Raintree Golf Club, Akron, Ohio, USA

A huge imposing stars and stripes flag was wafting above the tree line, towering over and dominating the car park on arrival.

Guiding us through and into the clubhouse, which it has to be said did resemble a working mans cafe rather than a plush clubhouse, we were ushered into the pro-shop, to we had hoped, meet the manager.  Sadly it seemed the manager didn’t want to come out of her booth and greet us,  Although, through an internal window, she could see us, and we could see her.  She was alerted to our arrival via an internal call to which she responded by giving instructions to her colleague in the pro-shop.  The lady in the pro-shop was so friendly and helpful this bitter rebuff was lessened.

Raintree is a public course and looking at the course with the clubhouse behind us, it looked as good as any others with its clever usage of shade over the tee boxes from the overhanging tall trees, the striking green of the fairways and the complimentary planting.

With no ‘starter’ on the first, we were told to wander down and start playing.  As we were close to our tee-time this suited us anyway, so off we trot.

Once we were away from the clubhouse, the course took on a rather less appealing appearance.  The holes were invariably flat and uninspiring and as we’d caught up with the group in front of us we could see we were in for a long round.  It turned out, three groups in front of us were a four ball – three were walking and one was riding in a buggy – this group became the bane of the day with their extraordinary slow play which certainly lessened the enjoyment of our playing experience without compromising our course review.  

Bearing in mind there is a course for everyone and being more tolerant and charitable, it was a Friday afternoon and I’m sure being a public course, did get people finishing work early to go and play golf.  That said a course marshal would have made ours, and the groups around us who were also held up, better about being there.

So whinging done, what was the course really like?  

The greens were large and in amazing condition but, it has to be said the front nine didn’t inspire us, the fairways were patchy and seemed like they had seen better days.  Or in contrast, the fairway grass was so long the ball didn’t roll and was thick enough to be problematic too.

Although the sun was shining and it was dry, it was a cooler day.  Maybe the chill was enhanced by the waiting on every shot?  The 5th was the first hole with a little more interest with its sweeping fairway around a small pond to a narrow entrance to the green.  The water was in play for a few of the holes with the 7th again allowing for play over or around the water to a fairly guarded green – with an out of bounds lurking.

Just as we were about to lose the will to live, we turned and took on the back nine, vowing if it was the same, we’d cut our losses and walk in.

Hole 10, a par 4, 250/355 yards was a dog leg left of almost 90 degrees.  I know some don’t like such doglegs as it can spoil the big hitters drives, but it was actually a nice change.  The driving range on the right with little or not protection from any wayward golf balls ended up on the 10th .  This made it quite the lottery to find your ball, if you’d played safe to the outside of the dog leg.

Glad to say things did improve on the back nine, in fact it was as it it was a different course.  But it seems that whilst you’re starting to win in one way, you get knocked down again in another – the highway was really noisy on the 13th – so much so, I had to shout for the microphone – ok I did exaggerate the shouting and caused lots of giggles, but it was a real shame that the constant drone spoilt such a great hole.  This par 4 of 321/461 yards had a ditch guarding its approach to make it a little more challenging.  

Certainly the back nine was shaping up to be the stronger nine with the 14th also a nice hole cut in and around the long grass right.  Sadly the heavy rain had made the surface on the left a bit like a watery blister as it rippled underneath your feet.  Some cart drivers not paying attention (or not caring?) had churned it up as they happily sped along, seemingly oblivious the damage they were causing.

On the reverse of the noisy highway and the bubbly fairways we saw deer, red and black squirrel and a chipmunk (we think!) enjoying themselves as they happily shared this green space with the golfers.

The 17th was also a good hole and as the end was in sight, our spirits were lifted knowing this arduous game was coming to an end.  And end on a high it did, with the 18th being probably one of the better holes on the course.

A slight dog leg right off the tee with water at the front and right of the green.  A small stream dissected the fairway along its length, careful navigation to make the green in regulation is needed.  The large shaded green was nestled in a sunken hollow.   Such a nice closing hole.

