On my trip to Dumfries & Galloway, I played the top four ranked courses in the region (1 – Southerness, 2 – Stranraer, 3 – Powfoot, 4 – Portpatrick Dunskey) and found the rankings (as per Top 100) to be misleading. In terms of enjoyment, Powfoot and Portpatrick were level, Southerness next and Stranraer a distant last. More on the others in separate reviews. Powfoot was the course at which all the pieces fell together most evenly. Fun, variety, reasonable difficulty, setting, condition, weather, warmth of welcome and a bit of guidance from members on the way around, this all made for one the best days of golf I had on my travels. I realise that weather and who you might encounter on a visit are factors that should not be included in how a golf course is rated, however, these are nonetheless important considerations in what forms the golf tourist’s experience and memory. I timed it well for Powfoot, as it was a lovely indian summer’s day albeit with a stiff enough breeze as you would expect. Luck of the draw – on the previous day I had found Southerness in the worst weather of my entire trip (I would like to go back there in better conditions and perhaps it might win me over).
When I arrived at Powfoot I was granted a tour of the clubhouse by the starter and made feel very welcome. Then, as play slowed up ahead of me on the 3rd tee, members Stephen and Mark, one club champion, one most improved golfer of the year, joined up with me for the rest of the round, something I had hoped might happen at other courses I visited and didn’t really materialise apart from at Troon. At Irvine and Stranraer in particular, I felt like a solo golfing tourist nuisance that nobody wanted to know and I was glad when I had finished my rounds. At Powfoot I could have stayed all day.
The course measures 6,300 yards and is a par 71 with three par threes and just two par fives, designed by James Braid. It is very sensibly routed with several holes reverting to the general area of the clubhouse making for easy short practice sessions – the 1st, 9th, 11th, 14th and 17th tees all are just a short stroll away from the clubhouse. Apart from the odd hole here and there, it is generally quite a flat and is a relatively easy walk.
The 1st tee shot is a nervy one as there are bunkers, deep rough and gorse to the left and OB to the right, putting a premium on hitting the fairway off the tee, with wind blowing off the sea and towards the OB line adding to the danger. It’s a flat hole and two bunkers short are the main issues for the approach. The first of the two par fives comes early and the 2nd is a beauty, just 495 yards played towards the sea, it’s an undulating hole with a wide fairway but OB to right and a nice inviting run over a rise and down to an upsloping green. This should be a good birdie chance. The 3rd and the 4th are the two holes played closest to the sea. The par four 3rd is stroke index 1 and rightly so, at 445 yards with OB right and gorse to the left presenting issues for both tee shot and approach, it’s hard enough but is complicated further by a hollow around the landing area for the tee shot and dangerous pot bunkering at the tricky green. The 4th I loved, a slightly downhill short par four, almost driveable on the day, with a gaping bunker at 300 yards from the tee, its lip 25 yards from the front of the green. Your strategy off the tee is very much dictated by conditions on the day and this bunker. The hole is also positioned in probably the nicest little corner of the course near the sea.
The 5th hole at 275 yards is shorter than the 4th on the card but played longer due to wind. An inviting open hole that should be another birdie chance despite the five bunkers around the landing area and green. The 6th is a testy one, a flat slight dogleg right par four of 350 yards, but into the wind it plays hard, five fairway bunkers and gorse on both sides making accuracy is paramount and this applies to the approach as well. On to the magnificent 7th, the first of the par threes and an absolute beauty, one my favourite holes in the entire region. It is 155 yards at most with the green guarded by no less than eight bunkers on all sides and no easy up and down no matter where you miss the green. The gorse is also quite close to the green and punishment if you are particularly wayward. You can’t see the ball land from the tee, which adds to the intrigue on what is a superb little golf hole.
