Former owners, the De Vere Group, introduced the Carrick course to its golf facilities at Cameron House back in the summer of 2007, adding the 18-hole championship standard layout to the existing 9-hole “Wee Demon” layout.
The name of golf course architect Doug Carrick may be largely unheard of outside his native Canada – where he has designed and remodelled over fifty courses such as King Valley, Angus Glen, Cobble Beach and Eagles Nest – but De Vere not only had the good sense to commission him to design his first UK course at Loch Lomond, they decided to name it after him too!
The location of the Carrick is unique as the front nine holes are played over relatively flat, open land at the boundary of the Lowlands in Scotland and the back nine are routed over higher ground in the Scottish Highlands before returning to the clubhouse by the loch side.
The course has a somewhat North American feel to it on three of the opening four holes where water runs down the length of these fairways. Two of the next four holes are testing par fives – the latter has no fewer than 15 bunkers along its length – before the 9th hole rises back to the clubhouse to complete the outward half.
The surprising and delightful elevation change continues at the appropriately named “High Road” 10th hole with some marvellous views of Loch Lomond to the east and Ben Lomond to the north. There is an even better photo opportunity of the loch to be had from the elevated tee 60 feet above the signature hole on the card, the 199-yard, par three, 14th called “Tappet Doon” on the most northerly point of the property.
Back down to ground level again, the next three holes run along the water’s edge, though it never comes into play. Four holiday apartments overlook the loch to the right of the 15th fairway and the magnificent Colquhoun Mansion House apartments are situated to the right of the 16th green. The 422-yard “Carrick Hame” closing hole doglegs right to the clubhouse where a refreshing glass of something cold and wet awaits in the Claret Jug bar.
Loch Lomond is an outstanding area of natural beauty and well deserving of a visit with or without the golf bag, and whilst I’d loved to have taken myself to the “real” Loch Lomond golf club, the Carrick makes a suitable deputy.
Make no mistake, the Carrick is set up for visitor golf. Opened in 2007, it has more than a whiff of “resort course” about it, particularly the clubhouse which doubles as a multi-floor spa (highly recommended though) with balcony level hot tub views over the 18th green.
If it’s resort course golf you’re expecting, that’s exactly what you get for the opening stretch. The first four holes are played around an inland lake, complete with fountain, to greens that were heavily indented with pitch marks at my time of playing. Played across lower ground where the course architecture is far from my own personal tastes, the holes are at least well bunkered, a theme that continues across the rest of the course.
Following this, the layout starts to take up some of the more prime land with the 5th hole being the first that’s played alongside the loch, but it’s not until the 8th hole, as you edge away from the loch and move towards higher ground, that the genuine reason to come and play the Carrick becomes more apparent. This stretch from 8 through to 14 offer a real contrast to what came before. The 8th, probably the best bunkered hole on the course returns you towards those wonderful rolling hills that frame much of the course. A draw off the tee is the play here or you’ll no doubt have to play from the sand for your next shot. A short walk then takes you to the uphill 9th. This and the wonderful 10th are the holes that really stole the show for me. The views from the 10th green are magnificent and must be amongst the best in Scotland. Be sure to also stop by the half-way house, created from a boat sunken into the ground next to the 10th tee. This boat used to belong to the Cameron House Hotel for day trips around Loch Lomond and they retired it to this fine spot.
Whilst 9 and 10 are pure theatre, I don’t have quite the same love for 11 and 12 which are a little bland in comparison, but the 13th right to left dogleg par 4 with a green nestled amongst the firs is a beautiful hole. Following this comes the signature hole, a par 3 with a dramatic drop towards Loch Lomond. Signature hole it may be, but I don’t feel that the angle of this hole, playing towards the trees rather than the water, makes the most of its surroundings. The 15th, the second par 5 to take you right along the loch-side is a lovely hole, but again, there seems to have been an opportunity missed by not adding an infinity green over the loch. The remaining few holes return back to the less interesting lakeside land as you head back to the clubhouse and the Florida-esque lake holes.
One aspect I must point out after playing the course is that this place is far from easy. My scorecard showed that I was well above handicap and I usually pride myself in scoring pretty well when playing courses away from my own. Play off the whites, or further back even, and your game will be severely tested. In summary, this is a course that’s made up of three parts; the unremarkable inland lake holes, the handful of holes by the loch side and the finer section that climbs across the higher ground all make for an interesting and varied day’s play. The course conditioning is never going to be up to the level of a top private members’ club, but it’s well worth playing if you’re in this neck of the woods for those holes that are routed away from the clubhouse.
The Carrick’s come in for some recent criticism regarding underfoot conditions on the course and there’s no doubt that the club still has some way to go before it resolves all outstanding drainage issues. Sorting out the soggy fairways will take some time but the damp conditions certainly didn’t appear to deter the large numbers from playing here when I revisited the Carrick a couple of days ago.
Perhaps the members are prepared to put up with less than perfect tee to green conditioning when they know they are putting on eighteen fantastic USGA-standard greens (that were in absolutely tip-top shape when I played) or maybe they´re just willing to give the maintenance team the chance to implement a raft of improvement proposals?
I was also very pleased to see that all bunkers on the course have undergone an extensive makeover, with aesthetically pleasing grass banks now covering the ugly old faces of the old sand traps. It’s obvious that a lot of recent work has gone in to upgrade the infrastructure at the Carrick but the course is still very much a work in progress.
Having opened only a few years ago in a blaze of local golfing publicity, it’s now settling into the harsh reality of normal operations and it’ll take a little more time and effort to get things right, especially on a site that seems to endure more than its fair share of inclement weather. Once current course improvement programs are completed, there’s a fair chance the Carrick will be able to fulfil its true potential.
We have invested a huge amount of resources, effort and experience into the fine turf surfaces during this spring/summer, and whilst it was frustrating during the cold spring start, we are now starting to witness the fruits of our labour. With an early focus and completion of the on course projects and the completion of the bunker re-furbishment, our time has very much been spent on improving Greens, Tee’s & fairways, both quality and presentation – all of which has come to life in the last six weeks.
At five years old, The Carrick is still young (in golf course terms), and with the historical drainage issues, the golf course has struggled to produce good surfaces during prolonged poor weather. The recent drainage improvements you comment on are dealing magnificently with the west coast weather, and whilst we still have much to do, the golf course has a much improved ability to deal with heavy rainfall, no better witnessed than after this last weekend’s deluge. As suggested, we are planning on installing more drainage to the golf course. Whilst the recent drainage improvements were quite aggressive, the new drainage improvements will be much less so; these introduced into semi-roughs and in place to cut water run off at the source. As witnessed on many high profile TV tournament golf courses, we may never be able to deal with torrential heavy rainfall, but we can improve the golf course’s ability to recover quickly – it is this recovery we are committed to improving.
I am personally delighted with the way The Carrick Golf Course and the team at the Carrick have responded during the past four months, and we very much look forward to delivering on our commitments; that of delivering the best possible experience for our members and visitors, and of course producing another outstanding golf course in this wonderful part of the world (with spectacular views). Recent positive feedback from our members, golf societies and of course your kind words are always welcome, and I would like to thank you for endorsing my own thoughts in that, we are very much on the right path – Thank you. Kind Regards Jim Brown Golf Course Manager The Carrick on Loch Lomond