And what of the club manager when we’d finished our game? – oh well, she had gone home.

Of the ones we’d played, Raintree seemed to be the poor relation of the Penn Ohio Golf Trail, that said, a good selection of golf course is always great to encourage more participation and diversity across the board.

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The River Club, Johannesburg

Sometimes, just sometimes, you’re given the opportunity to play a course that sticks in your mind for months afterwards.

The River Club in Johannesburg is one such place.

It is an exclusive golf club that is revered within the local golfing community, so when we were given the opportunity to play it, we jumped at it.  

So well hidden is it, that our relatives who have lived in that area for many years, weren’t exactly sure where it’s entrance was.  Driving past one luxury house after another, it was hard to believe that this course could even exist and how it could be as good as they say when in the middle of, to put it bluntly, a housing estate.

Once inside the grounds, a bit like the tardis, the area opened up leaving the houses behind in favour of crisp sways of green thoughtfully edged with striking contrasting planting.

The clubhouse is decorated in neutral and earthy shades which was a great backdrop for the photos, certificates and tasteful artwork on display  The inside sung in harmony within its surroundings as the eye is drawn through the building to the expanse of manicured green beyond.

Harry was our caddy, he was a little quiet to start with but soon cracked a smile at our antics and occasional good golf.  The first hole with its wide fairway and lush green grass – the shade of green a child would have chosen when drawing their perfect house; four windows, a door in the middle and inviting green grass all around.

Getting to test the bunkers on hole one isn’t normal something you’d be happy to share, but as they were fluffed up and the ball was playable in the not too soft sand, it’s one I’m happy to talk about – in fact all the bunkers we visited were the same even good quality.

So why is the River Club still playing on my mind all these months later?  It isn’t an old established course; the type that usually gets me excited.  It was actually established in 1967 by designer Bob Grimsdell – this is not even a course designer I know much about.  Rob O’Friel came in 1998 to do some upgrades, again not a name I know a lot about.  But despite The River Club not rated in the Top 100 (through choice), it is rated as one of the best in South Africa, so why?

To me the main one being, it is playable.  Often courses are designed to be played from the tips, with little regard given to all the tee box positions, I’ve known some clubs simply plonk forward tees somewhere down the middle of the fairway.  The River Club doesn’t do that, it seems to cherish and embrace all golfers of all abilities, giving each tee position a chance at some good golf yet doesn’t punish you if it isn’t quite right on the day.  It has balanced the risk and reward evenly yet is not a walk in the park, although with the green expanses, flowers and local birds, in other ways it did seem like a walk in the park!

Tee boxes were even, I know that sounds silly, but I cannot tell you how many tee boxes I’ve stood on, more often from the forward tees, and they have been like mini mountain ranges as you try to find your footing!

Sure it is in a rich ‘tropical’ setting with the river running alongside some of the holes, but it is also in the middle of Johannesburg, which seems almost a contradiction to the club and course offerings.  That said Johannesburg has changed in the 30 odd years we’ve been visiting.  As with most places, there are taboo areas but these are fewer and further between – they even have an open top bus tour of downtown Jo’burg! 

Whilst taking in this super course and enjoying all it could throw at us, with some mixed responses! the half way house came far too quickly.  Although it was on the 12th hole and past half way, it seemed like the blink of the eye and we were sat there enjoying drinks and a snack in the invitingly sculptured shade with windows through the overhanging canopies of the trees to the course.

On hitting onto the fairways, the bounce was fair – it wasn’t so dried up that the ball bounced for miles, exaggerating any wayward shot and punishing you unnecessarily.  On the reverse the fairways didn’t plug either – stopping the ball from any forward roll or gain.


Despite its location, there was barely any road noise, and no houses, that I can remember, overlooking the golf course either – it was as if an invisible barrier had grown around The River Club, a barrier only a select few could penetrate, but once through.…

When the large greens give some bite on the approach shots, then roll perfectly, whilst offering enough break to make you think about it, you know the greenskeepers took pride in their work.