Having been taken along the perimeter of the course for the first 5/6 holes, 7, 8, 11, 12 and 13 are all routed through narrow and undulating vales in the gorse-lined middle section of the course. Whilst the 360 yard 8th was downwind on the day, this did not necessarily render it easier as it’s still a narrow tee shot and if the wind takes hold of your ball there is gorse to worry about on both sides. A 3-wood off the tee was the option of choice and it becomes a birdie chance if your tee shot is in good shape, but the green is large and two putts are not straight-forward. The 9th hole is renowned for and named after the crater on the right side of the fairway (something to do with the war). I was expecting a massive 50 foot deep hole and was disappointed as it’s actually neither that big nor is it really in play off the tee at 300 yards from the tips, unless you are very long of course. The green complex was more memorable for me than the crater, a fantastic sweeping undulation at the front of the green that would almost make me want to miss the green with my approach in order to play a fun chip shot using the contours. Surely it must be one of the best Braid designed greens anywhere.
The back nine begins with a long and demanding par four, and rated the second hardest hole on the course at 430 yards into wind you can see why. It’s wide enough off the tee but there are bunkers to catch you out and it’s a hard green to hit with three bunkers around and gorse waiting left and long. It was on the 10th fairway where I introduced my playing partners to the concept of the Driver-Off-The-Deck, a shot that you must have in your locker in order to succeed in wind golf. It is fair to say that this was a life-changing moment for Mark in particular, who, having been extremely skeptical at first, observed as I nutted my approach through the wind and then proceeded to smash his ball onto the green. I was glad to have had the opportunity to give something back to these kind members!
The 11th is another one my favourites in the region. Framed by high gorse infested ground on both sides, this undulating 315 yard par four is the hole on which I felt most separated from the rest of the course and was also no pushover into the wind despite its yardage. The tee shot favours the left side of the fairway to open up the angled green partially hidden behind the bushes and set in a lovely quiet corner. The 155 yard par three 12th is not far behind the 7th in appeal, a similar par three with perhaps a slightly more elevated green and bunkers left and right, five in total. The next two holes take you back to the east edge of the course, starting with the par four 13th, 340 yards with gorse again emphasizing the need for accuracy off the tee and a large two-tiered green complex. The 500 yard 14th is the second of the par fives and is a very reachable hole if downwind, in fact a lot of balls will end up over the green or long left as it is a tricky one to hold if you don’t come in from the right side and short. Notwithstanding the stroke index of 6, there is not much to defend the first two shots as it routes back out into the more open part of the land, therefore I think this should be looked upon as a birdie chance. You must take advantage of the two par fives at Powfoot.
Some say that the course changes character from the 15th tee to the 17th green, the suggestion being that it becomes parkland in nature, but I would not go that far. It doesn’t really change character that much, you are just a little bit further away from the sea and closer to some big trees. The 15th is the last of the par threes and plays long and difficult, over a valley and back up to what is another Braid special green complex with dramatic undulation that can work for or against you. The 16th, a brutal long par four, demands a fairway stripe off the tee, otherwise you will struggle to make the green in two. It’s a double dip undulation hole with the fairway upslope potentially killing a well struck tee shot and the green perched at the top of the next hill. The subject of green complexes (see 9th, 15th) continues here with the 16th almost as funky as the 9th, a massive back-stop friendly ridge across the rear. If the pin is located at the back of the green you can have a lot of fun with your approach or chip shot. After the difficult 16th, which often plays into wind, the 17th is a benign and relatively flat 330 yard par four, quite forgiving off the tee and defended principally by six bunkers around the green. If you have a good score going the 18th is a test of nerve, both the tee shot and approach are narrow owing to the trees and bushes on the flanks and there are trees / OB to negotiate for the uphill second shot to a false fronted green. It’s 405 yards on the card but is often into wind and demands two solid strikes. An apt finish indeed.
For the variety of holes, ranging from narrow gorse lined to more open, from seaside to inland, birdie opportunities to difficult tests, along with its memorable green complexes and a nice clubhouse with a friendly welcome, Powfoot is very much worth the visit for golfers of all standards.
Pick of the holes: Par 3 – 7th, Par 4s – 4th, 11th, Par 5 – 2nd.
📸 4th green