The magnificent Cally Palace category A listed building, now operated by the McMillan Hotel Group, is an 18th century country house which was converted to a hotel in the 1930s. A substantial portion of the extensive Cally estate – listed in Historic Scotland’s inventory of Gardens and Designated Landscapes – was converted to a golf course in 1994, when architect Tom McAuley laid out eighteen holes around the Cally Lake.
The Cally course extends to 6,062 yards from the back tees, playing to a par of 71, with tree-lined fairways draped across a gently undulating landscape. A round here starts and ends, rather unusually, with a short par four hole: the 287-yard 1st (“Lake Side”) doglegging left down to the lake and the 271-yard 18th (“Buzzards Creek”) finishing behind the hotel, close to the tennis courts.
All three par fives on the card are testing three-shotters. The 590-yard 8th “(Braefoot”) is by far the longest (with the lowest stroke index) on the front nine but it’s more than matched in terms of difficulty on the inward half by the 519-yard 13th (“Palace View”), where the lake runs along the right hand side of the fairway as it heads towards the green.A round of golf at Cally Palace was once the private preserve of hotel residents but a welcome change in the visitor policy now allows casual pay and play golfers to also tee it up here now.
I played Cally Palace almost ten years ago, before it was featured on this website, and I’ve only recently noticed it was on my “reviews-to-do” list. While I was in the area in October, I popped in to remind myself what the course was all about before bashing the keyboard.
There’s a definite quaintness about the golf offering here. For the first fifteen years or so of its operation it was only open to residents staying at the hotel so it can definitely be classed in the “holiday golf” category. In fact, looking at the scorecard, I don’t see any SSS figures indicated so maybe it’s never been officially rated either.
The opening and closing holes are par fours measuring less than 290 yards and only one of the remaining nine two-shotters plays in excess of 400 yards – the others all measure between 335 yards and 378 yards, so there’s nothing here that’s going to overly tax you in order to hit the green in two blows.
What really sets courses like this apart for me are the old-fashioned, low-slung overhead electricity wires that cross several of the fairways. I used to think of them as a nuisance but there’s no doubt they add a certain rustic charm to the place. And if you admire a property with a wide range of well-managed trees then you’ll be well pleased with the selection of arboreal specimens on display around the property.
You immediately visit the central lake on the property with the opening downhill hole but you don’t return to it until the 13th fairway skirts the water on its east side. Between holes 1 and 13, you go along the perimeter of the estate from the 3rd to the 5th, before heading into woodland after a long walk from the par three 6th, then emerging from the trees once you’ve played another short hole at the 12th.
Holes 13 to 15 are what Cally Palace is all about: two cracking par fives either side of an uphill par four, with the greens for both the three-shot holes located on the other side of a winding stream and little dammed pool that feeds into the lake. It’s as nice a setting for green sites as you’ll come across anywhere – and you really have to admire the architect for his audacity in siting two for the price of one at this lovely spot!
The final three holes play out behind the hotel, with the 221-yard, bunkerless 17th (a beast of a par three, rated stroke index 5) the best of this closing trio. It’s not quite the destination you would choose to travel to just for one round of golf but if you were to couple eighteen holes here with the same at Kirkudbright, which is a 15-minute drive away, then that would make sense as a really entertaining, alternative kind of 36-hole away day.