Greenskeepers were plentiful – all diligently working at different tasks from tending the flora on most tee-boxes, to grass cutting, to the caddies making sure the bunkers were returned to the fluffy surfaces once again.

On finishing your round, the 18th green sits just below the clubhouse.  The large terrace of the clubhouse is dotted with tables and chairs and of course spectators for your approach shot on this final hole.  

One side of the clubhouse was opened up to give the inside diners uninterrupted views of the course.  A small lake to the right of the  approach on the 18th green meant you could go over the lake, or play safe to the left.

The River Club gives choices.  I’m not talking about the amazing menu choices!  Choices whilst playing your game, choices that can give the rewards yet gently allow you to become too big for your boots.

In all, a class act, and one we’d like to repeat at some time and importantly, definitely one we’d recommend.

You can book your golf round directly through the River Club.

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Sarah Forrest

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Trumbull Country Club

There certainly was a rumble in Trumbull on the day we played with the grey skies threatening rain.

Trumbull Country Club is part of the Penn Ohio Golf Trail.  Driving down the long driveway, into a welcoming neighbourhood setting with the course on the right and residences on the left.

Further along the driveway and the mock Tudor style (in places) clubhouse sitting comfortably in it surroundings behind a good sized practice putting green.  The flag pole proudly flying the stars and stripes alongside the state flag.

It has to be said that the clubhouse doesn’t reveal all until you venture inside and realise that this place is not only comfortable and relaxing but a place for all – golfers and non golfers alike.  Families are encouraged to get involved and there is a nice, almost familiar atmosphere about the club.

After an incredibly hearty lunch and our first taste of the long discussed wedding soup*, we then had to try and play golf on a full stomach.  Not only that we had to race against the threatening rain looking menacing in the distance.

With the course undergoing new routing and a few more changes, you could go slightly awry due to the lack of signage. But a good course of action was to follow your nose, well, the cart path, so we did find our way around the course OK. This is only a temporary blip, awaiting new signage.

The first takes you away from the clubhouse on a friendly unassuming opening hole, which we both parred.  Now bearing in mind I was 0.5 and Steve 1.5, I knew today was an important match in the early days of our Penn Ohio series!

So off we trundle, or would that be Trumbull!   Keeping a watchful eye on the weather and playing the best we both could; whilst also assessing the course, taking photos and videos and enjoying this lovely established parkland (woodland in places) course.  

With roots dating back to 1915, Canadian course designer Stanley Thompson put his mark on this course alongside seven more courses in Ohio.  Not really a course designer I knew much about before this trip, it was great to see Thompson had adopted the traditional style of golf : playable if sensible!

Knowing sensible isn’t always my style of play, it remained to be seen what this game would bring, especially as the course was tight in places!  

Being a woodland  x parkland style course, playing off the 4th tee was like playing off bubble wrap, with its acorn potted tee box as you tried to get a good stance.  In many respects playing Trumbull Country Club was very similar to playing golf courses in the UK, and most probably why we endeared to it.

The 9th fairway dissects the entrance road in, but stood on the tee of the 9th, you don’t really get the feel the road is in the way or even in play.  A par 5 from the forward tees and a par 4 from the rest of the tee positions, there was plenty of space, so long as you were going forward and not sideways into the trees!  Crossing the road to the large receptive, but fairly flat green certainly showed the clubhouse in it’s full glory on the left.  All the greens were in great condition.

Maybe at this point we should have taken refuge, but looking down 10, it looked far too inviting.  A fairly straight par 4 with a little pond to the right of the tee, we decided to carry on, heading towards the darker skies, with our fingers crossed.

The 10th sits alongside the entrance road the course, as such the houses sat on the other side of the road and weren’t really in play.  Somehow we managed to put them (rather their gardens) in play as we found Steve’s golf ball in the front garden of one residence.  Gingerly walking across the open plan garden, we bought it back into play by placing it back on the fairway and carried on – quickly!

