Powfoot Golf Club

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

📸 7th

📸 11th

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Portpatrick Dunskey Golf Club

In a word, magical!

Do not come to the Stranraer area and neglect to play this golf course. Bypass Stranraer Golf Club and come straight here. Portpatrick Dunskey is probably the best combination of cheap green fee relative to fun and quality golf experience I have ever come across. For the feeling of having reached golfing paradise on the edge of the earth, it is nearly up there with Carne Links in Mayo, Ireland from my experience. For variety of holes, stunning views, excellent condition with true rolling greens, I would have paid much more than £33 had I known what was in store.

It’s a par 70 of just under 6,000 yards with two par fives and just one par four over 400 yards, but certain uphill holes are very uphill can play quite long in strong winds too of course. The start is solid, two relatively flat par fours in opposite directions without too much trouble around. Then to what is the beastliest hole on the course, aka ‘Muscle Skelp’, a 545 yard uphill par five that requires three solid shots to find the green. The approach is complicated by a rugged stretch of steep terrain marked by a nasty rock, over which the green is hidden. Ranked the hardest hole on the course, I missed the fairway with my drive, had to hack out and ended up needing 5-wood for my third shot. If you hadn’t woken up after two holes you certainly will have by the 4th tee, but you may be rewarded with a par three amidst the gorse bushes that can play quite short downwind, though bounce up shots won’t work as there is a steep grassy slope short of the green and it’s hard to hold the green.

From the higher ground the tricky 5th plays back downhill towards the road, a strong hole with a dangerously perched plateau green complex that will punish anything short by throwing it back down the slope. Thankfully it was only a drive and wedge for me on the day, but I am sure there are conditions in which that would not be the case. The 6th just shades the 9th as my favourite par four on the front nine, a downhill right-to-left hole with the approach played from an elevated position on the fairway to a green with two bunkers guarding the entrance. Here and on the 10th hole similar downhill short iron approach shots controlled into wind were required – enjoyable shots to play.

I think the par three 7th is one of the hardest holes on the course despite a stroke index of 13. An uphill 165 yards into wind with big trouble left by way of a steep bank, a ditch short and several bushes around to punish anything far askew. The 8th goes back down the hill and is a nice precursor to the holes closer to the shore to come. It is 380 yards on the card but is a significantly downhill hole with the fairway sloping dangerously from right to left towards a burn that runs all down the left side. It should only be a short-iron to the green, with no bunkers to consider, but it’s a tricky surface to hold given its undulations. The 9th tee is in a nice setting close to the sea, played slightly uphill towards a smattering of houses, and is a birdie opportunity at 310 yards as long as you stay left to avoid the sand traps.

The 10th is a very enjoyable downhill par four played from alongside the houses towards the sea in the background, thus setting the tone for the vista-fest that awaits midway through the inward half. The tee-shot seems daunting due to O.B. on the left and blind sight, but there is a bit more room out there than you might think. As per the 6th, the approach is a lovely downhill short-iron that invites pin hunting. The par threes at Portpatrick are no pushover, particularly 7 and 11. The 165 yard uphill 11th played dead into the wind for me, in such conditions requiring a long iron or wood to a green with no bunkers but with enough contours and long rough to worry about. Whilst the 12th is 390 yards on the card, it is directly up a very steep hill and is ranked the hardest hole on the back nine. The fairway is wide enough but there are three bunkers and finding one of these leaves no chance to reach the green in two. Shot selection is very tricky for the approach as you want to be long enough to fly the two bunkers short either side, but missing long left or right puts you in serious bother. It is on the 12th green where you are first presented with the view to the left down to Maidenhead Bay and across to Northern Ireland, just 20 miles away.

And so to the mesmerising 13th hole. Reaching the 12th green may have given the secret away already, but it is on the 13th tee where the vista is at its most epic and it can take you by surprise. The sun was out on the day I passed and Ireland was almost within touching distance, while the waters of the cove below were a tropical light blue making for a setting more Mediterranean than Scottish. The hole itself is great fun to play, a huge downhill par four playing much less than the 295 yards on the card, the green driveable in the right conditions. The hole is not without its danger however, hang-time and wind direction must be factored in and there is O.B. all down the left and some nasty rough wide to the right.

