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Issue 11 - A hole new world of golf

Scotland Magazine Issue 11
November 2003


This article is 14 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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A hole new world of golf

Everyone knows Scotland's famous cuorses but the strength of Scottish golf lies in the way the ordinary courses offer fantastic golf. Chris Losh tees off.

When it comes to strength in depth, no country can beat the home of golf, and to restrict ones play to just the five-star courses is like coming to Scotland and just visiting Edinburgh castle.

Besides, if you’ve already battled your way round the likes of St. Andrews and Carnoustie, you owe it to yourself to test your game on the sort of courses that the locals play week in, week out.

And there’s probably no better place to do that than Perthshire.

Because of its location, more or less smack in the middle of Scotland, there are no links (i.e. seaside) courses in Perthshire. Instead, there are hills, woodland, terrific turf and gorgeous views.

The best way to go about golfing in Perthshire is to buy a Green Card ticket from Perthshire tourist board.

This gives the holder access to five 18-hole rounds of golf on any of 18 courses, right across the region for a paltry £82 – and it’s valid for an entire season.

The five courses below are all on the scheme – and they give you a good idea of the kind of golfing experience that can await those adventurers who venture off the well-trodden tourist trail.

Craigie Hill

Very few golfers are ever likely to have seen anything remotely like Craigie Hill before. Winding round a hill on the south-eastern edge of Perth, Craigie Hill is the sort of complex, mystifying course that falls squarely into the ‘golfing education’ category.

And yet a look at the scorecard before setting out certainly encourages the mistaken view that you’re in for a gentle afternoon’s golf with a good chance of playing sub-par. There are no par fives, and the 5,400 yard track contains no hole over 400 yards. Better think again.

The course’s defence lies in its crafty use of the natural topography. Craigie Hill is many things, but flat isn’t one of them. And given that there can be four clubs difference between the same yardage, you might feel that a relief map is of more use than a strokesaver.

The only guaranteed flat lie is off the tee, fairways can sweep even well-struck drives 40 yards sideways on landing, and greens fold and crinkle like heated cellophane.

And as for the 400-foot climb from the third tee to the fifth green, let’s just say that it’s as likely to test your lungs as much as your golf swing. Fortunately the view from the top – out over Perth towards the Grampian mountains to the north and the Sidlaws to the east – is equally breathtaking.

You’ll find yourself called on to hit shots you’d never have thought of before, and that don’t exist in any coaching manual. You’ll have to go with your instincts. As Ben Oliphant, a single-figures golfer at the club for 60 years says: “When you can play Craigie Hill, you can play golf.”

He’s not joking. This is one of the toughest, most unusual tracks in the region.

Crieff Ferntower

“We’ve done our best to make golf fun here,” says David Murchie, the affable pro at Crieff. “It’s something a lot of courses seem to have lost sight of. Who wants 7,300 yards of purgatory?”

After the delightful experience of 18 holes on the club’s Ferntower course, you’d be hard pushed not to agree with him.

Set in the old grounds of Ferntower House, the course winds its way backwards and forwards across the gentle slopes, with lush grass and speedy greens.

Attractive copses of native woodland trees line each hole, but there is plenty of space between and around them. A hook or a slice might be blocked out by their branches, preventing a good score, but you should always have a shot of some description, preventing disaster.

Indeed, forgiveness is something of a theme at Crieff. Rough has been trimmed back so that all but the wildest tee shot is findable and hittable. It might be hard to put the ball close from the sand traps, but the bunkers are all escapable.

But while Crieff is the sort of course that helps golfers to stay in a hole in spite of the odd imperfect shot, actually scoring well still requires precise iron play.

Greens are well guarded, with the natural slopes nudging balls down towards yawning sand traps, and the greens are fast, subtle and difficult to read. There are just about no flat putts and if you haven’t got a solid putting stroke to start with, you certainly won’t find it out on the course!

Set right in the heart of the Perthshire countryside, it’s no great surprise that the views are stunning, down south across the valley towards the Ochil Hills and Gleneagles country.


