The Earl of Mar Estate lies within a 240-acre wooded property on the south bank of the River Clyde, to the west of Glasgow. The centrepiece of the estate is a substantial building that was formerly named Erskine House (designed for the Blantyre family by Sir Robert Smirke, the architect of the British Museum) and it was constructed between 1828 and 1845.
The magnificent old baronial mansion was completely refurbished and it reopened in 2006 after a multi million pound refit as the 5-star Mar Hall Golf and Spa Resort, its new name recalling the former ownership of the estate by the Earl of Mar, holder of one of the oldest peerage titles in Europe.
Dave Thomas designed the estate’s new golf course – adding another 18-hole layout to a bourgeoning Scottish course portfolio that now includes The Roxburghe and Cardrona in the Borders, Newmachar and Spey Valley to the north – and play got under way here at Mar Hall in the summer of 2010.
As you might expect at a resort location, the emphasis is on playability, with generously proportioned fairways and large, gently contoured greens throughout. With an overall length of no more than 6,507 yards from the back tees, the Earl of Mar golf course appeals to the strategically minded golfer through the clever integration of mature trees in the design.
Laid out in the shadow of the Erskine bridge, the fairways are parkland in nature, configured as two loops of nine holes, each of which return to the front of a proposed new clubhouse that will sit above the fairways, between the River Clyde and Mar Hall, facing across to Bowling and the Kilpatrick Hills beyond.
Initial memberships are targeted toward the corporate sector but attractive stay and play packages are available, along with daily green fee rates for individuals or small groups of golfers.
Earl of Mar starts with a good par 5 where the drive has to be threaded through a tight line of trees to where the fairway opens up from where you can see the slightly elevated and will protected green. The second is a great par 3 and typifies the strength of all the short holes. From the back tees a number, including the 2nd, are around 200 yards and demand accuracy with a combination of well protected bunkering and some with good undulations (the shorter tenth an example).
The third and fourth are both par 4's and complete a very strong start to the course. The third hole is all about the positioning of the drive where if you can catch the slope you are leaving yourself a short pitch to the green. The fourth is the first of the holes beside the river and it tees off under the Erskine Bridge. This is a challenging par 4 and is both long and well guarded by bunkers and a small lake that runs the length of the left side of the fairway. Strategic placement of mature trees dictate the playing of holes 7, 8 and 9 as you return to the start before the second nine loop.
We actually enjoyed the back nine more than the first and it was principally defined by a series of excellent par 4's of greater length than 400 yards. The 11th, 12th, 16th and 18th are all strong examples, but as you move back towards the water you play the delightful 14th, a shorter par 4 played from a slightly elevated tee which invites a strong drive to a wide fairway from where the green opens up. Respite comes at the par 5, 15th when the long hitters can reach the green in two, but the final 3 holes offer a tough finish.
The Earl of Mar represents a good test of golf, it has enough here to keep all standards of golfers interested and so it is a course that offers more than just being a resort venue. The course is though relatively young at around 4 years old so it needs time to mature. In addition investment in the course keeping pace with playing volumes is important if it is to have designs on hosting professional tournaments going forward. Mar Hall is overall in a great location given its proximity to Glasgow and as well as the golf it offers itself as a gateway to Loch Lomond area and the Trossachs National Park. Ian Henley
Then we get to the course itself where I am afraid that abject disappointment settles in with almost immediate effect. The condition of the 1st fairway is nothing short of embarrassing. There appears to be a significant amount of drainage works recently undertaken and perhaps the poorly kept ground in this area was a consequence of these works. Either way, considering the green fees, it is not good enough. A nicely designed hole spoiled. Moving to the 2nd, I would agree with the previous review that this is the best of the par 3’s. However, this isn’t much of a compliment as collectively they can be considered uninspiring and bland. A missed opportunity and major disappointment. The short 10th being the biggest of all. I thought the 3rd hole was the most exciting Tee shot on offer. A dog leg to the left falling towards the River with the Erskine Bride looming in the background. The optimum Tee shot demands a draw between two large trees about 150 yards away. If pulled of successfully you can expect a short downhill pitch but be careful not to overshoot the green or there is plenty of trouble to be found. I’m afraid that after this hole there is nothing memorable until the 11th. A classy par 4 considered the hardest on the course where accuracy is at a premium. That is it. Four memorable holes for the best part of £100. I’m left focusing on the negatives of which there are plenty.
The course is as rough as Tarzans feet in places. I’m presuming that this is down to teething problems and will be ironed out in time. Still.... There isn’t a bin or ball cleaner to be found on the back nine. The greens are covered in Debris in July. The course is noisy due to the wedding celebrations and calia in the background. Although the greens are immaculate they are soft and spongy and run slow. Although I want to be, I am not at all impressed with the course at all. The reality is that there is a heavy concentration of decent inland courses within a ten mile radius (Hilton Park, Windyhill, Renfrew and Ralston) of Mar Hall that offer a better days golfing and a more reasonable price. Mar Hall’s major problem is that there is nothing on offer (with the current package) to encourage repeat business and I genuinely fear for its longevity.