods. Can't shake that sort of feeling off at present but!!!
The course is as I have said a very good test of golf. A hybrid forest and links. Front nine mainly woods - back nine more open and links like. The contrast works.
Highlights for me
The drive at the first has to be straight. The task the golfer is about to undertake is spelled out on that tee. Clear and unambiguous. I like that certainty.
The par 5 second is a classic woodland hole. Trees encroaching, or feeling like they are encroaching, all the way along on a mini dog leg. Takes a good drive and 3 wood / rescue second to set up a pitch to a sloping green. A very good hole.
Then a slight break from the forest along the next holes although the trees are never far away!!
The fourth is a good longish par 3 onto a huge green sloping back to front. Mis-clubbing almost a certainty here as the green is so large.
7-8-9 are a very good set of holes. The 7th is a beautiful long dog leg par 4 back through the trees to a semi raised green. 8 is a lovely semi blind par three (sort of similar to the Redan at North Berwick in some ways but then so many par 3s are) and the 9th a very clever driving hole with run offs and bunkers on the right. A well-shaped tee shot leaves a long iron for the amateur golfer to a green with bunkers peppering the left hand side so throwing the approach shot to the right and off the green. Probably the best hole on the front nine and leading to the halfway house where a stop is obligatory.
And pies. Haggis mini pies!! Fabulous treat with a tea and the perfect accompaniment to calm reflection on a demanding first nine (plays longer than 3000 yds especially if water on the ground).
The back nine opens with a tough par four then moves through the trees to another great hole. The gettable shortish par 5 11th. Needs a long straight drive which sets up a 3 wood through an avenue of rough and trees to an inviting green. A really inviting second shot – would be fantastic on a sunlit day with the shadows of the trees invading the fairway.
12 is a good hole. Much more links. Dog leg blind drive then a second over a vast acreage of waste sandy ground to an elevated green. The 13th is also interesting. Much more ‘covered’ than when it was laid down. The rough encroaching from the left gives it a nice sort of lop sided feel and the green and bank behind it gives the best view of the sea and Fidra lighthouse in the distance. This is the closest the course comes to Yellowcraig beach but it is not really visible which is a great pity given how beautiful it is.
17 is the best par three I think. Long high carry needed to a tightly bunkered green with subtle contours. Needs a perfect shot to hit and stop on the putting surface.
The last hole is quite long but playable, especially as there is a bail out patch of faIrway on the right behind some bunkers and ridges. Clever - as this is exactly where a last heave from the tee could end up!
All in all a good, edging on great course. Still a baby in golfing life at 20 years old or perhaps just entering adolescent. Feels like it is wearing clothes slightly too large for itself at present but as it grows into them it will blossom into a real test of the new strain of hybrid course we are starting to see. This is as good an example as any I have played.
|Silloth on Solway|
Silloth on Solway - Love at First Sight
Silloth on Solway is a links course situated on the North West coast of Cumbria. Not easily accessible (cf Machrihanish in that respect) but, like Machrihanish, a truly must-play course. Classic links layout with incredible views across the Solway Firth to the Galloway Hills in Scotland and South to the Lake District. (A top 50 rated course in Golf World’s latest UK’s Top 100 Courses – No 47).
6400 yds from the whites and just over 6100 from the yellows - so not long by modern standards and within the compass of most golfers. The par is 72 from both sets of tees and the first nine is 400 yds shorter than the second. The challenge is not its length but the design of the holes which retain much of the original set up from the establishment of the course in 1892. Laid out originally by Davy Grant and then tweaked by two of the best golf course designers of all time - Willie Park Jnr and Dr Alister MacKenzie. The course starts in the town next to the docks and meanders out along the coast line to the short 9th, turns left at the drivable par 4 next hole and comes back in with a slight re-tracking along the par 5 13th one of the signature holes on the course planner. Sea and hills in sight all the way round.
The course is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest - which is attested to by the 16 pages at the back of the course planner given over to descriptions of the local flora and fauna.
Selecting highlights from my round is a bit like trying to sub segment dishes from an 18 course tasting menu at a 3* Michelin (see final comments on the food in the clubhouse).
But some personal thoughts.
The drive at the opening hole - Horse Shoe - 370 yd par 4. Narrow ridged fairway. Gorse on either side. Real test of nerve followed by a blind second to a one floor down green - I would guess most first time players will end up long over the back (I certainly fell into that trap!!)
The second shot to the high plateau green at the third - Criffel - probably a 4 iron / rescue after an ok drive but needs the perfect links running shot to get up for most amateurs. Real test of this sort of trajectory.
Blind drive from the high tee at the 4th - The Mill. Panoramic sight of virtually everything else on the course apart from the 4th fairway! Classic links shot into the unknown!
The views from both the 5th and 6th tees looking out to sea along the contours of the Solway Firth and the sixth, a beautiful downhill par three to a sloping green with bunkers framing the entrance. The perfect, delineated 5/6 iron tee shot.
The ninth -The Manx - only 120 yds but every inch a classic par three playing back towards the sea. 'Mini ' version of the Postage Stamp at Troon if that doesn't sound oxymoronic. Bunkers, breeze against and a big drop off on the right. Great illustration that size doesn't matter.
The 11th - Spire - I really loved this hole. Trying to shape a left to right tee shot with OB on the right hand side then another cut with a longish iron into a large green sloping back to front. If this hole was on the sea line then it would be one of my top 10 links holes in the world.