To have come so low you must go back high and alas the 14th is an even steeper uphill par four than the 12th, albeit not quite as long and punishing, with a wider fairway and large green tucked into a quiet wooded corner. You are still in prime vista zone on 14 until the 15th tee and it’s worth the walk to the back of the tee to catch one last glimpse of the coast before returning to the main upper section of the course. The 15th is the final short hole and at just a fun 110 yards and is a good birdie chance to set you up for the final stretch.

The 16th brings you back to the early section of the course and slots in between the 3rd and 1st holes. It has no bunkers but it is one of the longer par fours and can play longer than the card and also blind on the approach if you don’t carry the fairway upslope with your drive. The 17th is just 300 yards, but if you take driver off the tee, which you should (!), be careful not to go too far left as there is some of the worst gorse and rough on the course on that side. Once you find short grass this really should be a birdie hole, unless it’s into a gale. The par five 18th at 535 yards is very reachable in two in the appropriate wind, with a welcome wide fairway and the only bunkers on the hole being at the green leaving little to punish two strong and accurate hits. The fairway meanders from right to left, then back to the right off a camber towards the green, so aim well left of the green with your second shot for the best run into the green. Great to finish the round with a birdieable par five!

Portpatrick Dunskey is well worth the visit. Spectacular scenery, a variety of memorable holes, not without considerable difficulty in places, in great condition with smooth greens and great value for money. There is a friendly atmosphere in the club, which, for now, seems to be content to undersell itself a little bit and maintain its unspoilt charm. I do not agree that courses such as Irvine and Stranraer should be ranked higher than Portpatrick. Difficulty, length, and the name of the course designer, are not sufficient as factors to skew the rankings. Portpatrick was much more fun to play in fact it was an absolute joy and I would love to go back there again.

Pick of the holes: Par 3 – 7th, Par 4s – 6th, 13th, Par 5 – 3rd.

📸 13th hole

Irvine Golf Club

I had researched Irvine GC in an effort to find one of the less renowned and more affordable tracks in an area rife with world class links courses. In prior expectation of a finding ‘hidden gem’ in relative terms, I left a bit disappointed and feeling almost duped on account of the top 60 ranking in Scotland, classification as links and the £60 green fee, at least £20 too much in my estimation. The surprising drawbacks started with the clubhouse, walking through the locker room in particular was not pleasant and the building in general appeared tired – more bleak than endearing in its antiquity. Then to the course itself, more on the holes below, but my overriding takeaway is that whilst this is a very good course, top 60 seems inflated and it is not a links course. I do not care what the experts say, this is not a links golf course. If it is, then so is the course on which I grew up playing – Raffeen Creek! To add to this, the greens were the slowest I played on in the area all week, fluffy and bumpy and not great fun to putt on.

Irvine is a par 71 of 6,500 yards with a monotonous fifteen par fours, two par threes and one sole par five. There are quirky courses elsewhere in Scotland where the lack of variety on the card is not noticeable on the course. I did not think so here and I would find out in the week to come that an absence of par fives is a feature of James Braid designs. Blind shotmaking is also a feature of this course, starting with the second shot to the bland opener. The 2nd is the sole par five and is straight and undulating. The 3rd and 4th are two of the more fun holes on the course, neither really demanding driver off the tee. The 3rd has a deep hollow in front of the green and is a tricky green to hold, while the 4th is presumably the signature hole, the tee shot played from an elevated position down to a valley, that’s if you decide not to go for the green 290 yards away downhill, and the approach is back up to a perched green tucked in against the wall that separates the course from the railway track.

The 5th hole left me baffled, a 290 yard par four with the green set atop a mound with its face guarded by a huge boarded sand trap. Since the green complex is not really conducive to receiving 290 tee shots and there is awful gorse trouble left and right, the only sensible option is to lay-up short before the bunkers. I will never know if playing this hole every week would stockholm me into liking it, but I somehow doubt it. The 6th is a good hole, a stroke index 1 long par four with an undulating fairway and second shot played (probably blind unless you are very long off the tee) down a steep hill to the smallish green tucked in the corner of the field below with views of the town behind. I did like the 7th as well, a shorter par four requiring a fairway wood or long iron positional tee shot to leave an approach up a steep ramp to an inviting green. There are just two par threes here and they are decent, the 8th in particular one of my preferred holes on the course, a 175 yard flat shot with several bunkers around the green.

