Although I can think of no one who deserves it more, I consider myself very fortunate to be able to gallivant about playing great golf courses. Last week I hacked round the magnificent Old Course at Sunningdale, which immediately shot into my top ten. And this week I was on the wonderful east coast of Scotland, which has more quality courses than Ian Poulter has matching outfits.
Downfield Golf Club is just uphill of Dundee. A truly testing course, it?s being used as a final qualifying venue for this year?s Open. Paul Lawrie qualified here before going on to capture the Open at Carnoustie in 1999 when a certain Frenchman stuffed his chances into the burn by the 18th green. Should Mr Van de Velde be given a wild card to return to the scene of his nightmare? Sadly, he isn?t going to get one. What a wonderful fairy story it would make if he qualified and achieved redemption by going on to win at Carnoustie. Sadly, golf doesn?t always deliver to the most deserving otherwise I would surely have picked up at least one major myself by now.
The longest and toughest course on the Open roster, Carnoustie not unsurprisingly looked horribly long and tough. More surprising, however, is that a couple of the stands ? one by the opening tee and another by the final green ? have already been erected. No spectators, however, have yet bagged any seats. After a drink, a stroll through the hotel and a browse around the pro shop, I left clutching a yardage chart ? just in case I get a last-minute call.
Blairgowrie is an altogether gentler and rather more beautiful proposition. There are two terrific tracks and we played Rosemont, which is the older. Revamped about 70 years ago by the great James Braid, it has wonderfully wide, tree-lined fairways, a smattering of lochs, dazzling gorse and plenty of elevation, not to mention hares and red squirrels. The closing four holes are stunning and the clubhouse is a gem.
Also blessed with two courses is the intriguing Letham Grange near Arbroath. A glorious 19th century mansion has been converted into a country house hotel, which doubles as the clubhouse and loftily lords it over the surrounding estate. With several steep hills, some might find the Old Course a wee bit too tiring. Although there is the soft option of the gentler Glens course, the physical effort required to play the Old Course is richly rewarded with a succession of scenic and spectacular holes. Magnificent specimen trees and ornamental lakes inherited from what was clearly once a splendid estate, contribute enormously to a memorable experience.
Legal complications surrounding ownership have hampered the development of what is quite clearly going to be a truly stunning resort. The sooner these are resolved and the future of Letham Grange is more certain, the better it will be for all concerned.
Lest you form the mistaken impression that my life is simply a succession of jollies, next week I?m off to Portugal for a competition with a par five title – The Sony Bravia Sir Henry Cooper/Mike Reid Charity Golf Classic. Someone?s got to do it so it might as well be me.