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Review of the Month - October 2022

29 November, 2022
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Ryan Book

The purpose of the Review of The Month feature is twofold. Top100GolfCourses has always aimed to salute and encourage those who are putting admirable effort into reviewing the world’s great golf courses. Moving forward, we are also looking to learn from these experts! We’ll be chatting with the month’s star authors and discussing topics such as golf in their area, what they like to see in a strong course review, and of course dig a little deeper into their own winning review.

October 2022’s Review of The Month comes from Robert Blair, who had to tear his eye away from the scenery to focus on the golf course at the Ardfin Estate!

You mention that those who try to separate the quality of the hole from the landscape it sits on is "to miss the point." Could a glorious landscape like Ardfin provide a world-class experience without a world-class designer?

To explain my point in the review a little further, I was not suggesting the quality of the course planning was not great, or that the views could overshadow the golf course. I, as I’m sure many others, have played a new course where people have almost critiqued the course setup as you go round. I think that the combination of an absolutely fantastic course and setting should just be enjoyed to the fullest in the moment. Whether it’s course design, dramatic scenery or quality of presentation you most appreciate, this place has it in spades. It is surely a place to just appreciate that you are in a special place and enjoy the day.

To the question, I think a piece of land as dramatic as that could always produce a place you’d enjoy to go and play golf. However, to create a course that flows so naturally and effortlessly around the cliffs and raised land is a fantastic achievement. I always enjoy a course that has a good variety of shots asked of you along with a risk/reward approach. There is a wonderful combination of tight iron tee shots along with some where a driver is encouraged with width, small dangerous approaches and some open bigger greens where you can funnel the ball in off slopes. You can have magnificent courses without dramatic or even beautiful scenery, however when the two are combined it makes an amazing experience.

As a follow up to the above idea, is it possible — in your opinion — for architects to overthink a job on such property?

Now I am far from knowledgeable about the problems and issues that course architects have to encounter. I generally judge the courses I play on whether I think they are interesting and enjoyable. I guess that the architects really need to have a theme of how they’d like the course to play — is it a tough driving course, or is positioning off the tee key to get good approaches into flags? Does it give you lots of options or ask for particular shots? There have been one or two courses I’ve played from more recent designs that I’ve felt were a bit more style over substance. One looked amazing, but I could not think of how to plot my way around the course without having a 300-yard carry. It seemed to be just a punishing course that gave little option on how to play it without serious length. I was not playing anywhere near the back tees, just for info. I’ve found the very recent designs, in Scotland anyway, of trending more into an enjoyable, playable style of course. One where it can be hard to birdie, but is more playable and doesn’t punish you for every slight error.

It seems every visitor to Ardfin recommends bringing plentiful balls! Have you played any other great courses where the struggle to stay in play hasn't dampened the experience?

I think that everybody is well warned before they go out that they should probably say their last goodbyes to at least a few balls from the staff. Given the low numbers of people playing, the rough can be quite penal. I did think that the course was not overly penal, however we played with some extreme winds that made every shot a risk. I think some of the carries and clifftop shots are similar to the questions posed by the water at Pebble Beach. Perhaps Wolf Creek evoked the same feeling of excitement if you could pull off the remarkable shot, rather than worry if you could put a round together, despite being extremely different courses.

If you've been fortunate enough to play renowned links courses of old, does Ardfin separate itself as a modern take? Or does its character feel familiar to its linksland ancestors?

I think the older links really maximised the design on the land that was available for them. The quality of the land was directly related to the quality of the course produced. The natural feel can sometimes be lost in modern courses that have moved lots of land to create a dramatic landscape. Ardfin does feel quite natural and rugged to me, and is certainly positioned over a quite amazing piece of land. So in that sense, I think I can see the links to the past.However, while having a natural feel, it is probably too spectacular a layout to have the characteristics of really old courses.

Now that you're a celebrated "Review of The Month" winner, let us know what factors you appreciate in a strong golf course review!

I prefer a review that captures the feel and essence of a course, rather than just explaining each hole or how they were played. Explaining the style of the course or perhaps what shots/skills are needed, along with perhaps highlighting the big shots, and holes to look out for. That gets me more interested in a course over the basic layout.

What's one course that you'd love to write a review for in the near future?

I think like most people who go on the Top 100 site, you end up with quite an extensive list of courses you’d love to play. However, quite a lot seem unachievable. Cypress Point would be my dream round. Unless my friends suddenly get some very influential connections, it seems unlikely. I will be going to Florida next month, so I will be happy to review Streamsong and Sawgrass shortly.

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