Winter is just starting to take a grip here in Scotland, the temperature has plummeted and on occasions we are waking up to white frost. Many of us put the clubs away for a well-earned rest when the courses move onto to temporary greens, fairway mats and forward tees.
I was always under the impression that only a few seaside courses remain on the full course and that any layout more than five miles inland would be like a quagmire and not worth playing. How wrong can you be? It is late November and I have just played an outstanding course with greens that would be the envy of most seaside courses in midsummer. Not only that, Old Course Ranfurly is in Bridge of Weir is just a few miles west of Glasgow. Only one winter green was on, due to a particularly wet area of the course but besides that it was like playing in high season.
And now you too can book a tee-time at The Old Course Ranfurly through ScottishGolf's tee-time booking system, and during the winter months (November through February) you will get a substantial discount on the regular green fees - if you book on the internet you will get to play for £26 per round or for £35 two rounds, lunch and high tea.
It's a truly great track, enjoyable and playable for all standards of golfer. At 6,061 yards (par 70) from the medal tees, it's not over-long but there are tough little holes out there, most noticeably the par three 16th.
Old Course Ranfurly is partially moorland and partially parkland, from the higher parts of the course there are some magnificent panoramic views over Glasgow, the Firth of Clyde and the Campsie hills with Ben Lomond in the distance. The most remarkable thing was that the condition of the course was out of this world - any course would be proud of these fairways, greens and tees in high season let alone early winter. The club is very much a members club with few visitors, not that visitors are not welcome, just that they are few and far between. Perhaps lack of numbers playing the course contributes to its outstanding condition.
The first hole plays away from the picturesque clubhouse with a long par four twisting its way up a slight incline to a raised green, two good shots are required to get home here and it is not the easiest of starts. The next couple of holes are short par fours, both with blind tee shots before you cross a road to play the first three-shotter, again with a blind tee shot, this time over a cliff face.
The par three fifth and par five sixth are both good holes, although nothing out of the ordinary. The seventh is a longish par three with pine trees at the back and to the right of the green, reminiscent of Gleneagles Queen's course. Another great hole though - miss the green in any direction and youre faced with a partially blind chip but a solid straight strike is rewarded with a birdie chance.
The eighth is a thinking golfers' hole. I went with a 5-iron tee shot leaving a wedge into the green but the average to big hitter will be tempted to go for the putting surface with the big stick but trouble waits as the hole bottlenecks nearer to the green with OB on the right and trees to the left. The ninth is a long tough par four, its length of 424 yards is exaggerated by the steep incline, and two good shots are required here for even the biggest hitters. Most of us would be happy to make it in three and take the bogie.
The back nine starts simply enough with a short par four followed by a par five with a winter green - again the tee shot is played down over a cliff but the hole is straightforward enough there after. This part of the course was pretty wet underfoot but it has been chucking it down recently and the course has held up remarkably well. I believe that every course should have at least one short hole to give us all a birdie opportunity and the 13th fits nicely into this category, at only 112 yards off the visitors tee it is a wedge for most players but even so, miss the green and you leave a difficult chip - but no more than you deserve.
Now for the interesting bit, I had been playing well within my handicap, nothing spectacular but knocking it pretty straight and no disasters. From the tee again the 14th looks pretty straightforward, I hit it slightly right of middle and never saw my ball again. What I didnt realise that at about 230 yards the fairway ends and there is a nasty gorge full of gorse and all sorts of nasty stuff waiting. As it was quiet, in fact I only saw a couple of groups the whole day, I decided to make the walk back to the tee and play three, this time I laid it up just short of the gorge. The next shot is blind into a gully where there is a bunker at the back of the green waiting, strategically placed as the handicap golfer is prone to hitting it long when playing downhill as I did. The green is also tricky, severely sloping from back to front; I walked off with a seven, slightly embarrassed as this is in full view of the clubhouse.
The signature hole to the course is the 16th, a par three of around 200 yards uphill over a cliff. For some reason I inferred that the large white pole on the cliff top was the guidance marker, smacked a 3-iron right at it and thought to myself: That will wipes the smiles of these guys sniggering in the club about my efforts on the last hole - as if they were the least bit interested. If they were then Ill bet their smiles were even wider as I had just directed my ball towards a disused flag pole 50 yards right of the green, which sits among gorse and bushes. There was no way I was wandering back in front of the clubhouse to play again as these guys, if they were watching, would be in hysterics.
So my medal round suddenly became a Stableford, I did a quick count and now my target was to score more than 30 points, a far cry from my goal of bettering a 70 net a few holes back. Its amazing how a golfers brain can be switched off by a couple of bad holes, or perhaps unfortunate ones in my case. On the front nine I was playing conservative 5-irons from the tee but now there was pure adrenaline pumping though my veins and I was going to go for everything.
The 17th is another short par four, I had no idea what was over the ridge and spanked it over and slightly left. Luckily it was a sloppy hooked shot that caught the semi rough left in an unplayable lie. I say lucky because further on were more bushes and a burn, so I took my medicine and went back to take a penalty drop, wedge left of the green, chip and a put for another bogie for one point.
The last is another good par three over a hill, only a 7 or 8-iron and seems straightforward.
Its not often I play golf these days on my own and forgot what a great experience it can be, especially over the tranquil settings of Old Course Ranfurly. One thing is for sure, I will be back with some pals and when I do they get no advice from me.
And if all that wasn't enough, you can play this great track at a significant discount. You pay £26 (including booking fee) or if you can squeeze in two rounds there is a special deal of £35 which includes lunch and a high tea. We certainly recommend it so to book your time, click on the graphic below.
Steve Fenton (Handicap 8)
|| 24 - NOVEMBER 2003