Got to say Steve wasn’t haven’t his best golfing moments on the back, and as we’d halved the front nine, I wasn’t going to make it worse by “helping”

Hole 12, a lovely par 3 over water at only 101 yards forwards tees and 130 for mid tees, water in front and the busy main road to the right, the rain started to become a little annoying.  On the green in one and two putts made me the winner of this hole.  With a blob and the rain pouring down now, the game was over in more than one way for Steve.

We did actually tee off 13, but the rain got the better of us as we scooped up the balls and made a beeline to the clubhouse, sodden.

We stopped after playing 12 with the promise to return if we could find a gap in our schedule for the remainder of our trip.


Sadly we didn’t get that opportunity, so the win was chalked up to me and the Penn Ohio match now again all-square at 1.5 to 1.5

In summary, I wished we had got the opportunity to return, as playing Trumbull Country Club wasn’t just about the nice course.  It was about the whole experience; from the friendly welcome in the pro-shop, to the great food and club atmosphere in the clubhouse. 

Sarah Forrest

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*Wedding Soup

Peculiar to Ohio and Pennsylvania, although it can be found in other places.

Wedding soup or Italian wedding soup is an Italian soup consisting of green vegetables and meat. It is popular in the United States, where it is a staple in many Italian restaurants

The name wedding comes from the Italian phrase minestra maritata which means ‘married soup. ‘ Why is it married? It’s the marriage of ingredients, and the resulting delicious flavour, in the soup! All wedding soups are going to have green vegetables and meat and as we discovered varies from one restaurant/household to the next!

Olde Stonewall Golf Club

Olde Stonewall, Penn Ohio Golf Trail, Pennsylvania.

Skipping over to the Ohio border into Pennsylvania to play Olde Stonewall, second in our Penn Ohio series and part of the Penn Ohio Golf Trail.

Met with an imposing castle like structure, stone built and very much in your face in a Disney esque way.  If you can divert your eyes away and towards the golf course, you’ll be immediately struck by the Clarice Cliff style hillocks as they duck and dive sweeping into each other into infinity.  With the odd golf flag showing its head flapping bravely in the wind commanding attention as if drowning in a sea of green, to be lost as the wind drops.


Dots of trees cling to the edge of the fairways, just starting to show the true colour of autumn.

The magical mystery tour of Olde Stonewall golf doesn’t stop there – the water comes into play from hole four – a shortish par 4 299/434 yards, SI (handicap) 4.  It’s dark reflective water mirroring the early autumnal scene.  The hole plays alongside the water on the right, then the green takes a little turn into the middle of the water forcing you to re-think your approach.  A green, albeit large, with water on three sides takes some nerve.

By the eighth hole the sun came out, underfoot started to dry out and the layers started to be peeled off.  The course took on a whole new look as the back nine beckoned.

First thing I noticed about the back nine – there were no par 5’s, doesn’t lead you into thinking about the course as having much imagination or options.  But you’d be wrong, in fact the back nine was more spectacular than the front, with its elevation changes, shots through trees and overall appearance of ‘come and get me’ holes. 

Long grass, akin to a links style framed the tee box of the ninth and by the eleventh, an elevated tee gently entices you to shoot for the perfect diamond cut fairways then taunting you as the ball rolled sharply left to right on the slope.  The green itself was large, as others had been, this one also had subtle breaks as it sloped back to front.

