77. Dufftown. 21 June 2018.

Combine two of Scotland’s great pastimes – golf and hill walking – at this great value course   

Round £20.   Par 68.  Value (out of 5) – 5

Dufftown has a variety of claims among UK golf courses;  highest hole (9th), biggest drop from tee to green (10th) and highest climb from clubhouse to top of course.  You probably get the picture.  If you are looking to play an occasional bit of holiday golf with young kids, treat them to a buggy to avoid the inevitable “I’m tired” conversations after 9 holes.  Thankfully, buggies are available for hire at this course!

Moly at the 6th tee at Dufftown on a beautiful mid-summer evening.

Dufftown is well worth a visit for a variety of  reasons.  It’s the “whisky capital of the world” and home to William Grant & Sons distillers, producer of the biggest global selling single malt whisky, The Glenfiddich.  There are still traces of the early Picts and Christian communities dotted around Dufftown, so historians are also well served.   The pure local water made it a good location for illegal whisky and there are numerous villainous stories related to that.

Dufftown’s short 7th hole – “Fittie Burn”

The golf course also has some villainous holes ready to capture and destroy your round.  Although short at only 5343 yards (white), 4751 (yellow) and (4900) red, there is great variety here.  There are many severely uphill or downhill holes and the stroke indexes don’t necessarily follow the normal “length = difficulty” rule.   There are several blind tee  shots and the greens are often on plateaus with dangerous surrounds.  All in all, its going to be difficult to avoid a calamitous hole over the round.

The 10th, the signature hole, is a great example.  Although the landing area is large, the view from the tee is intimidating, then the second shot needs to be played into a ever narrowing channel, to a long and thin green, with OOB all along the right of the left to right sloping fairway.  Record a par 4 and be delighted, record a 5 and be happy to move on.  I took a great triple bogie 7, having lost my drive (2 shot penalty), going through the back to a lateral hazards with my approach (1 penalty), then having a good chip and single putt!

The intimidating 10th at Dufftown – reputed the biggest drop in height on any course in the UK 

The course has one of the shortest holes in Scotland, the 7th (“Fittie Burn”), at around 100 yards, played over a deep gully.  As it was a nice day and we were pretty much alone, I spent 5 minutes looking for balls in the ravine, and found about a dozen – my hay fever took a battering though!

11th tee at Dufftown

The course was in wonderful condition and the greens true and even, albeit they had “lost” the 12th green, which was, according to the local green keeper, due to severe frost damage over the winter.  I had a good day shooting 83 including a birdie 3 at the downhill 9th.

What a wonderful treat to play this golf course on a beautiful mid-summer evening during the warmest June on record in Scotland.  If heaven does exist, and you have to pay green fees up there from a limited budget, then there is a strong argument that says Dufftown is where you would play

Facts:

Course Type: Heathland

Par 66 (12 par 4s, 2 par 3s)

Distance (yellow): 4751

Moly’s Gross score83

Moly’s Dufftown card – 83 for 36 points.

Posted in 18 holes, 1851 - 1900, 4 star, 5 star, Course Architech, Course Owned By, Course Quality, Course Type, Heathland, Holes, Members, Overall Value, Price, Region, The Highlands, Unknown, When Course Established, £20 - £39 | Comments Off on 77. Dufftown. 21 June 2018.

76. Meldrum House. 19 June 2018.

Aberdeenshire’s “exclusive golf experience” is untypically Scottish and fails to deliver value   

Round £85 + hotel residency.   Par 70.  Value (out of 5) – 2

Let’s get something clear – Meldrum House is a beautifully crafted parkland golf course cut among the agricultural heartland of Aberdeenshire.  The quality and design, by Graham Webster, is of a very high standard.  However (yes, there is a big one), in establishing the course as “the exclusive golf experience”, Meldrum House feels so untypically Scottish.  It felt much more like playing, for example, the AA Golf Club in Epsom, than a Scottish golf course.

Perhaps that’s why there was a need to stock some Highland Cattle between the 17th fairway and the manufactured lawns of the Country House hotel of the same name, otherwise one might think you were playing the very many lookalike late 1900s courses developed in the southern counties of Surrey or Hampshire.

