The list of Scottish golf courses designed by Alister MacKenzie is a rather short one and, as far as we’re aware, it includes only the MacKenzie Championship course at Hazelhead in Aberdeen, Duff House Royal in Banff, Pitreavie in Dunfermline and Bonnyton.
Throw into the mix Blairgowrie’s Rosemount, Royal Troon’s Portland and Pollok in Glasgow, all places where the master architect made revisions, and you'll still not reach double digits. Incredibly, it’s only in recent years that Bonnyton appears to have realised the importance of its course’s provenance.
The club started out as Bonnyton Moor Golf Club in 1923 but the Jewish community of Glasgow acquired it in 1957 when the opportunity arose to buy the property. Up until then, the Golf Section of the Glasgow Jewish Institute had led a somewhat nomadic existence, playing competitions at a couple of clubs on the fringes of the city or along the Clyde coast at Troon’s three municipal courses.Nowadays, the course measures a modest 6,231 yards from the back markers, playing to a par of 72. Notable holes on the front nine include “Ca’Cannie,” the short par four 3rd, and back-to-back par fives at the 5th and 6th holes. On the inward half, the 170-yard 14th is rather unusually rated as stroke index 2 but it’s a beast of an uphill par three requiring a do-or-die carry from the tee to reach a shallow, elevated green.
Bonnyton is an undulating course which is no surprise given its location high on the Eaglesham Moor. This situation provides many splendid views north across Glasgow to the hills beyond. I have played here often (a friend was a member here) and it has a strange blend of holes. In my personal rating system I award three stars to a good hole, with one or more added or subtracted for features that enhance or detract. Bonnyton is mostly fours and twos! The above-average are 1 (when driving over the pond), 5 - a terrific downhill par 5, 7 and 10. The two short par fours on the back nine are also good fun. However I am not a fan of the dull par five 6th, the brutal uphill slog at 8, the two very hard par threes at 9 and 14, 11 and 18 which requires a long, blind second shot. I would add that the drive at 16 requires you to thread the eye of the needle between a pond on the left and a ditch on the right. Bonnyton's location is certainly worth half a ball elevating it to a 3.5 score in my book.
Bonnyton’s a great little moorland track, perched high above Glasgow on the south side of the city. It’s one of a very select number of Scottish layouts designed by Alister MacKenzie and I’m glad to see the provenance of the course is now properly recognized on the club’s website – when I first looked at this place a decade ago, nobody at Bonnyton appeared to appreciate its marketing potential.
I played there the other day, more than six years after my last visit, and was taken aback by the ongoing tree clearance program that’s currently under way on the course. More than five thousand trees have been removed from a few concentrated areas around the opening holes but there are plenty more still to be dealt with and I hope the work continues as intended in the winters ahead.
At just over 6,200 yards from the medal tees, Bonnyton’s not the longest track you’ll ever play but a handful of new tees have just been installed (allowing a course with a standard scratch of 71 against a par of 71) to keep the more talented members honest. Only one of the par four holes measure in excess of 400 yards so golfers can easily get around a very undulating course without feeling it’s a slog.
The four par three holes are all terrific – even if they all play slightly uphill – though some may criticize these holes for not being long enough. What I liked most about them was that the degree of difficulty increased with each one played, though a stroke index of 2 for the last one, the 174-yard 14th, did seem a touch excessive.
I’ve just checked that clubs currently ranked above Bonnyton in the Renfrewshire chart are charging the casual golfer quite a bit more for a round of golf so the green fee being charged represents really good value in the area right now. I only hope once the tree felling has stopped, the club will then turn its attention to restoring its bunkers to the style that the course architect was famous for.