Holes 4-8 are played in a tight section south of a road and the 9th tee shot brings you back to the more exposed main part of the course, where the holes are a bit longer and arguably more bland. The 9th and 10th are two par fours in the same direction, the 9th longer and difficult, the 10th more downhill and requiring just a wedge to the green. The 11th hole caught my attention, a tough long slightly right-to-left and uphill par four requiring a big drive to avoid bunkers on the left side of the fairway and another healthy smack to reach the green with bunkers both short and at greenside to consider. The 12th is a sharp dogleg left that invites cutting the corner over bunkers, although the approach is not too long if you play to the corner, but it is blind down a very steep hill. I found the 13th hole quite difficult, a long par four blind tee-shot with O.B. to the left all the way to the green and gorse jungle to the right. This requires two solid strikes to find the green in regulation, more so as the hole narrows around the green.

The 14th is up there with my favourites on the course, down to features including the two “Specs” bunkers dug into a mound before the green, the grassy mounds behind the green providing a links feel and the massive two-tiered green complex itself. It’s a 380 yard uphill par four with a blind approach shot and is particularly enjoyable if the flag is on the bottom tier, as any shot over the Specs feeds down to the green. The 15th is quite similar to the 10th in both direction and nature as a downhill par four, if slightly shorter. The three-hole homeward stretch, with the railway line along the left side, begins with the shortest hole on the course at 155 yards, a good par three played to a deftly elevated green with four bunkers for protection. I thought the 17th, apart from the setting around the 14th green, the only hole that had a links feel to it, a tough one with a very undulating fairway and approach to a heavily sloping green with sharp contours to negotiate all around it. The 18th has two charming yet largely pointless bunkers within 100 yards of the tee and the gorse and O.B. line to the left present more of an issue for the tee shot. Whilst there are seven bunkers around the green, the green itself is quite big and with a wedge in your hand the bunkers should not be an issue.

Members perhaps would not like what they read, but thousands of visitors come to this area and some might read about Irvine as a ‘links’ course worthy of a visit. This is misleading for me. Yes it’s an interesting and good course, but it is neither links nor is it necessarily worth going out of your way for. It has its share of very good holes, but I could not help but regret having chosen it over one of the Troon municipals (Lochgreen is recommended) or Belleisle, which are cheaper to play with no come-down in appeal. You are entitled to go along and make up your own mind of course.

Pick of the holes: Par 3 – 8th; Par 4s – 3rd, 4th, 14th (I selected three par fours since there are 15 of them and just one par five).

The West Lancashire GC

The West Lancashire Golf Club, just north of Liverpool, lies at the southernmost point of England’s North West Golf Coast that stretches through Birkdale up to Lytham & St Annes. Overshadowed by the wealth of links courses in the vicinity, West Lancs has been classified as a somewhat underrated links that would otherwise be rightly heralded if it wasn’t so close to some of the best links courses in the UK. Top 50 in England isn’t exactly discarding it from all due attention however, but is it even worthy of this ranking? Is it perhaps even overrated? All I know is that I was waiting to be blown away and it never quite happened. That said, both the quality, to an extent, and difficulty are obvious. I played the course twice in one day and in varied conditions, with the wind on certain holes in the afternoon blowing almost in the opposite direction to the morning – a good way to experience the different character of the holes.

The stroke saver labels the the par four 1st as “one of the most challenging opening holes in championship golf”. It’s a good hole, a dogleg right, three bunkers on the right side of the fairway making you think twice about line off the tee, three bunkers at the green, but the fairway has acres of room to the left and unless the wind is against you the approach is not long and this should be a birdie opportunity. The 2nd is one of my favourite holes on the course, a par five measuring 515 yards with two centre-line fairway pot bunkers – avoid these and you will have a shot at the green in two, which is tucked in to the right behind a mound, but it’s small and more receptive to short approaches than mid/long irons or woods. The lay up is complicated by a bunker 30 yards from the front so strategy is a major factor. There are four par fives at West Lancs and I have chosen the 2nd as my pick just ahead of the 11th. The 3rd is my pick of the four par threes, 160 yards at most downhill to a green with four pot bunkers short and right in an amphitheatre setting.