Just north-east of Perth, Murrayshall has come a long way in a short space of time. While the course isn’t yet 25 years old, it has already held Scottish PGA events and the Scottish Youth Championship. Once you play it you’ll realise why.

Carved out of woodland and using some of the estate’s old ponds and water features, there is much at Murrayshall that is classical, but there is also a fair bit that comes straight out of left field.

Two stone statues of dogs by one of the greens? Trees in the middle of the fairway? A par five where you have to tee off with a six iron? It’s all there, but the eccentricities work brilliantly. The beautiful and testing run of holes from three to nine is probably as good as on any course anywhere in the world, with swales, hollows, crafty dog-legs and beautifully framed greens.

At 6,400+ yards, Murrayshall isn’t a monster, and like Crieff its rough is minimal. But there are still plenty of big two-shotters, and you need to beware the trees, which are its main line of defence.

While for the most part you’ll need a hook or a slice to get right into them, it’s not uncommon to find yourself on the fairway, but blocked out if you hit without thinking.

They might not ruin your card, but they will easily stop you scoring. And if you get greedy, the course will chew you up with a smiling contempt.

Two final points about Murrayshall: if you want a round under five hours, avoid a Friday; and if you’re looking for a base the hotel is a good bet, since it’s not far from anywhere in Perth, Tayside or even Fife.

Blairgowrie – Lansdowne

Golfers flock to Blairgowrie every year. Most of them come to play the club’s famous Rosemount course.

Rosemount’s brother, the Lansdowne, may date only from 1979, but ask locals which is the tougher test and the younger course will get the nod every time. This is a course to play if you want to test how good your game really is.

Off the very back the Lansdowne is close to 7,000 yards – and even from the yellow tees it’s up around 6,400 yards. But the key to the course’s difficult is the fact that its fairways are often only 30 yards wide, with mature pine forest on either side.

And these are trees with attitude. Spray it wide off the tee and you’re not looking at just a dropped shot, but in many cases a lost ball as well. All of which makes for some hard decisions on the tee.

“You have to go out there with a plan,” says club secretary John Simpson. “Use the driver selectively, and if in doubt go with what you’ll hit straightest.”

But for all that it’s a searching test of golf, the Lansdowne is a very fair course. The trouble is all visible, there are no blind shots and since the greens are immaculate there’s always the chance to salvage respectability with a holed putt.

And if you do run out of golf balls before the end, you can always spend the rest of the round watching for the deer and red squirrels that live deep in the woods.


Alyth, around 10 minutes drive from Blairgowrie, is surrounded by rolling farmland and is a fine example of a quintessentially Scottish kind of layout.

Although there are pine and beech trees aplenty, they’ll only tend to catch the genuinely bad shot.

Holes slide round corners and up and down hills, fairways funnel poorer shots towards bunkers, and greens are cunningly guarded. While the shorter holes can be attacked, they still require respect and precision.

The thinking golfer will play for position rather than length and, with many approaches from 120 yards, it favours the accurate wedge player rather than the big-hitter.

That is not to say that there are not opportunities to open your shoulders. A couple of shorter par fours are drivable and one par five is eminently reachable in two for bigger hitters.

It is a course that has something for everyone. Those on their game can attack, and if they play well, will be rewarded, while those who are struggling still have a chance of a score if they can read the various humps and hollows on the immaculate greens.

Oh, and anyone visiting should stay for lunch in the new clubhouse.

Alyth (1894) *
Tel: +44 (0)1828 632 268
Reservations necessary for Green Card holders. Green Card not available at weekends.

Blairgowrie Lansdowne**
Tel: +44 (0)1250 872 622

Craigie Hill (Perth)
Tel: +44 (0)1738 622 644
Reservations necessary for Green Card holders – three days notice.

Crieff Ferntower*
Tel: +44 (0)1764 652909
£10 supplement at weekend

Murrayshall (Perth)*
Tel: +44 (0)1738 554 804
Reservations necessary for weekend times.

* £5 supplement
** £10 supplement