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3 miles NW of Dundee
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On the outskirts of Dundee, lies Downfield Golf Club, a lovely parkland course little known outside Scotland. Paul Lawrie came through Open Qualifying here in 1999 and went on to win the Open at Carnoustie. Downfield also hosted the inaugural 1972 Scottish Open (sponsored by Sunbeam Electric), when England's Neil Coles won after a play-off with Wales’s Brian Huggett. Undoubtedly, Downfield is a gem and one of the most beautiful inland courses in Scotland, with more than 100 species of trees lining the manicured fairways.
A modest nine-hole course was laid out at Downfield at the turn of the century but the land was returned to agriculture during the First World War. The club was reformed in 1932 and the great James Braid laid out a new course. Houses now occupy most of the 1930s layout – only five original holes are incorporated into the course we play today, which was laid out by a Downfield Golf Club member with advice and guidance from C.K.Cotton.
Downfield represents a differing challenge, depending on which tees are used. From the back tees, the course measures more than 6,800 yards against a par of 73, but from the regular men’s tees, three par fives become testing, long par fours. There are six par fives for the ladies, against a par of 75. Water, in the shape of ditches and ponds, come into play on seven holes, adding to the obvious main hazard – the trees. The 11th though to the 13th are probably the best collection of holes. 11th and 13th are both tough par fours from the regular tees and the 12th is one of Gary Player’s favourite par threes, called “Davy Jones’s Locker”.
The 61st edition of the British PGA Matchplay was held here in 1974 then three years later the club hosted the Boys Amateur championship. More recently, the female golf teams from England won both the Women’s and Girls’ Home Internationals when the matches were staged at Downfield in 2019.
There are a lot of trees at Downfield - beautiful trees admittedly (it’s a bit like playing in an arboretum) - but, for me, there are too many holes that feel similar and not enough stand-out moments. That said, it’s a very strong course - you can see why it’s been used for professional and top amateur events over the years - and it’s certainly worth playing, but in such a strong area for golf, there are lots of other options that I’d put higher.
One real oddity that’s been mentioned before is the ordering of the nines. There must be a reason why it’s the 9th rather than the 18th that finishes right in front of the clubhouse, but I can’t think what it is. It also means that the finishing four holes comprise the three shortest par 4s and the shortest par 3, and that the first six par 4s you play are all between 407 and 434 yards. Very odd.
Hard when playing Downfield to believe that you are but a few miles from Carnoustie and the sea.
Tremendous tree lined track with plenty of ball losing opportunities for golfers like me !
Sometimes however, I feel a tug of the old heartstrings that encourage me to return to my golfing genesis. That journey took me on the road and the miles to Dundee, to play Downfield. I have been aware of Downfield for decades as I can remember Peter Alliss hosting a programme from there in the 1970’s so it has always been on my playlist. First impressions of the place were extremely favourable with the Pro offering to put back our tee time to allow us a bit of respite from our 2 hour drive from Glasgow. Such was our eagerness to play the course however, we decided to press on.
The first thing that struck me about the place was the proliferation of trees, more than Percy Thrower could shake a stick at, an arborists dream, all colours, shapes and sizes beautifully sited to assist in the shaping and framing of holes, just wonderful. One disappointment was that the 4th and 5th holes were still on winter greens with the 4th, in particular a fantastic hole, c’est la vie. This was more than made up for by the quality of the rest of the course with the 13th and 15th the only holes that I didn’t really enjoy. The rest I found good or very good (2,7,8,14 and 16) but my 2 favourite holes were the celebrated 11th, Paddler’s Joy a 434 yards dogleg from the regulars with a double greenside water hazard and the 12th, an aesthetically pleasing short par 3, together giving Downfield a mini Amen Corner if you like. So in the end I didn’t really miss the links land too much as Downfield was worth every minute of the 4 hour round trip for 3 guys who simply revelled in going back to their roots. MPPJ.