The rare Highland Cattle compliment the surroundings at Meldrum House – 17th hole behind.

The only way to play a single round is to stay at the 4-star Meldrum House hotel, which allows guests to play the course for a fee of £85.   Therefore, with dinner, bed and breakfast, a round here is going to cost at least £250+.  Hence why I’ve assessed its value rating as 2.

Meldrum House hotel provides great accommodation and the estate of the same name has a long heralded history, with the Barony of Meldrum dating back to the 13th Century.  So, if you were looking for an Aberdeenshire short break with a bit of golf and good food, it’s a great option.

For the record, individual membership (2018 prices) of Meldrum House golf club is £1,895, although for that the club does consider it “our privilege to have our members”.  Unsurprisingly, business memberships are available, and start at over £5,000.   Of course, there lies the likely clue to the golf course’s existence, which seems to rest on the wealthy oil industry of the North East.  I’ll wager that this course will not be around in it’s current format, once the North Sea oil is long gone.  Why pay these Meldrum House fees when membership of one of the world’s best courses, Cruden Bay, is £680, and only about 22 miles away?

Par 3 10th hole, one of the 7 water feature holes in the first 10 at Meldrum House.

The course has a headline length of over 7000 yards from the black tees, but I suspect most will play from the White (6203) or Yellow (5867) tees, the latter which I used while playing with my wife Fran who used the Red (5492).

There is water genuinely in play at 11 of the 18 holes, and at 7 of the first 10.   There is also many very deep bunkers.  To score well, you need to play strategically around here and pay close attention to the course planner (included in the fee!).  I did this pretty well other than at the 8th, the aptly named “The Lochans”, and the 18th (more of later);  the 8th fairway slopes left to right towards the water hazard, which I surprisingly found after a well struck drive;  the smart play is a hybrid from the tee to the left side of the fairway.

The beautiful 16th hole at Meldrum House, characteristic of the course.

Holes 11 through 15 play on the higher part of the course, with no water hazards, but the stretch starts with what can be described as a “gimmicky” 11th hole which has a disaster of 15 (yes 15) bunkers in front of the green approach.  I couldn’t help wondering what the record is for the most, separate, bunkers ever played from on a single hole??

The “gimmicky” long par 5 11th, with bunkers covering 70 yards of the green approach.

 

The course was in very good condition when I played other than one fairway (9th) which was poor.  The greens were beautiful, the tees and bunkers well kept and manicured.  It was also a very pleasant walk and, of course, there was hardly any other players!

The 18th, unusually, was a short to medium iron, par 3, played over 2 sets of marshy water hazards.  Unfortunately, I found both hazards for a 7, my second quadruple bogie of the day, along with the 9th, which ruined an otherwise impressive card.  I still shot 90 for 35 points.

13th green, site of my only birdie of the day at Meldrum House

Oh, I nearly forgot to mention – coffee & tee were “free” in the clubhouse;)

Facts:

Course Type: Parkland

Par 70 (3 par 5s, 10 par 4s, 5 par 3s)

Distance (yellow): 5867

Moly’s Gross score90

Moly’s Meldrum House Scorecard – 90 for 35 points

Posted in 18 holes, 1946 - 1999, 2 star, 2.5 star, 4 star, Aberdeen City and Shire, Commercial, Course Architech, Course Owned By, Course Quality, Course Type, Graeme Webster, Holes, Overall Value, Parkland, Price, Region, When Course Established, £80 - £99 | Comments Off on 76. Meldrum House. 19 June 2018.

75. Arbroath. 6 May 2018.

A must visit course for US Historians, fish lovers and record book chasers!       

Round £40.   Par 70.  Value (out of 5) – 4

Arbroath is the largest town in Angus and it’s golf course sits about 2 miles to the east of the town and only 6 miles from Carnoustie.  It probably gets bypassed by many visiting golfers moving north from Carnoustie towards the wonderful links courses in Aberdeenshire – this would be a wasted opportunity.

