Established in 1922, Falkirk Golf Club (known locally as Carmuirs) invited James Braid to survey the club’s 18-hole layout just five years after its inauguration. According to the book James Braid and his Four Hundred Golf Courses by John F. Moreton & Iain Cumming, Braid “was not radical, suggesting alterations to some tees and greens, but providing a full bunkering scheme. All his recommendations were implemented”.
The authors continue: “Since then, two new holes, 3rd and 9th, arrived in 1951, a new 10th in 1957, the 11th and 14th in 1965, and the 6th, 7th and 8th in 1981, all replacing holes Braid would have seen, the land remaining the same”. The last three holes were all probably brought into play due to the acquisition of land close to the railway line on the west side of the property so it’s now quite a different course from the one that was in play back in the 1920s.
Nowadays, the layout measures a healthy 6,230 yards from the back markers on a 116-acre undulating site, with testing opening and closing par fives. “The Spire,” the 493-yard 1st and “Hame,” the 500-yard 18th are both tight, tree-lined holes that demand full concentration right at the start and the very end of the round - woe betide golfers who’re not fully focused as there’s the potential for a scoring disaster on either hole.
The five par threes on the course are all good one-shot holes but the 205-yard 13th (“Shelter Hall”) is by far the most difficult. It’s not often you’ll find a one-shot hole with a stroke index of 1 but that’s exactly the case here. Played semi-blind uphill into the prevailing wind, with out of bounds on the left, trees on the right and a protective bunker fronting the right hand side of the green, it’s a beast of a hole!
Since the introduction of the iconic Falkirk Wheel in 2002, the 367-yard 10th, “Canal Wheel,” has become the signature hole at Carmuirs. Golfers tee off across a gully towards the huge rotating boat lift that connects the Forth & Clyde Canal with the Union Canal a mile away and this dramatic landmark forms a terrific backdrop to the hole.
Almost exactly ten years after I last played at Carmuirs, I returned for another game last weekend. With Falkirk recently making it into the Central region ranking chart, I thought the course was worth another look and it certainly was, pleasantly surprising me when I discovered just how good a layout it is.
Many thousands of trees were planted around the course a decade ago and these are maturing very nicely, giving a nice feeling of seclusion to many of the holes. There’s also a little more land movement than I’d remembered on the property and that too was a welcome revelation. At least half a dozen fairways have ditches running across them at some point and that can be an obvious irritation but, if the point is to drain water away then they’re doing a fine job, and you would never know there had been severe rainfall in the area the day before.
There’s a nod towards old-fashioned architecture with fairways at holes 8 and 9 crossing over and there are a number of really interesting greens, like the two-tier putting surfaces at the 2nd and 14th.
Best holes for me were a couple of short par fours: the 9th, where the green is beautifully framed by trees and tilts markedly from back to front, and the 14th, where a small copse of trees partially blocks the way to the green just short and left of the hole.
A slight disappointment was that only two of the five par threes, at the 5th and 16th, are really interesting short holes and I cannot understand why the long 13th attracts a stoke index of 1, even if it is semi-blind and uphill. Nonetheless, Falkirk’s a really decent track and I’m glad I returned for a game here. I just hope it’s not another ten years before I’m back.