Almost exactly ten years to the day, I returned to play Duff House Royal last week. My last review mentioned “any half decent golfer should surely be capable of playing off a single figure handicap here” but that wasn’t implying it was an easy course (the SSS is actually a stoke higher than par from the white tees), it was trying in a rather heavy handed way to say the fabulous conditioning should allow good players to score well.
There’s no doubt it’s one of the best looking courses in Scottish golf – some might describe it as the Augusta of the North – with hardly a blade of grass out of place from tee to fairway to green on every hole. The greens are beautifully contoured and well-protected by immaculately-maintained bunkers but what I liked most was that just about every putting surface (the exception being the par three 16th) allowed a running approach shot to be played.
The front nine plays three hundred yards shorter than the tougher back nine and it’s on the outward half that you need to make your score when playing a medal round. I thought both the par threes going out from the clubhouse were exceptional, especially the second one at the 171-yard 9th, where the offset green falls away at the back into a little trough. The double greens at the 1st and 6th were also a delight, each of them laid out at a different elevation to their twin.
There’s a change of pace on the inward half, where two of the three par threes are longer than 200 yards and three of the five par fours measure well in excess of 400 yards. The 235-yard 16th might appear benign on the scorecard with a stroke index of 14 but I suspect this beast of a “short” hole has ruined many a score in the past, defended by three enormous bunkers to the front left of the green and the river to the right of the hole.
Gordon Leslie and his team of greenkeepers (he must have dozens looking after this place) deserve real credit for maintaining one of the very few Alister MacKenzie designs that exist north of the border. Quite how this course managed to drop out of the Scottish Top 100 chart for a while prior to its reappearance last year is something of a mystery to me. Maybe all it needs is a few more reviews from appreciative visitors to raise the course profile to the level it deserves.
Date: August 21, 2018