Some days you get out of bed and you just don‚??t want to play golf. There, I‚??ve said it albeit for the first time this year.¬†¬† The last couple of days have felt like that for me, not helped by a golf swing entirely off plane, ball striking which would be poor even for a drunk Scotsman staggering along the street after an afternoon at the pub, and a putting stroke that makes me feel like my arms have been invaded by Aliens.¬† Cambo, I share your pain.¬†¬† So when all of this is combined with a little bit of fatigue, both self induced and induced by the obvious (namely 220 games of golf in a row and just a little bit of travel thrown in the mixer) you can see where I was coming from.¬† My golf game is at the stage where if I was trying to improve, I‚??d take a week off and come back to it with a fresh outlook.¬† No chance.¬† At the moment I‚??m suffering from one of the bad habits that inflicts many a golfer ‚?? thinking too much as you stand over the ball and not just whacking it.¬† Anyway, there had a couple of days of this carry on prior to our round at Castle Stuart so there were no expectations of being able to hit a ball, the task was simply to enjoy this course which has been widely acclaimed over the past week on our travels.
Castle Stuart is a golf resort in the Highlands near Inverness and overlooking the firth of Moray and across to the Black Isle.¬† The views are absolutely sensational ‚?? amongst the best from any golf course this year. Full stop. High praise yes, and even better because the views are really capitalized on by the routing of the course.¬† The view was so mesmerizing that I found myself for much of the round wandering along blankly staring out across the water not taking in all (or any) of the subtlety of the holes but just marveling at this magnificent part of the world.
The actual block of land which Castle Stuart is on is a pearler as it has two distinct steps separated by a gorse wall about 200 feet high.¬† The gorse runs parallel to the water, so there are 6 holes along the water on the bottom step (1-3 and 10‚??12) and 12 holes on the upper step that arguably enjoy better views from their higher vantage point.¬†
After meeting the team at Castle Stuart and having a good pow wow with the starter we snuck off before the hoards of tourists who were streaming into the car park in their droves and making their way to the practice range.¬†¬† The first hole (pictured below) is on the lower step and plays between the water on the right and the gorse on the left. It sounds tight, but you quickly realise that even the more ordinary of player ought not need plenty of golf balls here as the fairways are jumbo-jet-landing-area-generous.¬†
[The opening hole]
Playing this course a couple of times I think you‚??d appreciate that being on the short stuff doesn‚??t always mean you‚??ve got the best angle into the hole, but you‚??ll find your ball and be able to get it there or thereabouts to the large greens. ¬†¬†Even with a football field to aim at I still had all kinds of difficulty with my new driver¬† (better described as old school, second hand, small headed Titliest from the 90‚??s).¬† A couple of visits to the beach and it was starting to seem like I should take a quick dip in the ocean to wake myself up‚?¶ It was early you see, but I was no where near as tired as Ryan Asher who, after playing with us at Nairn, did a night shift at the family bakery, had merely a couple of hours sleep and then was back on the first tee with bells on.¬† That‚??s dedication.¬† The kind of dedication that people from these parts show for the opportunity to play Castle Stuart.
The hike up to the 4th hole (pictured below) wasn‚??t overly pleasant on the tired legs but from the tee it was worthwhile.¬† The hole plays back uphill between high mounds with the exception of behind the green ‚?? the putting surface is framed with perfection by a castle (which I presume is called Stuart Castle) sitting in the distance right behind the pin.¬† Clever stuff.
