We think it's worth pointing out that the exclusive village of Cardrona is the first new community development in the Scottish Borders since the 18th century. It's a brave new building programme in an area that is rich in history with its standing stones and abbey ruins.
The Cardrona course is situated in the heart of a truly magnificent country setting where the valley meets the gushing River Tweed. It's hard to classify the course. Some holes have a moorland feel, while others feel more like parkland and some are American-styled.
Dave Thomas designed this 6,856-yard par 72 course and it opened for play in 2001. Cardrona bears Thomas's hallmarks - numerous large, sculptured bunkers and huge, subtly contoured, but sometimes narrow greens. Thankfully, there's little in the way of artificial mounding around the edges and consequently the course blends nicely into the natural landscape.
There are some fine holes, especially those on the front nine, which follow the meanderings of the river. And we have two favourites. The 6th is a great driving hole and you'll need to hold your nerve on the tee to avoid finding the magnetic burn, which has a habit of attracting golf balls. If you can do this and play a sensible second shot on this 527-yard par five, you'll be pitching on with your third and hoping for a birdie. Measuring 402 yards, the 7th is probably the signature hole and it requires an accurate drive, with trees on the right and bunkers to the left. The approach shot is even more of a challenge, to find the elevated and well-protected green.
We visited Cardrona two weeks ago for an overnight stay. As we arrived and checked in to the hotel we were told that unfortunately the course wasn't in very good condition. We walked out to look and the truth was far, far worse. We walked the front nine and every single green was dead and diseased. It was unplayable. The course should have been closed for intensive repair work, but the cynic in me suspects that because this is a golf course attached to a hotel chain (MacDonald), closing the course would likely also mean closing the hotel, or at least running at minimal occupancy with a big hit to profits. There's no excuse for it. Our trip had been arranged for six months and the course manager and hotel manager will clearly have known that the course was not playable, yet we heard nothing from them before we arrived. As soon as we saw the condition we made alternative arrangements to play at Peebles (just down the road) and West Linton (30 minutes away). Both were lovely courses.
It's a real shame to write this review, because from walking the front nine it's clear that Cadrona is a really well-designed course with good teeing options and an eye on strategy. But the place was clearly left to ruin during the pandemic with the result that they no longer have any playable greens. The only acknowledgement we received from MacDonald was a 20% discount voucher for drinks in the bar. Obviously we still had to pay full price for the accommodation. I was told we'd receive a call from the course manager in the week following our stay to arrange a complimentary return trip once the greens had improved. Needless to say that call has never been made, and I won't hold my breath for it.
Sadly if you're planning to visit Cardrona in the future my strong recommendation is to find somewhere else, you will only be disappointed.
Cardrona GC, attached to a hotel and spa the course is only 25 years old and has a very modern feel to it. Dave Thomas has definately done a lovely job of making the most of a fantastic setting at the foot of the river tweed. The scenary is simply stunning, and despite some long confusing walks from green to tees the course flows well and is a good layout, with a few really stand out holes. That said unfortunately is were all the positives end for this place, the pace of play at 5.5 hrs was painfully slow, the fairways terrible, covered with thick clumps of daisy's that made even the straightest of shots difficult to find, rough untidy with a lot of hay type cuttings left to rot, then there was the greens or browns, covered in sand and extremely uneven. Spoils what could be an impressive course.
On the back nine, the 12th is a fine par five but the returning 3-shotter at the 14th is something of an eyesore, played to a green that sits in front of an upmarket housing estate where the boundary between course and rural suburbia lacks any semblance of vegetation to soften the intrusion of brick and mortar. The subsequent run of three par fours before the home hole is good with each of the fairways a little tight at some point or other so accurate play off the tee is essential. I started and finished my round with the same ball but my playing partner lost a few during our game - fairways at Cardrona are generally wide and forgiving but if you do stray wide of the mark, you have next to no chance of finding your ball in the dense rough or watery wetlands.
Some might ask if that degree of difficulty should be in evidence at a resort course. Others might also question whether regular tees really need to measure over 6,500 yards when casual golfers seem to make up most of the groups playing here. Conditioning was very good from tee to green and large putting surfaces were impressively presented - even if the hole on many had been cut in obscure corners, a factor that became a little tedious after a while. Worth a visit if in the area (and they accept Top 100 Golf Club cards) but don’t expect an easy stroll along the banks of the River Tweed - as borne out by a SSS of 73 against a par of 72 from the yellow tees. Jim McCann