Then you climb higher up to the twelfth to a plateau shooting towards large green spaces of fairway interspersed with longer grass towards another large green.  On reaching thirteen, you’re taken in, Olde Stonewall has cast its magic spell with this elevated par 4, followed quickly in succession with the par 3 fourteenth.  Even from the elevated tee the green looks huge.  Back to back par 3’s the 15th is such a pretty golf hole – again that elevation, and again the feeling I can do this as I took my shot which bounced off the left edge of the green and into a deep bunker.  I played the middle position tees on this hole as they were just more interesting and challenging at 164 yards.  Not really appreciating how low this bunker was, my mind was focussed on getting on with it but I was stopped in my tracks as I approached the bunker as I saw a large rodent type animal.  This turned out to be a ground hog who proceeded to saunter out of the bunker at leisure and squat on my golf ball on route!  Not sure if it was trying to hatch it or mark it, but left me in fits of giggles as I got the ball out to a few feet of the pin for an easy par.

The sixteenth also bought pleasures of its own.  The  elevated tee not only gave you that sense of whack-ability but nudged you into taking stock and appreciating how pretty Pennsylvania is with this tee shot being through a gap in the canopy of the trees to a large sweeping fairway below.  

As you descend down towards the closing holes, it was good to look back and wonder what on earth happened up there as you marvel at the trees hugging the hillsides and the golf course plotting itself around them.

The only downside to Olde Stonewall was the lack of care and attention – the greenskeepers were plentiful, all were cutting the grass, but sadly the bunkers were left un-raked and the greens were rarely repaired.  Such a shame for such a great course, that said, we’d definitely go back – not least because Steve won and now took the lead following our first game half at Pine Lakes!  It’s still all to play for – I kept reminding myself with six more courses to play!

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Sarah Forrest

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Pine Lakes Golf Club – Ohio

Part of the Penn Ohio Golf Trail

Staying at Julias’s B&B couldn’t be better located when playing Pine Lakes golf course which is just a quick walk across the car park.

Not the most salubrious of club houses but the friendly welcome from members and staff alike gave us a warmth to our visit that no fancy clubhouse could buy.

Slightly wet underfoot, the rising sun soon burned off any residual ground dew and let the course wake up to be an inviting and beautiful course shown off with the late summer heat.  Watching the ground staff whipping the greens was quite mesmerising as they prepared for the early bird golfers.  The consistency of the greens was evident throughout, although they did roll faster than we were used to – or was it a rush of adrenaline as we soaked up the Ohio sunshine.

Hole 3, a downhill 100-153 yard SI7/9 reminded me of the movie ‘The Bridges of Madison County’, with its covered bridge over a small lake.  Whilst not a long hole, accuracy was needed to reach the good sized back to front sloping green.  A hole that has everything from a challenge to a unique view.  Gladly this bridge comes into view whilst playing hole 10 and 17, so a punchy start a punchy middle and a punchy end.  

Of course the down side to any water on the golf course is the visiting geese and the inevitable remnants they leave behind.  Treading carefully is a game all in itself and adds a whole new meaning to strategically plotting your way around!

Being in the US, one isn’t tied to playing a particular tee position, in fact I tend to look at the overall distance before deciding, at Pine Lakes I opted to play some forward tees and some the next step back, which meant I played between 4822 and 5525 yards.  The back tees measured 6612 yards with a couple of options between the forward and back tees.

There were some slight elevation changes on the course and some raised greens which all added to this lovely parkland course.  

Hole 8 being SI 1 of 282/398 yards is a fairly straight hole with a little fairway turn right towards the green.  With water on the inside of the turn and a two tier green to contend with, a good short game would be hugely beneficial.

Being slightly wet underfoot, the first cut was thick and required some commitment with your shot.

With the scrub snaking around the edges of the 10th fairway and the covered bridge coming back into view means I’d like to play this hole again – with the golfers immortal words of  ‘if only I’d known!” to enable me to play it better next time!!

Other notable interests are hole 13, a par 4 280/385 yards, SI6/8 with its strong parkland feel, elevated tees to a banked up green, or the the 14th with its irregular shaped enticing green.

The course appearance changes slightly as you leave the trees behind in favour of a more open approach on the 16th, water in play all along the right hand side – and plenty of those geese!  It almost seems our of character with the other more tree lined, established holes.  But turn away towards 17 and you’re back into the thick of it again and of course back to the romantic bridge as you approach the green.

