The original course used by the members of Stranraer Golf Club was located in the east end of the town and was opened in 1906, the year after the club was formed. It was a 9-hole course, laid out over three fields by the 1883 Open Champion Willie Fernie who played a match against Dan Kelly, the local professional, to mark the occasion.
The course and clubhouse were requisitioned by the War Department in 1940 as a Transit Camp – nearby Cairnryan became an important construction site for Mulberry Harbours in the D-Day landings – and the members were without a course until well after World War II when James Braid was called out of retirement to design a new course at Creachmore just outside the town. Stranraer was Braid's last design prior to his death in 1950. Two years later, the new Stranraer opened for play.
Situated on an escarpment beside Loch Ryan, Stranraer is laid out on former farmland with many stands of mature trees. It is a fine parkland layout with several holes also played along the loch shore. With a total length of 6,308 yards, there are no fewer than fourteen par fours on the course with only one par five, the appropriately named “Lang Whang” 15th hole.
The signature hole is the 397-yard par four 5th named “Corunna” played from an elevated tee looking over Loch Ryan towards Ailsa Craig out in the Irish Sea. The tee shot down to the lochside must find a tight fairway between a heavily gorsed bank on the left and out of bounds along the shoreline to the right (where two bunkers are postioned to catch pushed drives). It's a thrilling hole to play and, in fact, it has been voted by readers of a Scottish golf magazine as one of the toughest eighteen holes to play in the country.
The opener is relatively gentle. The adjacent fairways of the par four second and third holes are split diagonally by a lateral water hazard which focuses the mind from the tee and again on the approach to each green. The most troublesome thing about the fourth is that it leads you unavoidably to the fifth, “Corunna”, possibly the most visually stunning, enticing and yet simultaneously nerve-shredding tee-shot in Scottish golf. Admittedly, this description only applies to the tee-shot from the highly elevated medal tee from where the golfer’s eyes are drawn instinctively to the steep escarpment of gorse that runs along the left or possibly the big water hazard (referred to by locals and cartographers as Loch Ryan) on the right but never the deceptively big, green, flat bit in the middle. I know very good golfers who have dropped more shots here in one day than they did the rest of the season. Par 4 is possible – but 14 is statistically more probable! The committee might not thank me for saying this but I suggest you ask for special permission to play this hole from the medal tee. Having played around 90 Scottish courses (including many of the “biggies”) this is my current nomination for the best hole in Scotland.
The sixth is a tough par 3 encircled by bunkers and gorse. The 458yrds ninth is (surprise, surprise) quite tough. The tenth is a lovely wee par four requiring strategy from the tee and a gentle touch to a small, raised green. Putting from the back of the slippery 11th green is as close as most Gallovidians get to Augusta –take four (very gentle) putts and avoid the embarrassment of putting back down the fairway! At the 185yrds 12th the lateral water ditch re-appears, somewhat cunningly, about two small paces short of the green. However, this par 3 is a cinch compared to the 15th which is 185yrds uphill to a long-narrow green with steep fall-offs on both sides. Take the left slope and its time for a new ball. The next two are harder still – 470yrds and 462yrds respectively. Anyone who claims to have parred holes 15 to 17 at Stranraer is possibly lying, hallucinating or, least likely of all, really quite good at golf. By the 5th it starts to dawn on you that Mr Braid may not have been of an entirely cuddly disposition. On the vertiginous ice-rink of the 11th green you consider the possibility that he may even have had a vindictive streak. By the time you are putting for your third consecutive “double” on 17 you have pretty much gone off the guy.
However, when the dust has settled, sitting in the comfortable clubhouse looking over the stunning course the word most likely to spring to mind is RESPECT. This course deserves loads of the stuff and is quite possibly the most under-rated course in Scotland. It is a fitting final addition to Mr B’s glorious collection. Personally, if I had to play to my handicap to save my life I would choose The Old Course, Turnberry or possibly even Muirfield before I chose Stranraer. RESPECT. Derek, Edinburgh, June 08