This breathtaking corner of south west Scotland guarantees golfers an exhilarating time on and off the course at any time of the year
There are many great courses in the west of Scotland. Turnberry and Troon are just two of a whole host of championship courses on offer but travelling north up the M6 and over the border, Dumfries and Galloway is the first area you will come to. Don’t make the mistake of staying on the M74 and driving north. Head west and you will be more than pleasantly surprised as there are some real treats in store in and around the town of Dumfries.
Southerness, for instance, has staged numerous leading amateur tournaments over the years and would have been selected for more prestigious international tournaments had the course been more accessible. There are two very good parkland courses on the outskirts of Dumfries itself and add in the likes of Powfoot, Lochmaben, Portpatrick and the Cally Palace course, the South West certainly lives up to its reputation of possessing more than its fair share of hidden gems. Dumfries and Galloway is a beautiful county which has a timeless feel to it and as this region is warmed by the Gulf Stream, it can be truly classed as a year round golfing destination.
Travelling east to west, Powfoot Golf Club is situated 15 miles south east of Dumfries and if played at certain times of the year, the course is awash with colour – the flowering gorse and heather is simply stunning. Set on the shores of the Solway Firth, the course presents a mixture of both links and parkland golf to highest standard. Designed by the legendary James Braid in 1903, Powfoot offers a superb test of golf with it’s many challenging holes and has the reputation of ‘one of golf’s best kept secrets’.
As many of the players at the recent Open found out to their peril, a visit to pot bunkers on a seaside course can be costly and one particular bunker on the front nine at Powfoot has an epitaph of one old gentleman whose ashes were scattered in it after his death reads ‘I couldn’t get out of here when I was alive so here I will remain forever’.
Inland and to the north of Powfoot lies Lochmaben Golf Club. Yet another layout designed by James Braid (the original nine), this lovely parkland course is famous for its wildlife and picturesque setting. The course is no pushover and is a challenging experience for any golfer. The signature hole is the 120-yard par-three 8th, which requires an accurate tee shot across part of Kirk Loch. For those that haven’t heard of Lochmaben, this particular area of Scotland is steeped in history – it is widely believed that King Robert 1(Bruce) was born here and the towns motto E NOBIS LIBERATOR REX translates as ‘From us is born the liberator king’.
To the west lies the market town of Dumfries and the former royal burgh within the Dumfries and Galloway council area of Scotland. Robert Burns lived in the the town from 1791 until his death in 1796. Scotland’s famous poet is now buried in St. Michael’s Churchyard in the Burns Mausoleum.
Dumfries is a great spot to centralise a golf break to this region and The Cairndale Hotel, in the centre of the town can organise a schedule to suit everyone’s needs. There are a number excellent value packages available including ‘Play the Best’, ‘The Birdie Trail’, ‘Solway Links’ and ‘Gateway to Golf’. All the packages include dinner, bed and breakfast and full complimentary use of the Cairndale’s Barracuda Leisure Club. There is plenty of car parking spaces and it is only a short walk into the centre of Dumfries for those who want to sample the busy nightlife.
Only a mile or so from the Cairndale Hotel is Dumfries and County Golf Club. The club is 100 years old this year and their centenary celebrations are well underway. Bounded by the River Nith, this very fine parkland course is always presented to a very high standard and the green-keeping staff take enormous pride in their work. At just under 6000 yards and a par 69, the course has to be treated with respect, where a number of holes will severely punish the wayward golfer. One of the toughest holes is the 5th, a par 4 measuring 374 yards named ‘Spion Kop’. The river awaits any shot leaked to the right and the second shot to and elevated green is hazardous.
Travel south west from Dumfries and the marvellous links at Southerness is a must play on your trip to the region. This is not a course for the faint-hearted and you do need to be a good player to negotiate the course anywhere near to your handicap. Course architect McKenzie Ross was responsible for the lay-out on a flat stretch of land with sandy soil and heather lining many of the fairways. The course offers fantastic views be it north to the mountain of Criffel, south across the Solway to the mountains of Cumbria and, on a clear day, the Isle of Man is visible in the distance.
Southerness stands as one of the great links courses of Britain. The 13th hole is a monster of a par 4 and an absolute classic. If you are unlucky enough to play it into the prevailing wind, the average golfer would not be able to reach the green in two and there is no room for error with the approach shot!
Further west from Southerness, the course at Palace at Gatehouse of Fleet has developed wonderfully to give an impression of a maturity beyond its years. Designed by renowned golf course architect Tom Macaulay, the course exploits the natural features of the beautiful Dumfries & Galloway terrain: magnificent trees impose over each and every fairway, while many burns wind through holes as they flow to and from the Cally Lake. In addition, there are wonderful views of Cardoness Castle, Rutherford’s Monument and the Fleet Estuary to savour during your round. Beyond the course, which is for the exclusive use of hotel guests, the 56-room, 18th-century Cally Palace Hotel is the perfect place to base your society outing. You can step back to a time of period style and elegance while enjoying all the modern comforts of a four-star golf hotel with views of the estate grounds and the Dumfries & Galloway countryside beyond. The hotel has an indoor leisure complex with swimming pool, as well as offering a first-class dining experience.
And if you fancy playing golf with a difference, you must give GolfCross a go at the Solway Links near to Southerness. GolfCross is played over a course just like golf using the same clubs and the same basic rules. The difference is that the sport uses an oval-shaped golf ball and instead of greens, the targets are rectangular goals suspended in mid-air to trap the ball. What a player will realise immediately is that the oval ball is aerodynamically more stable than a normal golf ball. It impossible to slice or hook unless you set the ball at an angle on the tee and even then you will be able to control the shot with ease. Some traditionalists might mock the idea but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it – I thought it was great fun and to be able to play an assortment of deliberately shaped shots was an eye-opener.
Away from golf, Dumfries and Galloway offers a host of other activities. There are a number of world class 7Stanes mountain bike centres across the region and there is excellent hill walking in the Moffat and Lowther Hills. There is also very good freshwater fishing at Lochmaben and at various places on Loch Ken. And don’t forget the Solway itself, the waters offer some of the finest tope fishing off the British coast.
Dumfries and Galloway is a great place to visit be it golf, other sports, its heritage and trust me, the warm and relaxing welcome is second to none.