Old Course at Letham Grange Golf Club: The Augusta of the North?
A little inland from the east coast of Scotland just north of Dundee, Letham Grange Golf Club is comfortably within striking distance of some truly outstanding courses such as Carnoustie, St. Andrews, Gleneagles and Blairgowrie Golf Club.
Some passionately believe that the Old Course at Letham Grange will one day join this pantheon of greats and have already dubbed it the "Augusta of the North." It even has its own Amen Corner, comprised of the eighth, ninth and 10th holes.
Other observers, however, are a tad more cautious and are waiting to see if the large sums being spent can indeed raise this fascinating challenge into the golfing stratosphere.
The layout is lovely. The opening tee and final green sit at the back of an extraordinary 19th century mansion that has been lovingly converted into a charming and idiosyncratic country-house hotel that loftily lords over the surrounding estate.
In between the first tee and final green is a scenic roller-coaster ride through woods, across streams, around lakes, up hills and down dales. Hold on tight because serious trouble is rarely very far away. Often tight, occasionally intimidating but never dull, the Old Course at Letham Grange demands your utmost attention.
The Old Course at Letham Grange Golf Club: Rest up
Although some might find it a wee bit tiring, the physical effort of walking a round on the Old Course at Letham Grange is richly rewarded with a succession of spectacular holes. Magnificent specimen trees and ornamental lakes inherited from what was clearly once a splendid estate, contribute enormously to a memorable experience.
Water presents problems for both players and the owners. Numerous aquatic hazards are liberally sprinkled about, and only on five holes is your ball certain to stay dry. For their part, the owners are wrestling with the more serious problems that water can present.
The delightful streams and languid rivers that contribute so much aesthetically, quickly morph into raging torrents after a prolonged spell of particularly heavy rain. This past winter was especially wet, and two bridges were swept away. Whilst they're being rebuilt, golfers are obliged to take short diversions on the fifth and 13th.
"Our two principal priorities have been the refurbishment of the hotel and attending to issues on the golf course, in particular the drainage," explained Jamie Le Friec, the estate manager at Letham Grange.
Certainly flooding is a serious issue, and the golf course is often partially closed in winter. A composite course is created that combines unaffected holes on the Old Course with others from the more recently created Glens Course.
I should stress that flooding is not an issue in spring, summer and autumn, but the Scots are a hardy and enthusiastic breed who like to golf the whole year round. So studies have been undertaken in the hope of finding a long-term solution to the problem, and the owners are confident that they have hit upon one that will work. Although expensive, the work is necessary to unlock the extraordinary potential that Letham Grange has to offer.
The Old Course at Letham Grange Golf Club: The verdict
The flourishing membership is surely testimony to Letham Grange's considerable appeal. Martin Vousden, a long-standing member with a handicap of 12, is certainly a fan.
"I am always a little reluctant to tell people just how good Letham Grange is because I rather like the fact that it is relatively undiscovered, so we members get to keep the place to ourselves," he said. "And yet this course really should be better known to a wider golfing public because it is, in my view, one of the best inland layouts in Scotland."
Although not well known internationally, it is certainly popular in the area. Fergus Bisset, a one-handicapper at Banchory Golf Club, traveled down the coast to try it out.
What's the secret to playing the course? "Because there's not much run at this time of year, it certainly helps to hit a long ball," Bisset said.
Measuring 6,632 yards off the regular tees and just a tad less than 7,000 off the back, it's certainly less of a slog in summer.
There's no professional, which is another unusual feature of what is an attractively idiosyncratic course and club. There is, however, a driving range.
If you are lucky enough to find yourself in this most beautiful part of a most beautiful country, make sure you play the Old Course at Letham Grange and do stay at least one night in the hotel. Delightfully quirky like the course over which it towers, it will certainly play its part in what will undoubtedly be an unforgettable visit.
April 23, 2010