Par 5 13th – identified as one of three signature holes on the planner. Quirky!! Not long for a par 5 but the second shot is framed between two huge sand dunes to a plateau green over 100 yds further on. Very clever visually. Makes it seem much longer and more difficult than it actually is. Drop offs on both sides on the journey to the summit. The green is the highest point on the links affording a great vista of the whole course, town, sea. Perfect spot for a picnic!!!
16th par three - The Mount. Well named. Take it all the way - 165 yd carry - or run it up. Either is hostage to severe run offs into deep, deep pot bunkers on the left and right hand side. But nothing hidden. In fact the hole is presented like a nude model on a chaise lounge, so examine it properly and at length, then find the correct shot.
Drive at the last - back towards the town. Not the same grandeur as St Andrews or North Berwick but a much harder finishing hole. Calls for a very good, shaped tee shot then a run in through bunkers or a long, high iron to take them out of play. Walking off with a par 4 automatically creates the feeling that the player has earned himself a substantial meal in the clubhouse!
And the clubhouse meal!! I used the word historic in the blog about my round and that is the correct adjective. Scampi, home-made chips, bread and butter and a pot of tea. The absolutely perfect end to a perfect course.
At under £50 for a round this is an incredible experience for the amateur golfer. Links golf from a different era. The age when golf ventured into the world and established itself as a top sport. But not so difficult that it is unplayable (even in a light wind) with enough blind shots to validate that type of golf without seeming perverse.
All in all an absolutely must play course.
They built it - you must come!!
|Quinta Do Lago North|
The Quinta courses were laid down nearly 40 years ago and were the cornerstone of the whole Quinta development. The North course was always seen as the younger sister to the longer, more difficult South lay out. Shorter – but in my view quirkier. The course has been ‘trailed’ as completely redesigned by the American architect Beau Welling with up to €8m euro spent on the rejigging.
The North is now quite 'American' in its lay out, with some of the more unusual features of its previous incarnation 'standardised'. Low cut Bermuda grass now predominates round the greens with the planting of wilder, local grass confined to the outer reaches of the fairways.
The course is 6700 from the medal tees with the option to stretch or shorten. The best length for the reasonable amateur is, I think, the 6300 set up. Standard 72 with 4 par 5s and 3s.
It is a pretty tree lined course which winds its way amongst the villas on the Quinta estate and over the roads which run through it. It feels ‘shady’ even in bright sunshine because of the tree cover. The best views are from the 15th Green. Fantastic vista down the valley to the North side of the Quinta estate, across to Almancil and to the green hills beyond. Almost worth the admission for that alone.
My personal favourites.
The drive on the first - shortish dog leg left par 4. High tee with a great view down to the gently sloping, generous fairway. I like that sort of starting hole where the whole picture is in sight from the tee. Encourages a good drive and start to the round. Makes you want to get on to the course!!
I am still undecided about the long par 3 second hole where a lake has now appeared on the right hand side - but the view across to the Pineros Altos course is excellent.
The par 5 third hole is the hardest on the course. Needs three good straight hits, with the last to a long elevated green particularly difficult to judge. The tall trees on either side, frame a very good hole which is uphill all the way.
5 and 6 are quite fun holes with good drives leaving a short iron to the greens. Potential birdies - but the green on the 6th is now very thin. In fact it is too thin - emaciated. Trying to put a wedge on it is like landing on a Möbius strip!
The par 4 10th was one of the best holes on the course in its previous configuration with a raised green surrounded by bunkers. It is now much leveller and less interesting but still a good hole with a testing drive to a gently banked fairway with trees down the left forcing the tee short right.
11 is a potential birdie-able shortish par 5 which leads on to the lake hole, the par 4 12th. This has been extended. It used to be drivable, for my boys at least, but it doesn't feel that way now. In fact with the wind against it it is a good carry for the second shot. 5 iron or move and I guess for a lot of players not reachable in two - leaving a bail out to the right as the approach. A better, tougher hole now and a potential card wrecker if you take it on with the carry over the water.
The second shot at the next is also tough from a plateau down to the much shortened green with steep run offs. Lovely feel to the shot – looks like a ‘proper’ long iron approach.
The finish is slightly easier. A straightforward downhill par three followed by a dog leg par 4 which used to have one of the more difficult second shots to another high green but again this has been levelled out to make it simpler. Then a 9 iron par three and a short gettable par 4, leading to the last. This was a seriously difficult hole. A drive over water with a hill on the right guarding the dog leg then down into a valley before a huge throw up to a very high green. The green has been dropped by 60 feet. The positive aspect is that a really good long drive means the green is reachable with a well hit wood or rescue and the left hand bunkers are very well placed to guard against that shot. The downside is that a quirky hole, a really testing finish has been 'dumbed down'.
Overall - for the ‘casual’ golfer the course is now more playable and is a good, well laid out track. For me it has lost some character in that process.
The joker is the weather/wind. I have only ever played it in great weather which is a key part of the attraction – with a little wind against, especially on 3 and 12, it would play much more difficult.
The one real downside is the state of the greens caused by players not repairing pitch marks. Even when the greens firm up more – which they will as the course beds in – this could be a problem unless education eliminates that sort of selfishness.
A pleasant holiday course, best played and viewed in that light.