The Hawkshill course was the first of the two 18-hole layouts to open at Newmachar in the autumn of 1990. It’s a championship course that’s renowned as a tough track, capable of testing elite amateurs and professional players.
The Swailend debuted seven years after the Hawkshill was unveiled – designed by the same architect, Dave Thomas – with the intention of offering a shorter, less demanding round of golf for more recreational players.
Measuring 6,388 yards from the back tees and playing to a par of 72, the Swailend may be more forgiving that its older sibling but, with trademark Dave Thomas bunkers in position, its challenge should not be underestimated.
The Swailend course was one of five new entries in the newly extended North East of Scotland listings when they were announced at the end of last year. As I hadn’t seen the course when I last played the Hawkshill in August 2010, I made a point of revisiting Newmachar on my way through Aberdeen a couple of months ago to have a look at the Swailend.
Interestingly, I would never have known this was a Dave Thomas design! His distinctive bunker style is a dead giveaway anywhere you play (from Cardrona to The Roxburgh, Mar Hall or Spey Valley) but here there were none of his trademark grass “noses” incorporated into the design of the sand hazards, making them all the poorer for it.
The course occupies a tight parcel of around 85 acres to the north of the other course, with quite a number of fairways – particularly on the back nine – laid out in parallel, though in opposite directions, so the routing isn’t the best you’ll ever come across (but more than likely it’s the best it could ever be with the land available).
The highlight hole for me was the par five 8th, laid out on the flattest part of the course, doglegging gently right to what turns out to be a peninsula green as there’s a pond circling the putting surface on three sides. On the back nine, I liked the short, uphill par three 12th, which precedes the closing stretch of holes that run back and forth across the same big paddock.
It’s a well-constructed, modern layout that I’m sure the members love and it’s great to have such a quality of course on hand when the club is hosting a big tournament on the championship eighteen holes. Nevertheless, I find courses like the Swailend a bit soulless and bland so unless I was with a visiting society on an outing – playing 18 holes, having lunch, then playing the other 18 holes – then I’d choose to play the Hawkshill as a visitor every time, even though it would probably beat me up lot more than this course.