Sunday, June 5, 2022

#195 Favorite Small Golf Courses in Scotland

 

Let me tell you a little about the small golf courses of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. All golfers know about the big famous courses—the Old Course at St Andrews, Carnoustie, Troon, Lahinch, Ballybunion, Porthcawl. But almost every village and town has its own local golf track and many are 9-h0les or small courses. I find many of these small courses are more interesting and more fun than the long, tough, famous tracks.

This brings me to the next set of blog posts. Since I can’t now travel back to these fun courses, let me share them with you via my descriptions in my published golf guides. This post will highlight two of my favorite short courses written about in my first book Golf in Scotland: The Hidden Gems (published in 2005 and last revised in 2020). Note that I include Anne’s section, “From the Forward Tees,” which to our knowledge is still the only woman’s review of these courses. The first course is a course in central Scotland where Anne and I have been members since 2007. 


Raising the American and European Union flags for the Ryder Cup matches in 2014.




ST FILLANS GOLF COURSE 

South Loch Earn Road, St Fillans, Perthshire PH6 2NJ 

www.st-fillans-golf.com 01764-685312
Parkland, 5520 yards, par 70, £15/round, £20/day 



AMENITIES: Voted Best 9-Hole Course in Scotland for 2019 by the Scottish Tourist Board. Great clubhouse tearoom with outstanding food. In season does weekend special meals for which you have to have reservations. A few golf essentials available in clubhouse. 

Green at the 2nd

Tee shot from the elevated 3rd Tee.


COURSE COMMENTS: St Fillans GC is the perfect nine-hole course. It can be easy, it can be difficult, but it will always be fun and friendly. The 1903 Willie Auchterlonie design is mostly flat, but the one hill on the course gives a great elevated tee for one hole and adds challenge on three others. Although there are a few bunkers, the main difficulties are the hill and the heavy rough off the fairways. St Fillans is beautifully sited between steep hills and next to lush pastures. Bring you camera! 

The club website lists the first as the toughest hole on the course, and although it can be difficult if you misshit left. I think that the 2nd and the 7th are more difficult all the time. The 2nd, Earnside, is a 415-yard par 4 which starts with a long carry over heather to an angled fairway. Even a good drive then leaves a long second shot to a small green protected by a wee burn in front and heavy rough all around. For me a par feels like a birdie at this hole. Earnside is followed by St Fillans, the 279-yard par 4. Tee off from the top of the only hill on the course. Anything misshit short is probably lost in the ferns and bracken. Second shot should be a short wedge to a green protected by two fronting bunkers. With wind behind I have actually driven the green, but I’ve also found my share of trees and rough on the right. Definitely a fun hole! The 5th is the favorite hole of most club members. The Bothy is named for the small croft just off the fairway left and is a challenging 265-yard par 4. The tee shot is over a corner of the hill you tee off of on the 3rd and played around on the 4th. After the blind drive, the second is to an elevated green--short rolls back down or into a bunker, long rolls off into mean nasty rough. Never give a putt on this green. I really like the 7th, at 455 yards it is the longest par 4 in Perthshire. The hole is good, straight forward classic golf with OB on the left, trees and rough on the right, and several fairway bunkers before you reach the large green. Here again, par is like a birdie to me. 

I may gush a little about St Fillans GC, but we are members. It’s a course you can have fun on the first time, but it will still be a challenge the hundredth time you play. We absolutely love the interesting shots, the magnificent mountain views, the food in the clubhouse tearoom, and the friendly people we meet on the course. 

The green at the 4th is a delight with bluebells around.

Looking back down the fairway on the 5th with the iconic bothy on the left of the fairway.


COMMENTS FROM THE FORWARD TEES: I love a round on this course. It feels and looks like it will be easy but don’t be fooled. There are trees, heather, a small burn, and the hill to get in your way. The greens can be a challenge because they are different depending on the weather and ground conditions. I love this course and the setting, in a small valley surrounded by rocky hills, makes this one of the loveliest courses in Scotland. 

The long 7th is lovely in fall colours.

In the Area: For after golf or on non-golfing days we suggest visiting Famous Grouse Distillery in Crieff about 12 miles from the course or a visit to what we think is the premier tourist castle in Scotland, Stirling Castle about 45 minutes from the course.


For the next course we travel to Isle Arran off the west Ayshire coast.



SHISKINE GOLF AND TENNIS CLUB 

Shore Road, Blackwaterfoot, Isle of Arran KA27 8HA 

www.shiskinegolf.com 01770-860226
Links, 2996 (12 holes), par 42, £30 round, £43 day (2 rounds) 

The view down the 1st at Shiskine.