Arbroath has a remarkable claim for it’s influence on the modern world.  The “Declaration of Arbroath”, a Scottish declaration of independence of 1320, is regarded by several historians as the model for the American Declaration of Independence.

The delightful par 3 7th hole at Arbroath (159 yards)

The golf course can also argue a potentially unrivaled and rich architectural history.  Designed by Old Tom Morris, it opened in 1878,  was redesigned by the Troon professional Willie Fernie about 30 years later, then James Braid remodeled the tees, to add length, and bunkers in 1931.  That’s a strong golfing pedigree.

The course is predominantly an out and back layout.  The first 7 holes are played westward into the, normally very strong and cold, prevailing wind, before turning back for the 8th to 10th;  westward again for the 11th and 12th, then with 5 of the last 6 holes played eastward downwind back to the clubhouse.  Strategically, 11 of the holes have reachable out of bounds to the right, so right handed slicers may wish to consider their options off the tee.

The Stroke Index 7, 375 yard 6th hole at Arbroath, a typically difficult par 4 on the opening stretch of holes.

Viewed from the tees, Arbroath seems at times flat and innocuous, but it has been very cleverly bunkered by Braid, and I’m sure the locals will have many advisory comments on where to miss the greens.  The greens were also very hard when I played and difficult to hold (for all I guess other than very good golfers).  Playing off the yellow tees didn’t give  much respite either, as the 2nd and 17th both played as long par 4s, rather than par 5s from the white tees.  There are also 3 ditches that cross the course, and these need to be carefully considered, especially as the flat terrain makes them invisible to the eye.

I rather suspect first time visitors rarely score much above 30 stableford points.

The very difficult green to find in 2 at the 13th at Arbroath, with the railway OOB on the right

The highlights for me were the par 3s, all of which had good surrounds, with the two on the back 9, the 14th at 200 yards (white at 232) and the 16th, being especially difficult.

It’s a well kept course, with good tees, greens, fairways and bunkers.  The clubhouse has a friendly staff and good food, where you can try the Arbroath Smokie, the local smoked haddock delicacy protected by EU Trade regulations.

The wonderfully bunkered par 3 16th green at Arbroath

The other Arbroath claim to fame is the local Football Club, which holds 2 world records – the highest professional scoring record (winning 36-0), and their ground, Gayfield Park, being the closest to the sea in the world – only 5 and 1/2 yards away!  Apparently, one famous game was abandoned after all balls were “lost at sea!”.

Not a great day for me, I lost 3 balls (6 shots) and 3 putted 7 times!  I suppose that explains completely my 13 over par net!  Oh, and yes, the greens are rather large and difficult!

Well worth a visit.

Facts:

Course Type: Links

Par 68 (14 par 4s, 4 par 3s)

Distance (yellow): 5826

Moly’s Gross score98

Moly’s Arbroath scorecard – 98

Posted in 18 holes, 1851 - 1900, 4 star, 4.5 star, Course Architech, Course Owned By, Course Quality, Course Type, Dundee & Angus, Holes, James Braid, Links, Local Authority, Old Tom Morris, Overall Value, Price, Region, When Course Established, Willie Fernie, £40 - £59 | Comments Off on 75. Arbroath. 6 May 2018.

74. Fairmont Kittocks. 20 Dec 2017.

American style resort “Links” 2 miles south east of St Andrews       

Round £95.   Par 71.  Value (out of 5) – 3.5

The Kittocks is one of two courses on the Fairmont hotel complex just outside St Andrews.  The resort was opened as the St Andrews Bay Golf Resort and Spa by the American pharmaceutical entrepreneur Dan Panoz in 2001, but has transferred ownership a number of times since.  The sister course is the Torrance named after its architect Sam Torrance the Scottish golfer.   Both courses are championship venues and have hosted major qualifying and senior events.

The 12th tee at Kittocks shows the well laid our fairways

The Kittocks course was originally called the Devlin after its golfing designer, the Australian Bruce Devlin, who developed the course in partnership with Denis Griffiths, the well known designer and past President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.  The Kittocks is named after an area of land on the course which is inhabited by a family of deer.

