Scotland has such an abundance of fabulous links courses that we can overlook its superb inland tracks. Yes, they're not in the same abundance as the links but that means when you find an exceptional parkland layout it stands out all the more. And few stand out as prominently as Downfield in Dundee.
It is good enough to have hosted many events over its long history. In the past tournaments like the Scottish Boys Stroke Play, PGA Scottish Open, Scottish Amateur, British Girls Home Internationals and it was a final qualifying venue for the Open championship at Carnoustie in 1999, from which, incidentally, eventual champion Paul Lawrie played his way into the event he so memorably won.
And now you too can book a tee-time at Downfield through ScottishGolf's tee-time booking system, and during this month (October 2003) you will get a substantial discount on the regular green fees - if you book on the internet you will get to play for £25, rather than the £39 it would usually cost.
But why would you want to go there? Simply because it's a great track but careful siting of tees mean that it's enjoyable and playable for all standards of golfer. It was originally designed by James Braid, which of itself would be enough to attract many aficionados of the game. Because he was frightened of flying, almost all Braid's work is in the UK and in Scotland his layouts include such gems as Dalmahoy, Royal Musselburgh, Boat of Garten, Carnoustie (partially), Brora, Golspie, Alyth and the King's Course at Gleneagles. Downfield more than deserves its place among such prestigious contemporaries.
At 6,247 yards (par 70) from the yellow, or visitor tees, it's not over-long but the members have to play a course that's 6,803 yards, par 73 from the back tees. And when the big boys and girls come to town for a major event there are a few tees tucked even further back that make it an awesome prospect. But longer doesn't necessarily mean tougher and the 11th (pictured above) is an excellent example.
From the medal tees it's a quite manageable par five of fractionally under 500 yards but as visitor it's a brutal par four of 434 yards. Hit a good drive and you're still left with an approach that probably requires you to hit a fairway wood - if you're feeling brave - that has to negotiate a pond and a water-filled ditch that guard the green. But, almost as compensation, it's immediately followed by a pretty, slightly downhill par three of 148 yards.
Downfield is set among magnificent, mature trees, many of them pine, and the feeling on the tee can be a touch claustrophobic but this a bit of an illusion because the fairways are generously wide. Even better, and if only other courses would take note, the lower branches of all the trees are trimmed back so if you do hit a big block right or hook it left into the forest there's an excellent chance of not only finding your ball but of having some sort of escape route - as I discovered to my cost when playing with a ScottishGolf colleague.
Several times he pushed a big drive into the woodwork and I both commiserated and smiled inwardly, thinking I had the hole won. Next thing, a big crack and Steve's ball would come hurtling from the woods, more often than not to land on the green (although justice was done on the 18th when he missed a three-footer to lose the match).
The miss is all the more remarkable considering the Downfield greens which are, in every regard, the best I have played this season and are a testament to the skill of head greenkeeper Paul Murphy. The greens are big, offering a very tempting target, many are elevated, requiring careful club selection (and that you remember the old adage, when in doubt, take one more club) but by heaven they're true. If you have any sort of putting stroke you will love these surfaces and their condition is not just a freak of this season's superb weather, they are reported to have been uniformly excellent for many years now.
The front nine at Downfield is good but the back nine even better, offering many more choices and causing the player to think. Several holes offer the prospect of a big drive across the corner of a dogleg, with an inevitable weighing-up of the risk/reward payoff, or a straighter, more conservative drive leaving a tougher approach shot. And in other places the ability to think is as important as the ability to hit shots. In short, you do not get to each tee and necessarily reach automatically for driver or 3-wood which is no bad thing in our opinion.
And if all that wasn't enough, you can play this great track at a significant discount.
Your £25 (including booking fee) will let you book a time on Monday, Wednesday or Friday mornings and to go straight to the booking engine, click on the graphic below
|| 3 - OCTOBER 2003