Dumfries and Galloway is often called “Scotland in miniature” and it’s a beautiful, quiet and unspoilt area. At the end of the Solway Firth lies Powfoot Golf Club and it's one of the region’s best but least well-known courses.
Powfoot Golf Club was founded in 1903 and Sandy Herd laid out the course, which was modified by James Braid in 1923. The majority of the layout weaves its way beside the Solway Firth and across undulating links land with the last four holes taking on a more park-like appearance. Swathes of whin provide a brilliance of seasonal colour and far-flung views across the Firth to the mountains of the Lakes complete the spectacle.
Measuring a mere 6,255 yards from the back tees, Powfoot is not a championship layout, but with five holes measuring more than 400 yards and only one par five from the yellow tees, Powfoot will test golfers of all levels. Braid has cleverly routed the holes such that the task at hand is clear on this compact layout. You’ll also require your full repertoire of shots to score well, especially when the prevailing westerly winds whip across the course.
There are some capital holes, especially the long par four 3rd, called “Shore” which unsurprisingly hugs the shoreline. The 9th is also a challenging par four which requires a long carry from the tee and your approach shot must then clear a bomb crater which is situated some 100 yards from the tricky, undulating putting surface.
If you are planning a trip to this delightful part of Scotland, you’ll no doubt have Southerness high on your “must-play” itinerary, but don’t overlook Powfoot; it’s one of Scotland’s real gems.
On my trip to Dumfries & Galloway, I played the top four ranked courses in the region (1 – Southerness, 2 – Stranraer, 3 – Powfoot, 4 – Portpatrick Dunskey) and found the rankings (as per Top 100) to be fair enough. For fun factor, variety, setting, condition, weather, warmth of welcome and a bit of guidance from members on the way around, Powfoot made for one the best days of golf I had on my travels. Perhaps the weather and who you might encounter on a visit are things that should not be included in a golf course rating, however, these are nonetheless important considerations in what forms the golf tourist’s experience and memory. I timed it well for Powfoot, as it was a lovely indian summer’s day albeit with a stiff enough breeze as you would expect. Luck of the draw – on the previous day I had found Southerness in the worst weather of my entire trip (I would like to go back there in better conditions).
When I arrived at Powfoot I was granted a tour of the clubhouse by the starter and made feel very welcome. Then, as play slowed up ahead of me on the 3rd tee, members Stephen and Mark, one club champion, one most improved golfer of the year, joined up with me for the rest of the round, something I had hoped might happen at other courses I visited and didn’t really materialise apart from at Troon. At Irvine and Stranraer in particular, I felt like a solo golfing tourist nuisance that nobody wanted to know and I was glad when I had finished my rounds. At Powfoot I could have stayed all day.
It is very sensibly routed with several holes reverting to the general area of the clubhouse making for easy short practice sessions – the 1st, 9th, 11th, 14th and 17th tees all are just a short stroll away from the clubhouse. Apart from the odd hole here and there, it is generally quite a flat and is a relatively easy walk.
The 1st tee shot is a nervy one as there are bunkers, deep rough and gorse to the left and OB to the right. The first of the two par fives comes early and the 2nd is a beauty, just 495 yards played towards the sea, it’s an undulating hole with a wide fairway but OB to right and a nice inviting run over a rise and down to the green. The 3rd and the 4th are the two holes played closest to the sea. The par four 3rd is stroke index 1 and rightly so, at 445 yards with OB right and gorse to the left, complicated further by a hollow around the landing area for the tee shot and dangerous pot bunkering at what is a tricky undulating putting surface. I loved the 4th, a slightly downhill short par four, almost driveable on the day, with a gaping bunker at 300 yards from the tee, its lip 25 yards from the front of the green. The hole is also positioned in probably the nicest little corner of the course near the sea.
The magnificent 7th, the first of the par threes, is one my favourite holes in the entire region. It is 155 yards at most with the green guarded by no less than eight bunkers on all sides and no easy up and down no matter where you miss the green.
Having been taken along the perimeter of the course for the first 5/6 holes, 7, 8, 11, 12 and 13 are all routed through narrow and undulating vales in the gorse-lined middle section of the course. Whilst the 9th hole is renowned for, and named after, a crater on the right side of the fairway, I actually found it more memorable for the wild green complex, a fantastic sweeping undulation at the front of the green that would almost make me want to miss the green with my approach in order to play a chip shot using the contours. Surely it must be one of the best Braid designed greens anywhere.
The 11th is another one my favourites in the region. Framed by high gorse infested ground on both sides, this undulating 315 yard par four is the hole on which I felt most separated from the rest of the course and was also no pushover into the wind despite its yardage. The tee shot favours the left side of the fairway to open up the angled green partially hidden behind the bushes and set in a lovely quiet corner. The 500 yard 14th is the second of the par fives and is a very reachable hole if downwind. Notwithstanding the stroke index of 6, there is not much to defend the first two shots as it routes back out into the more open part of the land, therefore I think this should be looked upon as a birdie chance. You must take advantage of the two par fives at Powfoot.
Some say that the course changes character from the 15th tee to the 17th green, the suggestion being that it becomes parkland in nature, but I would not go that far. It doesn’t really change character that much, you are just a little bit further away from the sea and closer to some big trees. The 15th is the last of the par threes and plays long and difficult, over a valley and back up to what is another Braid special green complex with dramatic undulation. The 16th, a brutal long par four, demands a fairway stripe off the tee, otherwise you will struggle to make the green in two. It’s a double dip undulation hole and the subject of green complexes continues here with the 16th almost as funky as the 9th, a massive back-stop / ridge across the rear.
