Inchmarlo Golf Club in Banchory: A new Scottish golf course designed by the living
BANCHORY, Scotland — Every golf course in Scotland can't be 200 years old and designed by Old Tom Morris. They do build some new ones here occasionally, designed by living architects, like the Inchmarlo Golf Club in Banchory, about an hour's drive west from Aberdeen.
The 18-hole Laird's course at Inchmarlo opened in June of 2001, built on the slopes just to the north of the existing nine-hole course. It opened to some acclaim, being recently nominated for the best new course in Britain, putting it in the top 20 new courses in the United Kingdom.
It's easy to see why. It's a parkland course, with many of the trees lying along the perimeter while the interior is relatively open. The Inchmarlo is like many courses you find in the Scottish countryside: short, but tricky.
That being said, what Americans may define as tricky may not be the same as the Scots. The Scots like a wee challenge. They would probably scoff at some of the player-friendly resort courses in the U.S.
Inchmarlo is a course that plays up and down the hills of the interior, with gorgeous views of the surrounding hills and even some snow-covered peaks in the distance. The fairways dip and twist like pretzels, and some of them sport what could almost be called small mountains. Some of the slopes on the fairways will make you wish you had brought your skis.
This, of course, leaves you with a lot of blind shots off the tee and into the greens, many of which are two-tiered with humps and hollows that make avoiding three-putts an adventure. Buy a stroke saver so you'll know where you're hitting to.
The course is set on agricultural land — note I didn't say former agricultural land. One of Inchmarlo's great charms is that a working sheep farm cuts right through it. Talk about following the natural contours of the land.
To get from the sixth green to the seventh tee, you walk right through the farm, and its accompanying farm aromas. You could shake hands with the sheep, if you were so inclined and if sheep had hands.
The farmer is a shareholder and plans to turn his farm into a "leisure center" when he retires in four or five years. No word yet on what will happen to the sheep.
Let's hope they don't do too much tweaking on No. 7, with one of the aforementioned mountainous fairways, framed by distant peaks. It's a par 5, and young limberbacks can reach it in two only if they can carry the pond that sits in front of the two-tiered, undulating green. It is a spectacular hole.
No. 4 is the longest par 4 on the course at 473 yards — uphill all the way — though it's partially protected from the wind that swirls around the course. Again, the fairway slopes hard left to right, with trees right and pot bunkers left. The closing hole, with its downhill tee shot, bends to the left.
Inchmarlo doesn't carry the big green fees associated with Scotland's more famous links courses. Green fees are around $45-$50, which makes this course another hidden gem bargain.
With all the elevation changes, you'll forget about the relative shortness of the layout, which is 6,218 yards from the tips. It's a course that, like many of these tracks you find in the hinterlands, throws all sorts of odd and interesting angles at you. You'll be hitting some shots here you never imagined in America.
There's some nice wildlife to commune with as well, including the buzzard, which is the course's logo, as well as geese, herons and ducks. In April, the course was still recovering from abnormally harsh March weather, including an inordinate amount of rain.
Stay and play
Like most Scottish towns, there is a wide range of accommodations, from the Banchory Lodge, Burnett Arms and Raemoir House to the Village Guest House the Birch and Willow Lodges.
The Inchmarlo Golf Centre has an excellent restaurant. If you want to explore the town, try Dudley's, Scott Skinner's (try the desserts, especially), Carmen at No. 10 or St. Tropez.
Inchmarlo was designed by Scottish architect Graeme Webster, well known in the UK. Webster has also done other northeast courses, as well as courses all over Europe.
August 14, 2006