The Alliance travelled to Buckpool yesterday. It’s an excellent course on the Moray coast and one that’s much overlooked. It seems fairly ordinary at first glance – the clubhouse won’t be winning any architectural awards and the section of course visible from the car park looks flat and fairly wide open. But, get out onto the links and there are a number of superb holes cut through the gorse and played over undulating terrain.
If you look past the lack of pro shop and the slightly utilitarian facilities, Buckpool is a great course to visit for the golfing purist. It’s a good layout in good condition with an excellent blend of challenging holes and birdie chances. At just £22 per round I can’t think of anywhere within a 100 mile radius that offers better value for money. Actually, I can’t think of anywhere full stop.
Buckpool is a famous venue on the circuit because, in 1999, Paul Lawrie won the Alliance here before going on to win the Open Championship later in the year. What made his victory more remarkable (the Buckpool Alliance one that is) was the fact he had a 10 on his scorecard yet still returned an under-par total.
I travelled north with hopes of a decent showing. A couple of reasonable knocks around the winter course at Banchory had given me an unusual injection of optimism. My positive outlook was bolstered by the fact the skies were clearing as we approached the coast and the thermometer on my dashboard was reading 8 degrees (tropical for this time of year in Aberdeenshire.)
My pre-round hopes proved to be warranted as I negotiated the course quite effectively in a level par 70. I avoided any major mistakes – no balls in the gorse or out of bounds. I kept everything together nicely (swing and fragile psyche) as I made three birdies, three bogeys and the rest pars.
For me, level par at Buckpool was a good effort, but I was nowhere near winning. Jordan Findlay, a former British Boys’ champion, took the victory with a five-under-par 65. My playing partner Scott Larkin – a +2 handicapper and former golf scholarship student at the College of Charleston – was second with 66. Four more players broke par.
There are currently 17 members of the North East Alliance playing off plus figure handicaps, when you include the pros too, there’s a huge number of extremely good golfers competing.
Are there more quality golfers than ever before? There seems to be a torrent of talented young amateurs emerging at the moment and competition at the top level is intense. To have such a number of plus figure handicappers in one region seems pretty amazing, but I’m sure it’s a similar story in all parts of the country.
The margins of separation at the elite end of the golfing spectrum have become minute. To move from top county player to international amateur to touring professional may require a huge psychological step but nowhere near such a leap in terms of scoring. The big four-round amateur events in the UK tend to be won with massively under par totals while international amateur competitions witness scoring that’s comparable to professional events. As an example, the leading qualifiers for the matchplay stages of the recent Argentina amateur championship recorded two-round totals of eight-under-par.
There are many reasons for the rising quality of amateur golf. More youngsters are playing full-time and are fully dedicated to improvement. These guys receive great support from golf unions and foundations as well as guidance on fitness, nutrition and psychology. Young amateurs also receive more and better instruction than ever before. Highly skilled coaches can employ the latest teaching techniques and relevant equipment to make the very most out of every student’s game. Improved kit has enabled more players to make it to the top by levelling the playing field – drivers to hit the ball further, forgiving irons to absolve more mis-hits, range finders to give exact yardages etc. Custom fitting ensures every player has exactly the right clubs to maximise their chances. I also think, success breeds success. The more good young players who emerge, the more of their contemporaries will play with them, watch them and learn from them – improving their games as a result.
The army of young amateurs playing full-time golf is expanding and so, therefore, will the competition to make a successful step up to the paid ranks. That’s for them to worry about. I’m more concerned about how I’m going to get past these youngsters to win an Alliance. Re-reading the above paragraph, I suppose I’ll have to start running, watching what I eat, going for lessons and to a mind coach, buy some new gear, oh and give up working. I think I should probably start focussing my attentions on the handicap prize.