If you have a good score going the 18th is a test of nerve, both the tee shot and approach are narrow due to the trees and bushes on the flanks and there are trees / O.B. to negotiate for the uphill second shot to a false fronted green. It’s 405 yards on the card but is often into wind and demands two solid strikes.
For the variety of holes, ranging from narrow gorse lined to more open, from seaside to inland, birdie opportunities to difficult tests, along with its memorable green complexes and a nice clubhouse with a friendly welcome, Powfoot is very much worth the visit for golfers of all standards.
Pick of the holes: Par 3 – 7th, Par 4s – 4th, 11th, Par 5 – 2nd.
Powfoot is a no-nonsense golf course close to the Solway Firth just over the English-Scottish Border in Dumfries & Galloway.
This semi-links has some fine features, a handful or daring green complexes and I suspect offers good playing conditions for the majority of the year although the putting surfaces, in stark contrast to the firm fairways, were surprisingly spongy on my visit in late-October.
Gorse is in abundance on most of the holes, especially on the western side of the layout and this is its main defence along with wind and a few wild putting surfaces.
Overall there is a consistent feel to the course; almost every par-four and par-five is arrow straight and accurate driving is required to stay away from the whins and patches of heather. I found myself poking a 2-iron down many of the holes as I feared my wayward driving would result in a lost ball.
One of the best holes on the front-nine is the sixth which actually dog-legs gently to the right and is the only hole where you are required to shape the ball from the tee for any noticeable benefit.
Other highlights of the round include the driveable fifth, the wonderfully shaped green at the ninth, and the excellent 11th – played through a secluded, gorse lined valley to a fantastically fluid green.
Indeed, the run of holes from the fifth to the 13th is when Powfoot is at its very best and coincides with where the terrain has the most movement on what is an otherwise flat layout. But there are other good moments too including drop-off greens at the 14th and 16th.
The start and end to the round are not quite as exciting as the middle part and this is where we find a number of more genteel, straight-away holes which do little to quicken the golfing pulse.
Personally, the course just doesn’t quite do enough of the good stuff, often enough to make this a must play course but it makes a convenient stop off for golfers heading from England to Ayrshire or anywhere in Scotland really if they are using the M6 and would make a decent trip starter. Alternatively, and like I did, if you are staying in the Lake District it is not too an inconvenient place to get to.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Four of us visited Powfoot last year and very much enjoyed the links golf there combined with a stay at the Powfoot Golf Hotel.
Hard to hit your handicap with quite a lot of out of bounds and gorse threatening wayward shots coupled with challenging tee shots.
It's an easy walking course and would go nicely as a relaxing counter point to the more challenging struggle that awaits at Southerness.
Powfoot has an excellent winter green fee offer that lasts for five months of the year – 22 quid for a round, seven days a week; now that sort of fantastic value is what drew me back to this little charmer on the north shore of the Solway Firth.
Although you never catch a course at its best at this time of year, there was still enough here to remind me why I took to this place eight years ago.
The par three 7th was still as tough to hit and hold (evidenced by my double bogey 5 from one of the many bunkers that ring the green) and the short par four 11th, with its intimidating blind drive over a wall of gorse, is still a tough hole on the weaker back nine.
The putting surface on this hole is one of several (like at holes 9 and 13) that are really undulating but many of the greens today had holes cut less than three paces from the front edge – now I’m all for taking good care of greens in the winter but some of today’s pin placements (especially the one that had to be less than three feet from the edge at the 16th) seemed overly protective to me.
Still, some might say you get what you pay for... Nonetheless, this was an enjoyable return to a smashing wee holiday golf course with a welcoming wee clubhouse and staff to match.
It was a real treat to return to Powfoot nearly three years after my last visit. There was not a breath of wind as we set out on our round but by the fourth hole it had started to blow quite stiffly from the Solway. The sun tried hard to break through the cloud and mist of an early Spring morning but the opposite shoreline of the Firth on the English side was only ever barely visible which was a real pity as the panorama is normally worth viewing.
The fairway rough was far from penal so early in the season but any advantage gained there was lost with the bumpy conditions of greens which were still fast, if not exactly true. The main feature that was far more prominent than I remembered from before was the height and depth of the yellow gorse – it really dominates the landscape on all the holes up to the 14th – though the severity of bunkers with steep front faces were another course hazard that I’d also forgotten about (to my cost on several occasions)!
There's a great run of holes from the third through to the eighth with my favourite being the well protected short par three 7th hole, entitled "Sand Hole" – aptly named as there must be seven or eight bunkers surrounding the putting surface.
Holes 10 through 14 is another fine sequence of holes which dip in and out of the gorse with doglegs, blind drives and elevated greens before the last four holes return you to the clubhouse. Once again, the feeling of fun, holiday golf dominates at Powfoot and you leave with a really nice feeling, regardless of performance.
I played in the Powfoot Open in June 2003 on a lovely day for playing golf. The clubhouse had a real 'holiday golf venue' feel to the place and was a very informal and friendly place. Talking to a few Open participants after my round, they return every year as they love the place and the people at Powfoot.
One word of warning, it took me ages to get to the clubhouse once I came off the main drag as the signposting was quite misleading (directing me to the Powfoot Golf Hotel as I remember, rather than Powfoot Golf Club).
The holes may not all be true links in terrain but the greens certainly are links quality – fast and firm. I never felt I was playing anything other than links golf; perhaps the huge amounts of gorse at many holes gives you a clue as to what type of course it really is!
Not quite in the same class as nearby Southerness maybe, but still a wee hidden gem nonetheless.