[the 4th with the castle in the backdrop]
From there we waltzed along the upper step with grand views out to the left.¬†¬† Come the 9th hole (pictured below) I was getting thirsty and starting to fade and the wee token in my pocket entitling me to a drink from the vending machine was starting to jingle louder and louder.¬†¬† The 9th is a hole with a very wide fairway that from a design standpoint works well ‚?? if you hit it on the left side of the fairway (where an unfriendly looking bunker looms) you‚??re up on a plateau and have a straight forward wedge to the green.¬† Anything struck on the right side of the fairway rolls down to a hollow (still on the fairway) leaving a partially blind second to the green.¬† Good angles.¬† I can‚??t say all the fairways seemed to have the same elements of strategy to them and many of the bunkers could have been placed closer to the landing areas requiring a bit more thought from the tee.¬†
[Ryan giving directions on how to play the 9th - a great lad, and helpful course guide]
The halfway hut at Castle Stuart was one of the best respites of the year (only to be eclipsed the next day at Skibo‚?¶ stay tuned for the next blog but boy it was good and I hope JP dedicates at least half of his blog towards what was surely The Best Halfway House Ever).¬†¬† As my cup of soup went down I could feel my body thanking me for some respite from its constant neglect.¬† Ryan opted for a Coors Light ‚?? as you do at 915am. But he‚??d had a very long day. And last time he played here he had a Coors Light at the halfway hut and then came home in 33.¬† May as well see if it will work again‚?¶
The back nine started again down on the waterfront with a short par four 10th with one of the most severe tiers running through the middle of the green from front to back so that if you miss on the right of the tier (even on the green) you need to display ‚??Phil Mickelson ‚??esque‚?Ě touch to make your par.¬†¬† After the short par three 11th which drew comparisons to the 7th at Jacks Point, was the par five 12th - a hole which had ‚??fundraising for the First Tee‚?? written all over it as it was easily reachable in two and quite straightforward. But alas it was not to be.¬† Our punishment was having to hike the 200 yards or so straight uphill to the 13th tee.¬† Halfway up the path I was in luck ‚?? there was the vending machine! I reached into my pocket for my token anticipating the sweet taste of Sprite.¬† JP had lost his token which would make it all the sweeter. But then, in my fatigued state I fumbled and my token bounced off the coin slot and before I knew it, it had fallen down the side of the crack beside the machine. I was dejected.
[the 10th hole - good bunkering which makes you think off the tee - Iron isn't a bad play]
[the picturesque 11th]
[the 12th green looking across the firth of Moray]
Fortunately Ryan had a couple of bottles from home with him and kindly donated his token to the two of us. Which provided just enough energy to keep us moving through the back nine.¬† I was slightly delirious from the walk up to the 13th tee that I hit a golf shot that would have been embarrassing even as a wee nipper and subsequently made a double.¬† Shame. But the 13th is one of the holes that plays away from the view only for you to turn to the right and be faced by the most amazing infinity green.¬† Great imagination by the designers Mark Parsinen and Gil Hanse.¬† The imagination didn‚??t last though as 15 was a case of de ja vu from the 7th hole earlier in the round.¬† Just like Ali and Ryan said it would be.
[the spectacular infinity green on 13, just after you thought you'd escaped the views...]
With all the earth moving, particularly around the holes on the upper step, it was always going to be tough for the design team to create an entirely natural looking course. But I think overall they've done a great job here and I enjoyed it more than the other track in their stable - Kingsbarns. ¬†It helps that the last 3 holes are absolute crackers ‚?? a short par four which is all about the undulations, and then the 17th and 18th holes back along the edge of the upper step with the views out beyond and to the right and the stately art deco style clubhouse in the foreground.¬† [Note: art deco architecture is quite uncommon throughout most of the world but is particularly prominent and worth a look, in Napier New Zealand ‚?? near Cape Kidnappers golf course][Also note: amazing showers in the clubhouse which, of course, enjoy a view out across the firth.]
[the finishing hole - a reachable par five but don't go right!]
On the last couple of holes we had an exciting couple of phone calls. First was from Sky News who had heard our BBC Live interview and asked if we were interested to do a live interview that night.¬†¬† Second was a chap from England who is kindly arranging a few games of golf along the Lancashire Coast. It still blows my mind when this kind of thing happens ‚?? we are very lucky lads indeed.
So on the last we shook hands and were content to have completed another fine day of golf. ¬†We‚??d loved the golf course, JP had continued his fine streak of golf for a 74, I‚??d kept my 18 day run of breaking 80 intact with a birdie on the last, and most importantly we‚??d thoroughly enjoyed our Castle Stuart golfing experience.¬†¬† From what I saw I‚??d suggest that 99% of the visitors who come here (particularly with weather as it was today) would leave happy and encourage their friends to come back.
Before we left we had a spot of lunch kindly put on by the club and then headed back to Nairn for some rest and the Sky interview ‚?? which turned into a complete debacle as the internet connection in Nairn failed mid interview and we left the producers looking rather red faced‚?¶ sorry guys!
Thanks Castle Stuart for having us for another great day!
Postscript: After the interview we trekked through to a farm near Tain where we were to stay with our friend Rob Mackenzie and his family on their farm.¬† This is a place where a few mates from back in NZ have stayed after Rob spent a year as a gap student at our school back in Christchurch, NZ.¬†
Oh, and Ryan didn‚??t quite emulate his 33 but I‚??m sure he had one helluva sleep after the round!
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