Such a lovely unassuming parkland course welcomes the visitors playing the Penn Ohio golf trail or those who just happen to

When looking for golf to play  in Trumbull County, don’t forget to consider Pine Lakes

Sarah Forrest

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Peterhead Golf Club

Craigewan Links


As the golf course comes into sight so does it access.   Unusually over a footbridge traversing the River Ugie to a low built clubhouse beyond.  You could be forgiven to thinking that this is a new golf club, and you’d be right, in some ways, and completely wrong in others.

In fact Peterhead is the 18th oldest golf club and has a chequered history which includes land feuds, fire insurance claims (alleged), multiple re-built clubhouses and two new foot bridges all bringing the back story to life.   Erosion has played its part in shaping the current golf course too with the golf course being re-routed and the clubhouse being repositioned on more than one occasion.

An historic piece of land with multiple uses, including cattle and sheep grazing and some less obvious such as artillery range with the latter being the reason for a new hole being built to ‘avoid inconvenience and danger when volunteers were shooting targets’  – there is no mention as to what the targets were!

Some traditions have remained such as the annual presentation of the Gold Medal which dates back to 1841 and is inscribed as having been presented by the ladies of Peterhead.  The clubs history has also shaped its membership numbers which resembles a heart beat monitor of peaks and troughs.  It is noted that the course condition seems to follow the trend of the membership – which makes perfect sense as money is either tight or in full flow.

Peterhead was one of those courses that was enjoyable to play, not as sharp in places than neighbouring courses but when you understand its history, somehow the experience becomes more enjoyable.

Not quite as isolated as the lone footbridge would lead you to believe, there was a faint hum of traffic being present for the first few holes.

The welcome breeze as you climb the second, a par 3, to a recently top dressed putting surface.  The breeze was welcome on that hot sunny day, possibly not so welcome on a winters day when shelter would be sought for a different reason.  

When arriving at the forth tee, the landscape seems to change, taking on a more rugged links feel with the vast North Sea now in full view.  Nature working her magic on natural hollows adding more depth to the course as it plots its way around.  It is said Peterhead Old course is an original, owing little to man’s heavy handed work in its creation.

Fine sand sprays in your face as the ball comes cleanly out of the bunkers.  Sand clad and thinking of times as a child being given jam sandwiches on the beach – jam sandwiches with a dash of sand of course!

With the heat of the day, it felt like Death Valley as we transcended down between the hillocks.  and out of the wind from hole 9.  Whilst not a flat or uninspiring links course, the dunes were not huge hairy ones either.

But don’t be fooled with the summer day we had, subtle reminders this is a links course are deep cut burns with ball retrievers so heavy, they themselves tell the story of the usual windy conditions.

Subtle shaped greens, not overly large in size made for some target golf.  No major undulations just gentle reads for the putt.  

The 17th, a short par 4 was as good as any hole.  Being a blind shot off the tee takes some nerve.  No brief glances or sneaky looks before you commit

Despite the bare patches on the summer burnt fairways, the ball did react favourably – in the main anyway!  

Our experience of playing Peterhead has since been enhanced by understanding its back story and appreciating its current journey in its next steps of its evolution.  Peterhead is a survivor .  It might not be the big names of its neighbours but it does command  a place in golfing history.

Sarah Forrest

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The Wandering Golfers

Murcar Links

From bubble wrap terrain to ocean side views, Murcar brings the challenge all gofers want and dangles the rewards all golfers need.

Just 10 minutes from Aberdeen, Murcar, originally designed in 1909 by Archie Simpson, Professional and keeper of the greens at neighbouring Royal Aberdeen with James Braid adding his Midas touch in the 1930’s.  A strong combination of clever and thought provoking design for this Championship golf course, where the East Coast of Scotland meets the North Sea.  Testimony to such a strong design is the course has changed little since conception.