The 4th is a left-to-right par four with a wide driving zone, but with O.B. left and some horrible deep grassy hollows to the right you must hit this fairway as the approach becomes quite narrow and undulating the closer you get to the green, hence the stroke index of 4. The 5th is par five that, like the 2nd, is reachable even for average length hitters if the wind is helping. Three fairway bunkers make line and shot shape choice interesting off the tee, but once you find a decent lie it is not too complicated to get into good position from there, relatively flat towards the green albeit with five bunkers scattered around. The par three 6th green is on a plateau and a missed GIR will leave a tricky scramble, either from short grass, rough or one of three pot bunkers short and right.

The 7th is my favourite hole on the course. The tee rests at one of the highest points on the grounds from where there is a panoramic view of the course, surroundings and bay area. It is a sharp dogleg right and in the appropriate wind cutting the corner and going for the green are options for big hitters, but for most it is about finding position left of the bunkers off the tee and hitting a precise approach to hold the green that falls off both left and right. The front nine closes with two par fours, both favouring tee shots shaped from right-to-left, the 8th downhill and off the large mound on the right side of the fairway and the 9th off the bell. These are two tough holes if the wind is against, the 8th in particular.

The back nine begins with a benign flat par four that plays very short if downwind and provided you manage to avoid the five fairway bunkers. The long 11th is one of the more memorable holes as it runs forever along the boundary of the course with the Liverpool-Southport railway line passing by on the right. It is a 585 yard straight hole with four bunkers to trouble the tee shot, three to consider on the second shot and two at the green, the one on the right in particular having magnetic powers. Downwind shots landing safely in summer will run for miles and the green is reachable in two in these conditions. On the other hand, three good smacks are required to find the putting surface if into the wind as underlined by the stroke index of 3.

The stroke saver describes the 12th as being “widely recognised as one of the great par threes”. I found this an odd statement on reflection as I would prefer both the 3rd and 6th over this one. Around 180 yards slightly uphill to an elevated green surrounded by dunes and with two deep pot bunkers short right, it’s a very nice solid par three all the same, but I had never heard anything about it previously. The 13th on the other hand is rightly highlighted for a great vista from the elevated tee and is also a great par four. It veers right to left around a high dune, with three pot bunkers on the left side of the fairway at the foot of the dune. Driver is not really required unless you attempt to cut the corner. The green is dangerously perched on a ledge with fall-offs short and right, so it should be accessed from the right side as the contours will help feed the ball to the middle of the green.

The par four 14th hole is the hardest on the course. It is a long dogleg right with several complications: the tee shot is blind; a solitary bunker and jungle to the right deter cutting the corner off the tee; there is room left but the further left you go the more you turn this into a par five; straight tee shots can overrun the fairway and find a hazard; the second shot towards the elevated green, which is overlooked by a smattering of trees, leaves little margin for error left or right with long grass and bushes rendering the best miss short and if it’s into the wind it really is a brute. There is not much respite after this since the 15th is another tough par four that demands a long approach to a narrow green area if you don’t hit a solid drive to the left half of the fairway. The O.B. wall and railway is all down the left and is a factor on both tee shot and approach, whilst tee shots too far right off the tee will be partially blocked out by trees. I found this hole just as difficult as the 14th.

If you have managed to keep your score together to the 16th tee you have done well and this straight par five might offer a birdie chance, but you must be precise with both your tee shot and second shots due to the bunkering. The par three 17th is around 200 yards with a green shape / bunker position that probably favours a left-to-right flight. The closing hole, a straight par four, is a tough tee shot due to the unusual links-land pond on the right and bunkers left to capture the obvious bail-out. It’s common to see players with good scores on the go aiming down the 10th fairway here, a point that takes away from the hole I would suggest – St Andrews Old Course was designed for shots to be played from either fairway but I am not sure this was.

Overall my summation is that I had been slightly led astray by the hype of the underhyped. Whilst I found it very good, there are several inks courses in Scotland and Ireland ranked higher that I would rank lower. My assessment was not aided by the overall experience, as West Lancs came across as a club disengaged with visitors. A lack of clarity on booking arrangements, an apathetic welcome, a closed bar kitchen by 6pm on a warm Sunday afternoon with a packed timesheet – maybe it was just a bad day. You can go along and make up your own mind.

Pick of the holes: Par 3 – 3rd; Par 4s – 7th, 13th; Par 5 – 2nd.