AMENITIES: New clubhouse, Felicity’s at the Clubhouse opened in March of 2010 and food service is even better than before. Whenever we’d eaten at the old tearoom we had been pleased with the food, quality and variety, but everything is even better now. The old starter’s office has been turned into a small, but well-stocked golf shop under the direction of PGA professional Douglas Bell. 

The 4th green with Drumadoon Head and Kilbrannan Sound in the background.

View from 3rd tee to the green with the Kintyre Peninsula past the Sound.


COURSE COMMENTS: Shiskine is our favorite course in the world. In good weather or in bad, the course will always challenge and delight. Shiskine is a 12-hole links course which plays along the shore of the Kilbrannan Sound and beside Drumadoon Head. The original 9-hole course was designed by Willie Fernie of Troon in 1896. In 1912 it was decided to expand the course to 18-holes. Willie Park Jnr was commissioned to build the new course. The Fernie course was scrapped, except for the 5th and the 9th, and new holes were built including six which played up on the side of Drumadoon Head. During World War I, 1914-1919, the hill holes were left to revert to grass and bracken because of a lack of work force to maintain them. After the war the club decided that besides being difficult to maintain, the hill holes didn’t meet the standard of the rest of the course. Thus was born the world’s first planned 12-hole course. It’s a number that visitors find just about right. If you want to go around twice in a day (the most the club will allow), 24 holes is also a very doable number. 

The course is a stunner with grand vistas of the Kilbrannan Sound, Drumadoon Head, rocks filled with seabirds, pleasant farmland, and the Kintyre Peninsula across the water. One of the most enjoyable features of Shiskine is that every hole is absolutely unique from every other hole-- wonderful variety. While mostly flat, there are some hills and raised tees and greens which add interest. Blind tee shots on seven of the 12 holes demand confident shot-making (or blind luck). Bunkers aren’t a problem at Shiskine; the few there are on the course are not penal. Gorse and fescue rough is a different matter. The biggest problem on the course is the wind and weather. If you hit a day without wind or rain, as we have a time or two, you may just want to play forever. If the wind is up and the rain is coming in sideways it’s a different course, but still one worth a go. 

I’m tempted to describe in detail every hole on this great course, but it’s probably best to let you discover much of it for yourself. Be sure to pick up a stroke saver in the golf shop before you go out; with all the blind shots it is almost a necessity the first time you play. Holes three and four are a fantastic combination. The 3rd, Crow’s Nest, is a 128-yarder seemingly straight up hill. A unique signal lets you know when the group ahead has cleared the green. Take an extra club, aim at the aiming post, and hope you can hold the green surrounded by heavy rough. For those who can’t reach all the way to the top there is a shelf about half way up so you can make two pitches. Once at the top you next play back down to the 4th green and the sea. The Shelf is a 146-yard one-shotter which plays down to a large flat green. If there’s no wind take about two clubs less. If the wind is up, into you, behind, or quartering, good luck--make your best guess and have a go. Hades, the drivable 222-yard par 4 eighth, is an opportunity for eagle or birdie with a good drive, or a high number if you find the gorse left and behind. Next is the 9th, Drumadoon, at 506 yards it’s the only par five on the course. The drive here is fairly open, but a deep burn makes the approach to the elevated green tough. Drumadoon is the most difficult hole on the back six (remember, it’s a 12-hole course). Everyone who plays at Shiskine recognizes its quality, so even if it is fairly isolated it will be busy most of the time. Be sure to call ahead, but be aware that the club only takes tee times 24 hours in advance in the summer. 

5th green with Drumadoon Point.

Teeing off over the hill on the blind 7th.


COMMENTS FROM THE FORWARD TEES: This continues to be one of my favorite courses in Scotland. It is unique because it has only twelve holes. What makes it really special is that it truly has twelve very different holes. Each hole is a test of skill and planning. Weather here can be unbelievably beautiful, sunny and calm or windy, cold, and wet. A burn runs through the course and the seashore is in play on four holes. The course is not long but don’t be fooled by the shorter yardage, you will be too busy planning your shots. The holes that require the most planning for me are the holes with dunes, hill, and hummocks to hit around and over. The 3rd is the first real thought provoking hole. It is a short 118-yard par 3 but to reach the green one must hit up to the green which is 60 feet above you. The green also slopes right to left and sits on a small shelf. The next is also a par 3 back down to the green and I find it easier to play than it looks especially if the wind is not in your face. The 5th has a small dune covered in grass right in the middle of the fairway where my first shot likes to land. Then comes the 7th which is a 164- yard par 3 with a 50-foot hummock to clear. You must not be too long or a burn gets your ball. There are more challenges on the rest of this course. Take the time to visit this wonderful course. I just love it. 