However, Murcar started life with some controversy in so far as its name was undecided between Berryhill, Black Dog and Seaton – all names relating to the local area.  With Seaton and Murcar equal in the voting system of 11 each, the chairman was given the casting vote and the rest as they say, is history.  A nod towards these contenders, are in holes 6 and 9 called Seaton and Black Dog respectively.

On a sunny day in August accompanied by a warm breeze to enhance the game, we set off down the first and away from the clubhouse.  The clubhouse remained a beacon, whilst not tall in structure was a good landmark to get your bearings as it appeared on the horizon from time to time.  Two relatively easy starting holes did little to prepare you for the third with its split fairway which dropped down to a second level before taking a subtle turn through the dunes to the bright green ahead.  

In the middle of a harsh hot summer and in places colourless fairways, these emerald island greens dotted along the landscape as if a giant was being taunted into playing stepping stones, added a delightful contrast to the course and its layout.  Straighter fairways with the greens at the end resembled an exclamation mark as they drew you in.

Allowing way more than needed for the greens undulations, or lack of! it became apparent that the green keepers had worked hard to maintain not only their pristine condition, but the consistency across all 18 of them.

High sided, banked up bunkers enticed the ball closer rarely giving any relief from errant shots.  It was true the conditions were dry and maybe that didn’t help either!  Perfecting the ‘coming out sideways shot’ one had to be creative.  Even turning the club face around and coming out sideways was something I was prepared to go for as my tee shot landed into the bunker after what can only be described as an ugly tee shot!

Sandy coloured long wispy grass framed the tee boxes and lined the fairways, with patches of heather to add more colour.  Fairways shaped around the natural terrain where keeping the ball in play became more and more apparent.


As you turn you back to the North sea and head inland the ocean views remain present with the wind turbines gently rotating as the wind blows.  Looking small in the distance and turning majestically in the breeze, belittling the huge structures they really are. 

Coming into play is the 11th, called Railway which has its own back story.  By private arrangement with the Seaton Brick and Tile Company for a princely fee of 30 pence per week, golfers were transported from nearby Aberdeen, directly through nearby Royal Aberdeen and past the doorstep of Murcar clubhouse where they were dropped off to play and enjoy Murcar.

It was agreed to restore the course back its original design in 2005, omitting the now defunct railway line and coinciding with the refurbishment and reopening of the clubhouse in 2006.

The 16th par 3 crosses over 15 as you take on the ravine to an elevated green  Under the flight path of helicopters which presumably are ferrying rig workers back and forth brings you back to reality with a jolt as you gradually prepare for the end of your game- a game that you really don’t want to end

Even as the wind got up towards the middle of the game, the summer warmth held its own as we started and finished in golf shirts.  

In all, a perfect day for golf on this beautifully sculptured course

Sarah Forrest

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Tunisia Five Years on

Five years ago I visited Tunisia and wrote about how I was struck by the determination and fight of the golf courses and tourist board to overcome any negativity of the country and what it can offer.  Money was clearly tight in places back then and the lack of tourism was evident when you looked beyond the facade.  Now five years later, and I’m back – but has Tunisia and golf in Tunisia flourished or sunk further behind better established golf destinations without Tourism boosting the economy due to the added negative impact of the covid years?

As a week long trip produces lots of content – this piece is split over two smaller articles – so I don’t bore you to death but also to help you with the geography and what is achievable when visiting Tunisia.  Just a three hour flight with Air Tunisia from Heathrow makes Tunisia easily accessible from the UK.

Staying in the Magic Hotel Manar in Hammamet was a big improvement on the hotel when last in Hammamet!   A welcome fruit plate in the rooms followed by a late dinner was served by way of a buffet.  The food and service certainly had improved if this was anything to go by, the diet was surely going to be tested!   A comfortable, large suite with good bathroom facilities, Hotel Manar is a great place for the couple of nights we stayed.  Directly outside the room and shared with the neighbouring room was a small pool for added holiday luxury and privacy.   Hotel Magic Manar is a large family friendly hotel with multiple large buildings centred around a communal pool and entertainment area close to the beach.  Being on an all-inclusive basis meant pre-dinner drinks and a place to meet was a relaxing start to the evenings.  The large lobby area with clean lines and traditional style artistic mosaics adorning some walls for added authenticity.  