Photo 1 – view from clubhouse

Photo 2 – 6th green with 5th behind viewed from 7th tee

Royal Troon Old Course

On a sunny and calm morning in early September I rolled up to Troon with a booking to play the Portland Course (highly understated in its own right – MacKenzie reworked) and ended up being asked to join in with a group on the Old Course. I made the most of it. It turned out to be one of the best days of golf I’ve ever had.

I would divide the Old Course into four sections: 1-5, 6-10, 11-12 and 13-18. 1-5 comprise the flat holes in a southeasterly direction with the sea to the right. The long 6th brings you to the more pronounced dunescape at the back end of the grounds and a quirkier, arguably more fun and memorable group of holes from 7 to 10. Then 11, the brute, stands on its own, whilst 12 briefly goes back in the outward direction, before the northwesterly homeward stretch from 13-18 back through the flatter lands.

It can play up to 7,200 off the back sticks. We played off the whites and it is still a stern test at 6,670 (I added 40 yards for my group since we accidentally played off the wrong tee on the 11th…almost the championship).

The 1st tee, right in the corner of the property by the beach, is definitely one of the more iconic opening tee shots on the Open rota, perhaps surpassed only by St Andrews. For the opening holes I didn’t have more than an 9 iron approach shot to the three par fours and the par five 4th and I hit the first four greens in regulation. They are pleasant holes without significant undulation and not too difficult if you can avoid the bunkers. The beach and O.B. is to the right but not really a factor except on the 1st tee. Birdies early is key around here.

After the long par three 5th with its nasty bunkering, the majestic par five 6th finds a slightly more grand dunescape, providing for a quaintly enclosed green and building you up for the stretch that is about to come.

I can’t quite recall, but I don’t think the 2016 Open coverage made enough of a big deal about the 7th, 9th and 10th holes, such was the emphasis on the Postage Stamp and the murderous 11th. The 7th tee provides the first enthralling vista and it might be my favourite par four in Scotland. It’s all before you from the elevated tee, including the Postage Stamp green very much in your eyeline, in fact it is almost directly in line with the 7th Green in the distance. A fabulous par four, it plays as a dogleg right down into a valley with the fairway bunkers as targets, from where a short iron approach is played back up to the green at the top of the slope and tucked naturally between dunes with an intriguing open exit (on to the 10th fairway) through the back. Almost driveable with help for the pros apparently, I hit 3-wood wedge to 25 feet and two putted for par with a smile on my face.

So up the steps off the 7th green you go to the famous Postage Stamp. It is most definitely not over-hyped in any way. The walk up the steps to reveal the view from the tee is an inexperience in itself alone. Best par three in the world? It must at least be up there with Augusta 12, Pebble Beach 7 and Cypress Point 16. What I had not realised previously is that you walk almost right next to the green as you play the 7th, so you have an early gauge of what is in store, not unlike the 16th / 17th situation at Sawgrass, but it still doesn’t prepare you for the view from the 8th tee, a view that extends to the Ayrshire coast beyond. I don’t think the hole is that short. I measured it 137 to the back of the green into a one club wind. So I played my stock 135 knock-down 8 iron shot (to six feet thank you). So much for the dink with the wedge!

The 9th is a dogleg right par four played through an undulating fairway towards what seems the quietest little dune sheltered corner on the Ayrshire coastline, until the planes taking off from Prestwick Airport roar just above your head. One thing you don’t see in Open TV coverage is the walk between the 9th green and 10th tee. Probably the longest walk between holes on the course and through a secluded pathway out of reach of spectators and cameras. A couple of holiday site caravans overlook the walkway and you could imagine Palmer, Watson, Weiskopf, Calcavecchia, Leonard, Hamilton and Stenson having brief moments of reflection to family holiday life that may have relaxed their minds en route to their respective claret jugs.

10 is another undulating par four played down into a valley, with the 7th green and 8th tee to the left side, and up to a perched green. At one point as you walk along the fairway the 7th and 8th greens are visible to the left almost in line with one another – it must be quite a setting during Open time.

