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Lanark

Yardage
6443
Par
70
SSS
72
Built
1851, 1898
Architect(s)
George Sayers, Old Tom Morris, James Braid
Nature:
One of the world's finest moorland courses. Old Tom Morris designed, beautiful fescue fairways.
Location/Address:
The south side the town of Lanark, east of M74. Post code: ML11 7RX
http://www.lanarkgolfclub.co.uk/Home.aspx
Secretary
Fraser Jervis
Telephone
01555 663219
Professional
Alan White
Green Keeper
Jim Lyon
Access Policy:
Visitors are welcome
Dog Policy:
well behaved dogs are welcome
Open Meetings:
Scotgolf Trophy - June
Fees in 1960s
30p
Fees today
£60 - 2020

Review

Lanark Moor, south east of Glasgow, was created by glaciers ten thousand years ago when gravel and sand was deposited and today provides well-draining poor soil on which wiry, deep-rooting, perennial grasses, those that are the most enjoyable for golf, love to grow.

The undulating terrain here, as the centenary booklet says, means that: “Every dip, ridge, hollow and curve brings its own enchantment and thrill”, providing the people of the Royal Burgh of Lanark with excellent golfing ground since the early 1800s.

1851 was the year in which the four founders of the Lanark Golf Club eventually got round to formally starting the Club (the twenty fifth oldest in the world) with six holes that gradually increased in number until George Sayers and Old Tom Morris laid out eighteen holes in 1898.

There was a certain amount of early friction with the Town Council over usage of the common ground and when the Club wanted to make some changes to some holes to better accommodate the annual camp of the Cameronian Regiment there was said to be some quiet satisfaction among councillors when they succeeded in 1888 in baulking the efforts of those prosperous upper-middle class gentlemen!

The clubhouse from across Loch Lanark before trees grew up. Click to enlarge

Those gentlemen nevertheless fostered matches with other clubs like Musselburgh, Glasgow, Hamilton, Peebles and Bathgate and by 1909 there was recognition that the golf course was attracting summer visitors which helped towards better relations with the Town Councillors.

The drive at the 8th hole

The 1951 centenary booklet not only noted the layout was unchanged since James Braid had, in 1927, created holes thirteen and fourteen while re-arranging ten and eleven, but it also made an interesting comment on the greenkeeping history which, up to the 1890s, had been largely conducted by sheep, cattle, a scytheman and his wife who inserted and removed the flags each day.

Gary Gibson mowing the 17th green

From 1922 the role of pro and greenkeeper were combined in the person of Robert Moffat who gave the Club stable service, following which Gary Gibson, and his wife Meg as steward, took over in 1938 with their three sons each being a prominent golfer at Club, County and one at National level.

The present course manager Jim Lyon has over thirty years experience at the Club, which was rewarded with the hosting of The R&A Open Championship Regional Qualifying in the ‘70s and ‘90s.

Indeed, a captain of the Walker Cup, President of the Scottish Golf Union and the European Golf Association, Sandy Sinclair called Lanark “the finest moorland golf course in the world”.

In 1920 the LSM Railway Company decided, only on the casting vote of its chairman, to build its world famous hotel at Gleneagles rather than at Lanark. It has remained mostly out of the limelight in comparison with Gleneagles ever since.

The 1st fairway and green

However, this has not stopped the Club from upgrading the clubhouse that looks out over Loch Lanark and successfully attracting Ladies, boys and girls tournaments in recent years to their famous fescue fairways.

The course of 6443 yards, par 70, SSS 72, is quite long enough to set a test, particularly in the wind that is usually present and which is only hindered by some stands of trees within the course across an open moorland vista.

The 2nd drive.

A simple opener (Loch, 359 yards) with a rumpled fairway is followed by three holes that rev up your interest. The second (Dodger, 462 yards) needs a well-placed drive to give any chance of achieving your blind second, played across the right-hand dogleg hump, to gain the green.

The 3rd green

The third (Newlands, 413 yards) has an attractive rising drive to a bowl fairway and the green with a false front needs a firm mid-iron to carry to the long green with a few sentinel Scots Pine behind.

The 4th green

We then turn back and the fourth (Houston, 447 yards) has a raised green in the manner of Royal Dornoch, and it allows a full out scamper up the front bank.

The 5th green under the railway embankment.

The fifth (Stanmore, 311 yards) is the first hole to give anything away and is a simple pitch to a green under the embankment of the railway line.

The 6th hole.

We then climb sharply at the sixth (North Faulds, 369 yards) after keeping our drive away from the only soggy rough on the course on the right of this hole. Here, one discovers that it needs a couple of extra clubs to allow for the height to a green cut into the next tee that also supplies the best view on the course.

Lanark has three par threes.

The view from the 7th tee.

The seventh (Gorstane, 135 yards) is a lob straight downhill to a green surrounded by newly sculptured bunkering. The vista of distant hills is reduced somewhat by the thick stands of forest as we look across to the ninth and tenth holes.

The tenth (Tintock Tap, 149 yards) is played on rising ground to a green running back to front at which I almost achieved a hole in one but that excitement could not make up for an ordinary hole.