The small 12th green at Shiskine.

In the Area: On the small island of Arran there is much to see. We suggest a visit to Brodick Castle is worth your time as well as a visit one or more of the numerous ancient sites, such as the standing stones on Machrie Moor.



Golf in Scotland: The Hidden Gems is available at amazon.com.

Next: Small courses from my second Scotland book. 




Sunday, May 8, 2022

#194 MIND THE GAP



While talking about the last blog (about the birds of Scotland) my friend Dave asked when I was going to do one about bridges. I want to thank Dave for making that suggestion. It’s been fun to put this together—looking through trip albums, selecting photos, gathering information, the whole process. With everything that’s been going on, it’s taken longer than it should have, but I’m finally ready to put the post together.

Being a country with over 900 offshore islands, numerous major rivers, and uncountable burns, the countryside is replete with bridges. Some are small and inconsequential, others are majestic and iconic (like the Forth Rail Bridge), but almost all are picturesque and many have interesting histories. I’m choosing to present those photos from our trips which I like the best and I think would be interesting to many of you.

I’ll start the show with a type of bridge that sells the best when I take my photos to Highland games or Scottish festivals.


PACKHORSE BRIDGES


Carrbridge Packhorse Bridge, Carrbridge, Highlands. The bridge across the River Dulnain is one of the most visited attractions in the Cairngorm mountains. Built in 1717, it’s purpose was to allow funeral processions to access Duthil Church when the river was in spate—the bridge became locally know as the “coffin bridge.” The parapets were washed away by floods in 1839.



The current road bridge is behind the packhorse bridge from this view.




The Glenlivet Packhorse Bridge, near the Glenlivet Distillery, Highlands. This bridge is the oldest surviving structure spanning the River Livet. It was originally a three arch bridge, but the southern arch was swept away in floods of 1829.





The Roman Bridge, Glen Lyon, Perthshire. The bridge just below Allt da Ghob waterfall in Scotland’s longest glen is not really Roman at all—the Romans left Britain just after the 4th century—and the bridge was built in the 1600s or 1700s.





The Wee Bridge near Crieff, central Scotland. This bridge is one of hundreds throughout Scotland built to serve the same function, this one is just more accessible than some others.




OTHER SCOTTISH BRIDGES

 

Craigellachie (craig-al-akey) Bridge is a cast iron arch bridge over the River Spey near Aberlour in the heart of whisky and castle country. Designed by Thomas Telford (famous for the Caledonian Canal), this bridge was built between 1812 and 1814 and is a span of 151 feet.




Telford Bridge (1813) spans the River Moriston near Invermoriston village in the west highlands. Designed and constructed by civil engineer Thomas Telford during a busy time in his career.




River Tay Bridge in Dunkeld at the southern edge of the Highlands. The Tay is the longest river in Scotland and is one of the best salmon rivers in the UK. Next to the bridge over the river and into the village is Dunkeld Cathedral, once the capital of Scotland.




Skye Bridge connects the village of Kyle of Lochalsh (the mainland) to Kyleakin on the Isle of Skye (Scotland’s largest island). Before the 1640 foot bridge was built in 1995, the only way to reach Skye was by ferry from Kyle of Lochalsh or Mallaig.




General Wade’s Bridge spans the River Tay at Aberfeldy. It ws built in 1733 by Lt General George Wade as part of the Highland Military Road meant to allow quick English troop movement to control rebellious Scottish Highlanders.




The Bridge to Nowhere, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides. Also known as the Gerry Bridge, this bridge spans a deep gorge overlooking Gerry Beach—one of the loveliest in the Outer Hebrides—and is 50 ft high and 100 feet long. It does lead somewhere—a parking lot.




Glen Ogle extends seven miles from Lochearnhead to Glen Dochart. The Glen Ogle Viaduct, built in 1870, was closed by Scotsrail in 1965. The twelve arch, 139 foot bridge runs along the steep eastern side of Meall Reamher and Scorrch Nuadh.





The Fairy Bridge, Isle of Skye. This bridge by Sligachan on the Isle of Skye is one of many bridges said to be a portal of the wee folk (the fairy folk) who can trick you with magic spells or reward you by granting special wishes. This particular bridge was popularized by writer Sir Walter Scott and is a favorite of clan McLeod whose home castle, Duvevan Castle, is nearby.




