Ratho Park Golf Club: A Pleasant Scotland Surprise
Midlothian, Scotland - Ratho Park Golf Club was founded in 1928 and was officially opened on 11 May 1929 by Harry Vardon and James Braid. They were multiple Open Champions and members of golf's "Great Triumvirate", and both presented a signature golf club and the balls with which they played, to the club. Braid, a five-time Open Champion, was also the course designer, and he was recognized as the leading designer of the time.
The ground on which the course was built is steeped in history. The Ratho Estate goes back to the year 1315, and the estate house (now the Clubhouse) was built in 1824. It is a quite magnificent building and is probably the finest golf Clubhouse in the surrounding area. An even earlier building which still forms an integral part of the course is the Doocot (an large building in which homing pigeons were kept). It was built in 1713, lies between the 1st and 2nd holes, and provides the name for the 2nd hole.
Ratho Park is 5,932 yards long from tournament tees, with a par of 69 and a Standard Scratch Score of 68. The regular gentlemen's tees shorten the yardage to 5,368. The ladies course measures 5,460, with a par of 72.
The club can boast many fine former players including Andrew Oldcorn, a European Tour player, who in 1983, became the first man to win all four of his Walker Cup matches. The current course record holder is Craig Gordon, who scored 64 in the summer of 1999. He is also a multiple Club Champion and now plays college golf in the USA.
Ratho Park is situated approximately 3 minutes to the north of the A71, on the western outskirts of Edinburgh. It is sign-posted from the A71, and requires a left-turn at the small bridge. A further right turn takes you to the main entrance, and the road inter-twines all the way through the course to the Clubhouse at the north-west end. The overall setting is absolutely marvelous.
The round starts with four relatively easy par 4s. The 1st is easily reachable for the longer hitters, with only a bunker at each side of the flat green to worry about. It is a simple hole for the shorter hitter as well, with the only hazard being a bunker in the semi-rough, 180 yards from the tee.
A wayward drive on the 2nd hole can leave the Doocot between the ball and the green, but a 200 yard drive will go past it. The fairway leading up to the green is tree-lined, so accuracy is paramount from the tee.
Hole 3 is just reachable for the bigger hitters, but with out-of-bounds close on the right, the sensible shot is to lay up short of the large fairway bunker. This leaves a pitch to a 2-tier green which slopes heavily from left to right. The 4th is a straight hole whose difficulty lies in a green which slopes from back to front and is notoriously difficult to read. The first four holes give all levels of golfer a great chance to get off to a flying start.
Holes 5, 6 and 7 are par 4s that provide a much tougher test. The 5th is one of only two par-4s over 400 yards. There are three bunkers on the left side of the fairway between 200 and 250 yards from the tee - designed to catch a hooked drive from most standards of player. There is no room on the right either, with a large expanse of tall fir trees. The hole then dog-legs to the right and up the hill, leaving a tough second shot to a green protected by five bunkers.
Hole 5 is the second toughest on the course. The 6th and 7th holes are also dominated by trees and bunkers demanding accurate shot placement. The 7th hole also has out-of-bounds tight on the left, and a raised 2-tier green with a heavy back-to-front slope. The large, deep bunker 30 yards short swallows many shots daily.
Hole 8 is the first par 3, and is played from an extremely elevated tee. Five bunkers give little protection to a perfectly flat green. This is probably the easiest hole on the course. The 9th demands accuracy from the tee, with out-of-bounds on the left and a bunker 215 yards on the right. The green lies 50 yards through a narrow gap in the trees, and the shot in is deceptively long.
There is a shallow greenside bunker to the right. The 10th hole is just over 300 yards long, but big hitters hoping to reach the green are generally hindered by the west wind. The fairway narrows markedly towards the green which has three bunkers placed around it.
Holes 11, 12 and 13 end the monotony of par 4s. The 11th is the only par-5 on the course, and the large right-to-left slope on the fairway commonly leaves a second shot from an uphill lie in the rough.
A shot to the right from the tee that misses the slope will often find either one of two bunkers or be stuck behind a large fir tree 250 yards out. The 12th and 13th are par 3s of similar length, and go in opposing directions. Two bunkers protect the fronts of each green, and they are in constant use. There are other bunkers, but they rarely come into play. Par through these two holes is a challenge.
Ratho's signature hole is the 14th. Named "Braid's Test", it is by far the hardest hole on the course, but also by far the best designed. It is a long par 4 at 463 yards, where both length and accuracy are important. A large fir-tree is placed in the centre of the fairway 270 yards from the tee, and it totally obscures many second shots. A new fir has already been planted 20 yards further forward in case the original tree falls!
Braid would have liked that, I believe! There is no real benefit for longer hitters, as a west-wind makes a drive past the tree difficult. The hole then dog-legs left, and slopes from left-to-right. Bunkers are positioned to catch second shots from longer and shorter hitters, and the green slopes from left-to-right and back-to-front. A truly great golf hole!
The par 3 15th is the shortest hole on the course. It plays even shorter due to the elevated tee, but the green is very well protected by six bunkers (one of them being very deep in a large hollow to the left of the green). You really must hit the green!
Like the start, Ratho has a fairly easy finish (three more par 4s). The 16th is totally straight, and only a very wide drive catches one of the fairway bunkers. There are shallow bunkers short of the green and at greenside. The 17th is dog-legged to the right and slightly uphill. A cluster of trees on the right side of the fairway is to be avoided, as is the fairway bunker 50 yards short of the green.
Three bunkers protect the green which slopes from right-to-left. The testing closing hole requires accuracy from the tee. After negotiating the trees (left) and fairway bunkers (centre and right), three more bunkers protect a large 2-tier green that slopes from back-to-front.
As a whole, Ratho Park is a very enjoyable golf course for all standards of golfer to play. It is generally characterized by fairly light rough, tree-lined fairways, and fast, heavily sloped greens. This gently undulating parkland course is quite short, but has always been kept in immaculate condition by the superb green-keeping staff.
Length is secondary to accuracy, and a good short-game can be rewarded with an excellent score. There are no restrictions on visitors and catering is available all day in the Clubhouse.
Ratho Park Golf Club
Telephone: Club; +44 (131) 333 1252
Secretary: +44 (131) 333 1752
Professional: +44 (131) 333 1406
Caterer: +44 (131) 333 1248
The price per round is £25.00, and a day ticket is £35.00. Group discount applies to parties of 12 and over.