The 18th green below the clubhouse with the new trees behind

The eighteenth (Home, 213 yards) is a manufactured hole played across the first fairway to a green below the clubhouse’s new big windows, with part of the Loch, not shaded by new trees, glistening in the background. This hole gave me a strange feeling as I played three balls, unsure if I would find the first two, but on arriving at the green there they all were! Like at Royal St David’s most people dislike a par three to be the eighteenth.

The 8th green

There are some tremendous natural par fours at Lanark, each of different character and one par five at the eighth (Tinto, 541 yards) with a hidden green tucked away. Off the blue tee it is definitely best to take a lay-up and the falling away rough to the right of the approach suggests taking the same strategy from the white and yellow tees as well!

The 9th drive

A tight-ish uphill blind drive between whins at the ninth (Whinney Knowe, 388 yards) is fun, as is the eleventh (Butts, 407 yards). James Braid amalgamated two holes into one here and with a stream across the fairway it makes your blind second a little longer, though a confidently struck blow will run down to a flat green with banking.

The 11th drive

At this end of the course the feeling of being really out in the wilds is strongly present, far from the madding crowd, and then we walk through to the twelfth tee, now hidden away in woods to gain greater length, allowing for the ever growing distance the modern ball is being sent.

The dense stands of Scots pine sprinkled across the open moorland do not come into play much but I guess are not helpful in drying out some of the greens and tees.

The old photos in the centenary booklet remind one that it is only in modern times has man planted regimented trees, perhaps for monetary reasons, pretending they enhance the distinct beautiful open moorland environment where a bit of roughness around the edges should be encouraged rather than immaculate over-manicuring, as portrayed by the fairways mown in stripes like a parkland style, and not the traditional more natural up and back, which I have to say I prefer for a running-golf course.

I note that on the Club’s website wildlife page it says “over the last few decades, curlews, lapwings and skylarks have all but disappeared from the golf course…in contrast, magpie numbers have been on the increase”. Perhaps a managed Larsen Trap would help protect their nests by reducing corvid numbers. What is particularly attractive is the number of wild flowers in the dry roughs.

Regional Rainfall in UK 1910 to 2019. Click to enlarge

Precipitation has increased slightly in Scotland, particularly in the west, since the 1980s, for no obvious reason, unlike the other three UK countries where it has flat-lined. It has been argued by some that fescues are therefore more difficult to grow along the Ayrshire coast than the drier east coast. There may perhaps be another reason as Gordon Irvine, nicknamed Jim arthur’s heir, (of the world renown greenkeeping advisor) identifies that : it is down to which method of greenkeeping maintenance is in operation.  In FineGolf’s terminology: Conservation greenkeeping  or Chemical greenkeeping.

In so many Clubs, golfers, unfortunately infected by Augusta Syndrome Disease (ASD), determine in their minds the quality of a green by how fast it putts, rather than by its smoothness and trueness of putt provided by the perennial fine grasses.

The circle of decline in fine turf

This has made life hard for greenkeepers, with so many younger ones trained now predominantly on how to manage annual meadow weed grass (Poa annua) which needs shaving to gain putting speed. The problem is that shaving drives out the indigenous perennial grasses and leaves you with an annual weed grass that needs extra fertilising, extra fungicides and extra water to survive the stress of shaving which in turn helps produce an excess soft thatch layer. It is easy for the circle of decline to continue.

Here at Lanark the fairways and roughs that are not fertilised are predominantly a gorgeous mix of perennial fescue and browntop bents while the greens are annual meadow weed grass (Poa annua) with some perennial browntop bents. Jim Lyon, who hinted to me about retirement in the next few years, understands what the members want and has managed a balance between speed and firmness on the Poa annua/browntop bent greens.

This course is so lovely if played as running-golf into firm greens. If the greens soften and can be attacked with high-flighted balls and stopped dead as in target-golf, it might help reduce the lower players’ handicaps but the “delightful quirkiness of every lucky bounce across each dip, ridge, hollow and curve will lose its enchantment and thrill.”

Anyway, as we reach the twelfth (Valley, 405 yards) it has one of the few flat wide fairways with a green on a side shelf, so it is easier to run one’s ball in from along the bank providing one’s drive is down the left.

The 14th plateau green.

The next two James Braid holes (Drove Road, 358 yards) and (Quarry Knowe, 388 yards) are sited next to each other though there are plenty of whins, furze and heather in between. These holes are downhill and uphill, the latter with a high plateau green and the former with formidable fairway cross bunkering.

The 15th hole

The finishing three holes run back and forth in front of the clubhouse with the fifteenth (Vassie, named after the extended Lanark golfing family) at 460 yards along the side of numerous house gardens. The sixteenth (Anstruther, 332 yards, named after Sir Windham, a happy, quixotic, generous, earlier Club dictator) and the seventeenth (Whitelees, 306 yards) are not bad holes but give a disappointingly weak finish to a fine championship round across the most glorious perennial grass fairways.

One should not forget to mention the nine hole ‘Wee Course’ of 1506 yards par 29 which is a second great asset to the Club and kept in excellent condition.

See the 1951 Centenary booklet by A.D.Robertson and the 150 year celebration update by Henry Shanks.

Reviewed by Lorne Smith in 2020.

Reader Comments

On June 29th, 2020 Paul Walker said:

I hope that you can celebrate your 150th anniversary in a suitable way – perhaps with a hickory golf match followed by a wee dram !

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