Then to the brutal 11th. Officially the hardest hole on the Open rota. Annoyingly it was my worst hole of the day. Perhaps influenced by what we had seen on TV, we were drawn to the tees by the railway track and thus could not find the white tee, cheekily playing off a back tee at 460 yards into wind, it was effectively a par five. The drive is completely blind and the target is a house far in the distance. The white and yellow tees are elevated away from the railway line and the view from there is worth seeing as it shows the hole nicely, but plays a very different tee shot. The O.B. wall all down the right side with the train tracks and the worst jungle on the course to the left leave no room for error. I hit a solid straight drive but got greedy with my second and blazed a 3-wood on to the 11.40 train to Ayr. The 11th green and 12th area is guarded by some trees, the last bit of shelter you will find before the 19th hole. 12 goes back southerly, a tough slight dogleg right par four, then the homeward stretch begins with the difficult 13th, as all of a sudden you feel very exposed to the elements.

I will always love 14 because of my 5-wood and 30 foot putt birdie. Wonderful long par three! Number 15 also caught the attention. A charming fairway mound just before the green that you can use to your advantage, especially if the pin is at the front. It was on this green that Stenson held that monster putt to finally put some distance between himself and Mickelson in their 2016 duel. The 16th is a flatish long par five with a cross fairway burn to negotiate and it is along here that the setting gradually becomes more urban to the right side of the course as you get closer to home. 17 is a long par three, with a friendly landing area short right of the green and more punishing fall-off on the left, overlooked by the Marine Hotel from the right evoking a St Andrews kind of vibe.

Most Open rota finishing par fours seem to have certain similarities. Decent if not spectacular par fours in their own right and quite flat with numerous bunkers along the fairway and at greenside, obviously enhanced by the grandeur of the clubhouse setting on any given day and even more so by the grandstands at Open time. The 18th at Troon is no different and a mere driver and 8-iron for me on the day. Note the Stenson bunker (that he somehow did not roll into) on the right side at about 275 yards from the back tee.

I must comment on the welcome I received at Troon. I would bet on it being the friendliest of all Open rota venues. Yes, there are touristic reasons for this I am sure, but I wonder if any of the following would happen at the other Open venues:

*Arrive early in morning and staff show you in to the historic private members’ only room overlooking the 18th green.

*£11 for Troon Burger 🍔 and drink.

*Complimentary Royal Troon bag tag with your name engraved and the date you played.

*Pay for a round at the secondary course and be asked to join a group on the Old Course at the last minute at no extra cost.

Pick of the holes: Par 3 – 8th; Par 4s – 7th, 11th; Par 5 – 6th.

(Photo – Postage Stamp 8th)

MILLENIUM Dom Pedro Vilamoura (Algarve) – Review

There are five courses in the Dom Pedro Golf offering at Vilamoura (Old Course, Pinhal, Laguna, Millennium and Victoria). Millenium was designed by Martin Hawtree, opened in 2000 and shares a clubhouse with the Laguna course. It has two distinct sections, holes 1-2 & 8-18 are on more open and relatively flat land, whilst holes 3-7 across the road follow the more typical Algarvian style of design similar to that of Pinhal, routed through undulating terrain and narrowly framed by the pines. I found the thirteen holes on the main grounds to be good, yet somewhat average in the overall context of the quality of the courses at Vilamoura, apart from the 18th. However, the five hole stretch across the road, as five hole stretches go, is arguably up there with the best of which you will find anywhere in the Algarve. These five holes alone make Millenium worth the visit alone, which is saying a lot I think.

The stretch in question consists of two par threes, two par fours and a par five, with stroke indexes ranging from 1 to 13, its variety therefore clearly adding to the appeal of this five hole mini-course. In different character to the rest of the course, each hole in this section is set more apart from the others, framed and enclosed by seemingly older and taller pines and some very nice properties on either sides. The par three 3rd is long, flat and parallel with the road, a nice introduction, then the 4th is where it really starts to impress, a sweeping uphill par five with tall trees encroaching ball flight at various points to influence shot choice. The 5th hole, the hardest on the course, is a tremendous downhill slight dogleg left par four, with a meandering fairway guarded by trees placing a premium on accuracy off the tee to find the right position to have a shot at the green. The par three 6th is another beauty, measuring to a maximum of 150 yards, the green is diagonally shaped at a right to left 45 degree angle from front to back and is protected by a similar shaped pond. The 7th is the final hole of this majestic mini-course and is sumptuous downhill par four, the drive in particular inviting a big hit but the tree-lines can again play havoc with your approach if you don’t find the right spot on the fairway.

