6 years since my last round of golf, and since it’s just about all the sport I can do at the moment, I decide to give it a bash. After a quick search, I find some clubs and other golfing bits and bobs in my parents garage, hiding under a pile of dust and cobwebs… I also find a full bottle of water in the bag, fresh from 2014. Out of curiosity, I give it a sip and it still tastes as if it had just been poured fresh from the tap.
After much searching, I finally find somewhere that is open and lets non-members play: braehead golf club, near Alloa, Scotland. After a quick scouring of the weather forecast, I choose a day which is meant to be nice, I phone up, and it is booked for a Wednesday afternoon: £22 for 18 holes.
Luckily, they have a practice range to let me go and hit a few balls, to get back into the swing of things. It doesn’t go particularly well. After about 30 minutes hacking at balls (and mostly only hitting the ground), I finally run out of spare balls and decide to go for a quick bit of putting practice, which goes slightly better; only in the sense that the practice green remained unharmed after my visit.
Once 2pm arrives, I head to the first tee: a par 4 measuring 312 yards. There is a small crowd sitting outside near the first tee; some are having food, some are having drinks, all of them adding to the pressure of the tee shot. Nevertheless, I choose my trusty 3 iron, step up to the ball and, amazingly, I actually hit the ball cleanly and it goes straight down the middle of the fairway. Result! The green is hidden behind a massive tree for the second shot, so it really is a hit and hope sort of shot - especially given my current ability. I think its about 150 yards to the green, but honestly don’t have a clue. I go for a 9 iron, and again hit it well. I don’t realise how well until I get around the huge tree and find my ball sitting nicely on the green. My putting lets me down as I 3 putt to leave the first hole with a bogey. Still, I am overjoyed by this, especially given the disaster that was the practice session.
Next I head to the second: another par 4 measuring 331 yards. The second isn’t a particularly notable hole, it’s straight, fairly easy and without any real hazards until you get to the green. As such, I manage to record my first par. As the second hardest hole on the course, the third hole is where things really start to hot up: a 347 yard par 4. An interesting dogleg left going uphill adds a nice element of difficulty. The green is on a fairly notable slope, which forces me to 3 putt giving me a 6.
Number 4 is a fairly easy, downhill par 4, officially the easiest hole of the course. Not really anything of note, just a good opportunity to make up lost shots. The fifth hole is a good one though, an uphill par 4 making my approach shot completely blind, with nothing to guide me but the 150 yard fairway marker. The approach shot is just short of the green and I get up and down for a nice par. The sixth hole is the first par 3 and is trickier than it looks. Steep downhill with a couple of greenside bunkers and very unforgiving if you miss either left or right; and I missed to the right ending up with a disappointing 5.
Hole number 7 is where the boys are separated from the men, and it doesn’t look like I could be classed as a man from my performance here. Surprisingly, it is rated as the sixth hardest hole on the course, and is a massive 460 yard par 4, and if the distance didn’t make this hole hard enough, there is a slight rise up to the huge green (which is also shared with the 9th hole). I eventually get down in 6 and enjoy the stunning view from the green.
Standing on the eighth tee, I take a moment to enjoy the stunning views across Forth Valley. Then, eventually getting down to business, I focus my attention on the hole in front of me. Depending on the tee shot, this should either be an easy par, or a difficult bogey. The green is raised very high, and if you are short or miss it on the left, there is a long way down to the bottom of the slope and a very difficult up and down. Surprisingly, I manage to get one just slightly off the back of the green and end up walking away with a 4.
I am just going to get this out the way now, I hate (and also love) the ninth hole at Braehead. It is possibly the only hole I have ever played, that you should aim for the rough because for some reason, they decided to plant a huge tree in the middle of the fairway, making any approach shot very difficult; as I found to my detriment. Normally, I am really good at finding the rough from the tee, but not this time, this time the tee shot was straight down the middle, right behind the tree. There is also the added difficulty of a very steep uphill slope to contend with here which gives a slightly blinded green, all together providing a very interesting and challenging hole. Ended up with a 5 for the 9th hole and went out in 44: 10 over par. Feeling quite chuffed with myself, I head over to the 10th to begin the back nine.
At 448 yards, the par 4 tenth hole is the hardest on the course, according to my scorecard. A very long dogleg left, with lots of trees on either side of the fairway, and out of bounds to the right, to add some extra pressure to the tee shot. I scuff the drive, which doesn’t go very far and my second leaves me a long way from the green. I end up with an 8 here. A good hole, very challenging and justified as the hardest hole on the course.
The eleventh is a short par 3, not offering much challenge. I miss the green to the right, and have a tricky downhill chip onto the green eventually settling for a 5. Number 12 is the only par 5 of the course, a whopping 508 yards, straight and slightly downhill. By this point, I am feeling quite tired from the weight of the bag, long walk up and down hills and general unfitness, so I struggle through recording a 7. I would have benefitted from a seat at either the 12th or the 13th tees, but unfortunately there were none available, a rare negative point of the course. So, I struggle through the 13th hole, which is a really nice hole; a par 4 split in half by a burn and heads uphill to the green. I record a 4 and spot a bench at the 14th tee: oh what a relief it is to finally sit down after about 3 hours on my feet.
The 14th is a stunning little par 3, measuring 184 yards, but with a steep downhill slope. I call upon my 6 iron, and hit the ball the sweetest it has been hit all day: both balls on the green, and leave myself two possible birdie chances. I eventually two putt both balls to take a par, which I am very happy with, and back to back pars. The 15th is a par 4, dogleg left and measuring 365 yards with the drive crossing over the 14th hole. Not too many challenges here, so managed to record a 4: third par in a row!
The 16th was possibly my favourite hole of the course. A very short par 4 at 270 yards, but with lots of dangers if you try and go for the green in one. With the edge of the fairway lined with trees, out of bounds to the left and a burn about 50 yards short of the green, it is a hole which really does favour the brave. I opt for the driver, and catch one of the large trees on the left, managing to just make it over the burn. A short chip and two putts gives me a solid par, but a definite opportunity for a birdie, or even an eagle for the longer hitters.
The final two holes are both long par 4’s, and due to tiredness, the thought of skipping them and heading home was tempting, but I am glad I finished the round. I could barely hit the ball, but luckily my putting was on top form. Both holes were 3 shots to the green and one putt for pars on both and giving me, for the first time in my life, 6 pars in a row! Absolutely delighted with such a strong finish which gave me a total for the round of 87: 18 over par.
Course review: Braehead is a very, very good course, it is very well maintained. The greens were all in excellent condition, the course had lots of challenging holes, while offering a couple of easier ones to recover dropped shots. The views of the local area were spectacular, particularly from the middle of the round. Unfortunately, they don’t have many holes with benches on the tees, which was a problem for me and could be a problem for others (which would be a good idea especially for the holes with nice views) and I could see no ball cleaners at any point on the course. The weather definitely made the day even more enjoyable and I will definitely be back for another round soon.