Until recently, both courses had a headline Summer rate of £140, although new management has repriced it at “only” £95.  I say “only” to highlight how crazy, in my opinion, golf prices in Scotland have become at the higher end of the market – Kingsbarns, only a couple of miles away, is £268 for a 2018 summer round!  Assessing “value”, my key course assessment, is inevitably subjective, especially considering the different types of golfers each course targets – Kingsbarns starter box has a toll free American number!  Comparing “value” between Kingsbarns (£268), St Andrews New (£80), Scotscraig (£70), Tain (£60), or the Kittocks at £95, is highly debatable….but good fun!

The signature 7th hole at Fairmont Kittocks, with the North Sea in view

The Kittocks has many original links design attributes, including 2 double greens (the 1st and 13th, and 7th and 10th), deep and revetted bunkers (although slightly oddly built), whispy rough, boundary dykes  and several dune like mounds.  The layout is a mesmerising number of interlinking horseshoes, meaning wind changes direction from hole to hole. The very clever use of contours and rough means each hole feels isolated from the others displaying high level architecture.

The tough long par 4 18th hole at The Kittocks

After a fairly straight forward par 5 opening hole, the very picturesque 2nd hole, with its manufactured lake along the left, lets you know this course is not trying to be a classic links design.   The 4th hole, stroke index 1, is the first of several very difficult holes, where a long second shot is needed over a deep gully into a green surrounded by gorse.  Having hitting my best drive and 5 wood of the day, my ball was never to be found again in the gorse to the left of the green!

The man made lake alongside the beautiful Kittocks 2nd hole gives away this is a modern “links”

The course then winds down to the North Sea, with the dog leg par 5 5th hole presenting one of the few blind tee shots on the course, with its green giving outstanding views back towards the “Toon” of St Andrews.  After the nice par 3 6th hole you then reach the signature par 4 7th hole, which has a great vista showing the unusual bunkers and, finally, the huge double green.

There then follows a range of nicely varied holes, whereby there is no stretch of incredibly difficult back to back holes.  Looking at the stroke indexes on the card you see how balanced the course is.  The 10th presents the first time the combination of the prevailing westerly wind really comes into play along with the sea tight along the right of the fairway.  The highlight for me, both visibly and playing, was the difficult par 3 16th hole, where the yellow tee of the day had been mischievously placed on the championship tees, giving me a slightly uphill shot of almost 200 yards into a 15 mph wind – I didn’t lose my ball!  Its worth noting that there are a range of tee options with big differences between the blue/white/yellow/red tees, suiting all standards.

The Kittocks 10th tee with the Fife coastal path verging the course and St Andrews in the background

The final 2 holes were originally part of the Torrance course, but incorporated into the Kittocks after a redesign in 2009 and present 2 very fine long par 4s to finish.

The course was in great condition for a December, with full tees and greens in play.  The course is quite open with wide fairways and the greens were surprisingly fast.  The greens are generally very large, and I imagine not many amateurs will go without 3 putting the odd green – I did it 7 times….ouch!    Along with 2 lost balls, this was the reason for my gross 101 for 25 stableford points.

If you are looking for a golf resort whilst in St Andrews, the Fairmont offers a great location with the fees for unlimited golf on both courses during your stay being very reasonable and much better value than a single round.   I got a good deal with a winter fee of only £30, but my score of 3.5 represents a value at £95 per round.

Facts:

Course Type: Links

Par 71 (3 par 5, 11 par 4s, 4 par 3s)

Distance (yellow): 6327

Moly’s Gross score: 101

Moly’s Fairmont Kittocks scorecard – 101 for 25 points

Posted in 18 holes, 3.5 star, 4 star, Bruce Devlin, Commercial, Course Architech, Course Owned By, Course Quality, Course Type, Denis Griffiths, Holes, Links, Overall Value, Price, Region, Since 2000, The Kingdom of Fife, When Course Established, £80 - £99 | Comments Off on 74. Fairmont Kittocks. 20 Dec 2017.