The remainder of the course seemed so bland to me in comparison that it is hardly worth discussing. Others may disagree, but this is my lasting memory of Millenium. The 18th is a good hole no doubt, a par five that twists to the right at the approach with a pond left of the green. Come to Millenium yes, but try asking if you can play a loop of holes 3-7 three times over!

Pick of the holes: Par 3 – 6th; Par 4s – 5th, 7th; Par 5 – 4th.

(Photo – 7th)

PINHAL Dom Pedro Vilamoura (Algarve) – Review

There are five courses in the Dom Pedro Golf offering at Vilamoura (Old Course, Pinhal, Laguna, Millennium and Victoria). Pinhal was designed by Frank Pennick and opened in 1976 and refined by RTJ Sr in 1985. After a warmup on its excellent practice facilities, Pinhal starts with one of best holes on the course, a straight par five with a relatively open and inviting tee shot and approach down a valley and back up to an elevated green with the signature Atlantic pines all around, which are a feature of the entire course. The par four 2nd and par five 3rd holes weave through the pines with flat and twisting fairways reminiscent of Harbour Town in that the threat of being blocked out is real if the fairway is missed in the wrong place.

The 4th and 5th are in a little pocket of undulating land across a quaint residential area and are two good holes, the 4th in particular – a downhill dogleg left par four with a pond short right of green, potentially also in play off the tee if downwind, but if into the wind a precise tee shot is required to find the right position on the fairway. The 5th is a slightly downhill par three with three bunkers around the green. Back across the road, the 6th is a flat par four with no bunkers in play off the tee but plays tough into the prevailing wind, favouring a draw to avoid any tree trouble. The 7th is a bit more open and doglegs to the right with a runout affecting drives too straight and with really just one of the two bunkers in play around the green.

The 8th is one of the signature par threes in all of Vilamoura, over a pond and bunker to a large diagonal green, a hole that reminded me of the 11th at Mount Juliet. The 9th is an undulating par four with a bunker cutting in on right side of the fairway forcing you left and three dangerous bunkers at the green.

The 10th and 11th are par fours that dogleg in opposing directions, the 10th a great hole with a blind tee shot up over a hill, which if on the right line will leave just a flick back down the hill to the green, although the approach is not easy as the green is elevated and very narrow, therefore missing it in a bunker or on the slopes around will leave a difficult up and down. The 11th is a very sharp dogleg left with a pot bunker at the corner and a runout to trees in reach on the far side, so the tee shot needs to be well placed for a short iron to the green. The 12th is a solid par three with bunkers all around and a steep drop off to the right that must be avoided.

The great start to Pinhal’s back nine is enhanced further by the next three holes. The 13th is a tough uphill par five that evokes the 8th at Augusta owing to its demanding tee shot into the upslope and second shot played blind up and over the hill before flattening out in the approach to the green. Whilst the 14th is the shortest of the par threes, two tall trees in front of the slightly elevated green provide a bit of intimidation. The par four 15th is not unlike the 4th in that it is a downhill tee shot tightly framed by the pines that does not necessarily ask of the driver, in this case a creek cuts across the fairway and a tree short of the green forces a tee shot laid back to avoid being too close it to complicate the approach shot. By this point you should be sold on the quality of Pinhal and the variety of its holes and shotmaking required.

The 16th is a more straightforward flat and shortish par four with one of the wider fairways on the course. The 17th was the only hole that I would have any element of complaint with. As a par five it is quite inventive use of a tight space of land, doglegging sharply to the right around the 11th, which is out of bounds to prevent anyone taking a short route to the green, but you are forced to leave driver in the bag unless you want to risk cutting the corner and not finishing up O.B. or in the pines. From the fairway it is a solid hole, not too narrow but with plenty of bunker trouble around the green. The 18th is a great finishing hole, a par four curving to the left up and over the same hill that features on the 10th. The approach sweeps downhill to an elevated green complex that is well guarded, in particular by the small traps in the left-centre .

Overall a great mix of opposites, the challenging and inviting, flat and undulating, short and long, left and right, with the Atlantic pines cheering you on the whole way around.

Pick of the holes: Par 3 – 8th; Par 4s – 4th, 18th; Par 5 – 1st.

(Photo – 15th)