Losing a ball with the opening tee-shot hole of a three-day golfing trip around Perthshire could be considered unfortunate; to lose two was simply careless. I put it down to jet-lag, which was stretching things a bit since I had travelled up by train. A rare instance of rail-lag, perhaps. At this alarming rate of attrition I would require 144 balls to survive the tour.
Originally designed by Willie Auchterlonie in 1903 and subsequently lengthened to over 3000 yards, St Fillans is a delightful nine-holer that is mostly on the level and therefore not too tiring. Only the uphill walk to the third tee and the elevated fifth green require any significant effort for which the reward is an improved view of the gorgeous countryside. Look out for the roe deer and wild goats.
As well as magnificent golf courses, Scotland is famous for producing a certain alcoholic drink. Eager to enjoy the full experience, our group went straight from the course to a distillery. Golf, as we all know, has this rather curious tendency to generate a considerable thirst. Whether this thirst is best slaked by a succession of single malt whiskies is open to doubt. What is quite certain, however, is that anyone sampling scotch in this way should allow a decent interval before attempting to swing a club because, as we know, it isn’t wise to drink and drive.
And so it was that I experienced yet another disappointing opening tee-shot, this time at Crieff. Although I could indistinctly see at least two greens in front of me, I failed to hit either.
The Ferntower course was created by James Braid. Like his other designs, it is rightly renowned for its sensitive placement within a delicate, graceful landscape. Set in beautiful parkland with majestic trees and stunning views over the Vale of Strathearn, this gently undulating course is challenging but fair.
Sympathetic readers will no doubt be feeling deeply apprehensive about my opening drive at the next course, Killin. You need not worry. The soothing sound of rushing water from the adjacent river calmed the nerves and the ball split the undulating fairway.
“Hidden gem” is a well-worn cliché and inadequate when it comes to describing a course as wonderfully eccentric and charming as this. Killin provides an unforgettable romp around a mountain. Rickety bridges, unsteady steps, disinterested sheep and unexpected stonewalls combine to create a course that is as full of surprise and mystery as a sporran stuffed with haggis.
There’s no shortage of castles in Scotland and there’s a very impressive one right next door to Taymouth Castle Golf Club. Apparently the plan is to convert it into a luxury hotel. It has 120 bedrooms and will be spectacular when finished.,
The adjoining parkland course is a splendid James Braid creation; the turf is lush, the trees impressive and the fairways generous. Lovely Loch Tay can be seen from the fifth tee but it’s the imposing castle that dominates the scene.
Instead of a castle Murrayshall has a luxury country house hotel, which is as comfortable as it is attractive. With a superb restaurant, tennis court, gym, sauna and jacuzzi, it would be worth a visit even it wasn’t nestled between two great golf courses.
Murrayshall is the older. With white sand bunkers, natural stone bridges and numerous water features, it provides perfect parkland golf with a lovely spacious feel that encourages golfers to open their shoulders. Although the same designer – Hamilton Stutt – returned 20 years’ later to create the Lynedoch course, the newer addition is tighter and, although shorter, provides a stiff examination.
In the Rosemount and Lansdowne, Blairgowrie has two heavenly heathland courses. Both are lined by forests of pine and silver birch with heather, broom and gorse adding gorgeous touches of colour to an already splendid setting.
It was that man again, James Braid, who laid out the older and more celebrated Rosemount, while the slightly longer Landsowne was created by Peter Alliss and Dave Thomas. Although indisputably great and glorious, Blarigowrie is neither pretentious nor intimidating. Like everywhere else that I visited in Perthshire, it’s warm and welcoming. So much so in fact that I wouldn’t mind another wee drop.
Why We Like It
Although The Open is always played on a links, some of Scotland’s most spectacular courses are up in the hills away from the sea. Quite a few of these – including famous Gleneagles – are in Perthshire, which is blessed with some of the loveliest scenery that beautiful Scotland has to offer. Rugged and unspoilt, it’s a great place to commune with nature whilst working on your swing.
Golf writer Clive Agran, 65 and a journalist for more than 40 years, Clive Agran still wonders what he’ll do when he grows up. Nicknamed ‘Silky Swing’, he travels the globe looking for the world’s best golf courses.