A FEW OTHER SCOTTISH BRIDGES


A couple of the fourteen pedestrian bridges across the River Dee between Braemar and Aberdeen.



Footbridge in the Birds of Aberfeldy.

One of the most photographed bridges in Scotland is the bridge over to Eilean Donan Castle, seen in many movies and TV shows.

NEXT: Send me any suggestions, unless you want me to tell you about my favorite short golf courses in Scotland.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

193 For the Birds

#193


This blog post has been difficult to get done. I’ve lately had to spend too much time reading Parkinson’s Disease - Guide for the Newly Diagnosed and Living with Parkinson’s Disease, as well as getting used to new drug treatments. The drug, Cardidopa Levodopa, has made a good difference and I’ve not had any major side effects. I’m also starting PT (physical training) this week. All this means I’ve put the blog on the back burner, but I’ve now turned up the heat and have #193 finished.

As befitting my preoccupation this post is simple—a group of photos of birds we’ve seen on our trips to Scotland. I’m not a bird watcher (or twitcher as they are called in the UK), so my notes on the birds are simple as well. These are just photos of birds that I find interesting. If you notice any errors in my identification, please send a note of correction. I’ve left out crows and ravens, most of the gulls, and many small songbirds, but I hope the rest make for pleasant viewing. On a technical note, most of the photos have been taken with a Nikon D500 using a Tamron 18-400mm lens.


WATERFOWL


Barnacle Geese from Scandinavia (Spitzbergen) will winter in the south of Scotland and those from Greenland will winter in the north. Flocks may have thousands of individuals.

Barnacle Geese near Nairn in October



Mute Swans are the Queen’s birds with the Queen’s Right of Ownership since the 12th century.

Nesting Swan at Blair Castle Gardens

Swan in Kilbrannan Sound on the west coast of Isle Arran



Grebes or Divers come in many varieties and are closely related to flamingos.




Cormorants have very short wings for diving and the highest flight cost (energy) of any flying bird. Often confused with grebes.

Cormorants from Shiskine GC, Isle Arraan


Gannets have large breeding colonies on Bass Rock in the east and Ailsa Craig in the west.

Gannet from the ferry to Skye



FARMLAND AND WOODLAND


Pheasants in Scotland are mostly of the Mongolian ringneck-type and seem quite suicidal in the fall as they run at your car on the small Scottish roads.





Red Grouse or Moorcocks are marked by their red comb and found mostly on heath or moorland. The most famous of the species is The Famous Grouse (whisky distillery) which used to be caledl Glenturret Single Malt Whisky.

Red grouse in Glen Quaich



Capercaille is the largest grouse (turkey-sized). The few reintroduced breeding pairs are much watched over by conservation groups such as the RSPB (Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds).

Stuffed Capercaille at Balmoral Castle, the Queen's Home

Live Capercaille in a Wildlife Refuge, Kingussie



Oystercatchers (also a wader) are very common on seaside and inland golf courses.


Nesting Oystercatcher on a Golf Course



Curlew (wader) can be found in large numbers in the winter on the Orkney Islands where I spotted this one at the Standing Stones of Stenness.




Grey Heron (wader) seen at the Falls of Feugh on the River Dee west of Aberdeen.




SONG BIRDS


Robins and other small birds. Robin Redbreasts are quite common, but they are a version of Eurasian Robin, smaller and not closely related to the American Robin.



Blue Tit in Aviemore

Chaffinch on Hedge



Cuckoos are elusive and are heard far more than seen. They are related to the Roadrunner of the American southwest. While some lay eggs in other bird’s nests, most raise their own young. This is the only Cuckoo we saw in 34 trips to Scotland and we saw it on Carrbridge GC in the Cairngorm National Park.




BIRDS OF PREY (in order of size)


Kestrel is the only bird of prey that spends time hovering. They are widespread through rural and urban areas and are related to the falcon family.

At Burntisland GC, Fife



Red Kites, mentioned in both Chaucer’s “Knight’s Tale” and Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” by the 20th century only a few breeding pairs remained in all the UK. Kites were reintroduced successfully in Scotland in the late 1980s.




Goshawk, a forest hunter, were hunted themselves almost to extinction. Now there are about 100 breeding pairs in Scotland. We saw this one in Branklyn Gardens in Perth.




Osprey winter in Africa and are being successfully reintroduced in several areas of Scotland. We saw this Osprey near the RSPB reserve on Loch Garten in the Highlands. We’re used to seeing them in the northwest, but a sighting of an Osprey in Scotland is quite special.





NEXT: Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.