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.
The round here gets off to a great start with one of the best holes on the course, a slightly uphill, left dogged hole (one of only two par fives on the card) that plays to a raised green protected by several trademark Dave Thomas bunkers to the front. It’s quickly followed by probably the best of the four short holes, a 212-yard par three that offers a bail out to the right for errant tee shots. So far, so very good.
The transition 3rd hole that then takes the routing from the higher ground beside the bridge down the hill towards the river didn’t quite work for me (a left dog leg where the approach shot plunges over 100 feet to a green perched on the hillside above the water) and it was followed by three ho-hum holes that follow each other along the river bank.
Just when it looked as if things might be taking a turn for the worse, a trio of three great par fours revive the front nine, each of them using trees to a greater or lesser extent on the fairway (especially at “Bobbing John” the 411-yard 7th) to direct the shot from the tee.
The back nine begins with a simple par three and ends with a cracking, uphill par four that has yet another tree at the bend in the dog leg to force the drive further left. Between these two holes, the pick of the rest was the downhill 14th (played next to the adjacent Erskine Golf Club) and -- one of my favourites on the course -- the 16th (“Mary’s Keep”) where the tee shot must avoid yet more sand on the left of the landing area before an approach is made to a long, shallow green.
In summary, the USGA standard greens were not quite up to speed when I played but that isn’t an issue with a brand new course. They were large, sensibly undulated (unlike a few new Scottish tracks that I’ve played recently) and very true so I imagine they will be absolutely great to putt on when fully operational. I was surprised by how severe the rough was in places for a resort course but again, that will sort itself out as the place matures.
Mar Hall is entering the market at a very tough time for golf clubs in general (and especially for those targeting corporate golfers in particular) so the owners are to be applauded for the wide range of packages -- including twilight golf offers -- on offer to entice Glasgow golfers to check out the latest golf facility in the area. Those that take the plunge with their hard earned cash may well find themselves pleasantly surprised.