Review: Wick Golf Club
SCOTLAND - Caithness is the region of Scotland found in the extreme north-east corner of the UK. Amongst other points of interest, it is home to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of mainland Britain; John O'Groats, often mistakenly thought to be the most northerly point; and Wick, one of the larger settlements in the area and home to Wick Golf Club.
Established in 1870, the course is one in the classical links tradition- 'linking' the land to the sea. The layout is traditional in style. Nine holes run out along the coast, slightly inland, the ninth green being the furthest point of the course from the clubhouse. The second nine are a true returning nine, running back along the coast. This kind of layout means that on the majority of wind-dominated seaside days, the two nines will be played under quite different conditions. When I played, the front nine was into the wind, meaning that I struggled to reach several of the greens in regulation. In contrast, the second nine saw me spend much of my time foraging through the rough at the back of greens, searching for overhit approach shots.
The fairways for the most part run seamlessly into the greens, suggesting to even the most aerially-minded golfer that low, running shots and putting from off the green are very much the order of the day. The greens are fast and true. There is a selection of small steep-faced pot bunkers eager to swallow up shots erring in line or length. The rough is the chief means by which the course defends its par of 69. Rough comes into play on just about all of the 18 holes and is in places as severe as any I have ever come across.
The first hole provides a pretty innocuous initiation into the ways of links golf. A short par 4, just 286 yards long, its fairways is partially shared with that of the eighteenth, meaning that there is plenty of scope for a less than precise opening drive.
The second features probably the most unusual peculiarity of Wick Golf Club. It is a 353-yard par 4 with a burn crossing in front of the green. Unusual, however, is the fact that its fairway crosses with that of the seventeenth. Progress at both holes can at times be stalled by those playing across. Although personally I had no problem with this arrangement, those who deal with such matters at the golf club are implementing plans for a rerouting of the course in order to ease the passage of play. In fact, in recent times the course has been improved in several ways, under the part- guidance of Ronan Rafferty, European Ryder Cup Golfer and Sky Sports commentator.
A long par 4, with a burn crossing at around the 260-yard mark, the fifth is judged to be the hardest hole on the course. Sadly, my scorecard showed no evidence to dispute this claim. The sixth, seventh and eighth are all very enjoyable classic links holes. They are reasonably long and have little in the way of artificial defences, largely protected by severe rough and the lie of land.
The ninth and tenth holes are relatively new, having been rearranged in order to limit the impact of the poorer drainage at that end of the course. The ninth is a picturesque par 3. It's slightly uphill, with the River Wester on the left, a wee burn and a selection of bunkers in front, with the green nestling in amongst the impressive sand dunes. The tenth is now played from an elevated tee. The view from here is probably the pick of all those on the course. It is possible to see all the way back to the clubhouse, the flat terrain about affording a lengthy view in all directions.
Another of the quirks of the Wick Course is that even from this lofty perch, the view of the sea is still very limited- this is because between the course and the sea run several impressively sized dunes, acting as a barrier between the two. Guided by a tip from a local, I discovered that the best view of the sea is from up behind a small hut that stands to the left of the seventeenth fairway. If you make this small diversion, you will be rewarded with a panorama going from the headland to the north, round across the sands of Sinclair's Bay and out again to the cliffs to the south. Along this headland there are a variety of hardy-looking, long-standing castles and lighthouses that serve to add to the mystery of the landscape.
The twelfth and thirteenth were probably my favourite holes on the inward nine. Twelve is a par 4, 416 yards long; a bunker on the right and a mound on the left partially obscuring the view of the flag, guard the approach to the green. Thirteen features a classic linksy fairway, scattered with mounds limiting the likelihood of having a flat stance for your approach to the green. The green is two-tiered; the step between the tiers is probably as large as any I have encountered- I'd guess a change in height of at least three feet.
There are not a great number of bunkers on the course, those there are do seem to be well positioned however. For instance, as I stood on the seventeenth tee, I remarked to myself that there seemed to be a vast amount of space available to drive into. My surprisingly well struck drive sailed into the midst of my target area. On arrival at my ball, I found it stuck in a bunker not much more than six feet in width. Plans of a glorious under par finish were scuppered.
One of the advantages of the course at Wick is that, even during peak season, the visiting golfer will almost always be able to get onto the course without having booked a tee off time. Some in the North of Scotland see Wick as an attractive alternative to the more famous Royal Dornoch course. It is one of the best in the north, offering warm hospitality and spectacular views out over the course and coastline.
Although Wick is not the easiest place to get to, I advise making the trip north to experience traditional golf and hospitality of the highest order.
Wick Golf Club
Tel: 01955 602726
Fax: 01955 604418
Club Secretary: Mr Donnie Shearer (Tel: 01955 602935)
E Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org