When Lochmaben Golf Club was established in 1926, the club committee had the good sense to call in a reputable architect and so James Braid was engaged to lay out a course for the members. Within a short space of time, Braid had pegged out nine fairways around one side of a small loch, and in no time at all, local golfers were indulging in their new sporting pursuit.
In the book James Braid and his Four Hundred Golf Courses by John F. Moreton & Iain Cumming, the authors comment on the modern day course in relation to the original layout: “In 1995 the course was extended to eighteen holes, so that Kirk Loch now has two-thirds of it surrounded by golf holes.”
The book continues: “Braid’s first three holes are now 4, 5 and 6; his 4, 5 and 6 are now 16, 17 and 18; his 7th the present 1st. His 8 and 9 are the lost holes. The new holes are, suitably, in character. The local paper purred at the formal opening in 1929, calling Braid ‘that prince of architects’ and commenting that the layout was typical of his cunning.”Nowadays, the course extends to slightly less than 6,000 yards from the back tees, with only two par fives on the card at the 11th and 15th. One of the newer holes, the 120-yard 8th, is now regarded as the signature hole, requiring the tee shot at this short par three to be played over a loch inlet towards a green benched into the hillside overlooking the water.
En route from Scotland’s South West ‘Golf Coast’ towards the Southerness / Powfoot area, I stopped off in Dumfries and signed up to an open competition at nearby Lochmaben to pass some time and try a parkland course for a change. I was pleasantly surprised with what I found to be a very friendly members’ club set in lush rolling green pastures. It's a picturesque par 70 with four par threes and two par fives (both on the back nine). The course has two sections routed on either side of the delightful Kirk Loch; holes 1-6 / 17-18 on the east side and holes 7-16 on the west side. There are quite a few par fours that should only require short-iron approaches, six in all under 350 yards, countered by at least three very tough par fours on the back nine.
Whilst the 1st hole is a benign 315 yard par four, any expectations of an easy start are sharply dashed by back-to-back par threes of around 190 yards, the 2nd in particular a very difficult uphill shot to a plateaued green with jungle to the left and the 3rd a similar length shot over a valley to large undulating green. The course then lets you get into your stride a little, the next three holes par fours before you cross the field to the west side of Kirk Loch, the 6th notable for its fairway cambering significantly left-to-right and a downhill run to a modest sized green making approach shot judgement very tricky.
The next three holes hug the lakeside and probably provide for the most attractive section of the course. The 7th is a superb little 290 yard dogleg right par four requiring positional play off the tee to enable attack with a wedge to an elevated green. The 8th is a classy lakeside par three, requiring a short-iron carry over Kirk Loch to an elevated green with a deepish bunker in front. The 9th is another ‘gettable’ par four just under 300 yards from an elevated tee.
The next few holes take you through a slightly a more wooded setting, before the final stretch begins with the superb par five 15th; at 480 yards it initially might seem to offer a birdie opportunity, yet when a 480 yard par five is SI #7 you should know that care is needed. For the last two holes you stroll back across the field to the west side of the lake, the 17th a tough par four, the 18th a little more accessible yet with big problems for going left.
Scotland has such a wealth of great golf, the golfing tourist can often overlook the regular members’ course when this type of course really should be included in every golf trip to get a feel for the game in the area.
I was a little surprised to see Lochmaben make it into the latest edition of the Dumfries & Galloway regional chart so I thought a little bit of quality control might be in order when paying a recent visit to this course. Having played in the morning at Kirkcudbright, an unranked contender that I really liked, I had high expectations of the golfing feel good factor continuing through to close of play for the day here – unfortunately, those hopes were not to be realised.
There’s nothing wrong in terms of its appearance, because it’s a very well-manicured layout - it’s just that I hadn’t expected Lochmaben to be such a modern track (and I know the second nine was only installed twenty years ago) with a slightly manufactured, even corporate, feel to it.
It starts off on the wrong foot, mind you, with two horrendous back-to-back short holes at the 2nd and 3rd, holes which are meant to link the old James Braid holes at the 1st and 4th. I’d love to know how many members mark a pair of threes on their cards here on a regular basis as the crowned greens on both long par threes are way too difficult to hit and hold, especially the two-tiered version at the uphill 2nd.
For me, the only hole of real interest on the front nine was the lovely 8th beside Kirk Loch; short; requiring an all-carry tee shot across water to a well bunkered green, it’s a bonny wee par three.
On the back nine, holes 10 to 14 form a rather uninspiring loop away from the loch (with a very awkward walk backwards and downhill from the 13th green to the 14th tee) though, on the positive side, work at the new offset 15th green and new raised tee boxes at the 16th looks like it will really improve both holes.
I was so disappointed to see old Braid fairway bunkers on holes 4, 6 and 17 grassed over and that act of golfing vandalism really summed this place up for me – soulless, without the slightest appreciation for its golfing heritage.
Sorry, I imagine that Lochmaben’s above average conditioning will override any architectural misgivings for many golfers but the course just didn’t cut it for me.