Being a golf and wellness trip I visited the 5* La Badira, a Leading Hotels venue, for some spa treatments whilst most of the group went to play golf.  To be honest, I was torn between golf and spa all week, but think I managed to balance it out to benefit both.  La Badira draws you in as soon as you walked through the first automatic door into a dark corridor with ‘floating’ white model fish at varying heights against the black background.  Underwater scenes set the mood of relaxation before popping out the other end through the second set of automatic doors to a stunning view from the reception area and beyond to the ocean.  Modern artwork, water features and lavish, but not over the top, decor greets you.  In to the spa, and being given the one size fits all paper thong, (not flip flops for my Australian readers!) a wonderful massage ensued after a body scrub with salt.  The most stressful thing about the whole experience was trying to figure out which way round the disposable thongs went on!  

Hair on end, flushed in the face but feeling relaxed, a spot of lunch in the Citrus clubhouse before playing 9 holes in the late afternoon sunshine.  Just a quick nine playing Les Oliviers front nine then quickly scooting around the back nine stopping to play the odd hole as time allowed.  I did play both courses at Citrus last time, but it was great to see that the few holes I played this time hadn’t suffered the cruel covid fate of no investment, although it could benefit from better irrigation in places.  With a gentle come and get me opening hole you could the hear the rumble of traffic.  The olive trees dominate the course adding some depth and worth.  As it meanders around the course flourishes in its maturity.  The irregular shaped bunkers were good to play from and the easy rolling putts meant the design had allowed it to evolve with time.  Hole four is a good example of the bunkering which was very much in play from the back tees, but sadly not so much from the forward tees, but I guess being a par 3, SI 17 (131/69 meters), its meant to be reasonably easy!  Quite a pretty course with huge aloe vera plants growing freely in the bunkers for extra texture and of course, difficulty! A fairly flat front nine draws you in, with the back nine coming into its own as a more undulation, arguably interesting nine.  I could kick myself I didn’t remember this with only having time to play 9 holes!!  The 10th hole, a par 4 with elevated tiered tee boxes dropped down 358/322 yards to an inviting green.  As the sun sets, the hazy images take on a romantic image of golf.  Even the sporadic watering of the greens became part of the dying days twilight ritual as we plotted our way around to the 19th – a welcome end to a hard days golf and spa.

The next day took us to, it has to be said, a course that has not flourished in the covid years – well maybe it had flourished so much it had actually gone to seed.  Yasmin Golf Club certainly showed signs of lack of love, attention and most likely money- shame really as it could have been good with a little TLC. As a holiday golfer, Yasmin might be perfectly fine, certainly its layout was good, nothing at all wrong with the holes and their design, but sadly the condition did let it down.  As one stood on the first tee, all looked well, but as you got into the belly of the course, the grass wasn’t grass- more a mat of weeds. In some cases the weeds had turned into flowering weeds – and whilst quite attractive off the tee, it was a nightmare to find the ball – white or yellow – on the fairway.  Happily not all of the holes were like that – some had been mowed some had not – the bunkers contained little sand, some had weeds taking over the bunkers, affecting their definition.  It was all very sad to see as I did remember it better five years ago.  So looking at the positives – the greens had been mowed and ran very quickly, the edge of some of the fairways had allowed flowers to establish which outlined the fairways but were a bit of a nightmare if you went off piste.  It was also lovely to see a tortoise wandering along the back of the green.  If their desire was to re-wild and benefit the flora and fauna – they did it well.  We were given a caddy on this course as they only had a couple of buggies, and whilst a good caddy, I don’t believe a caddy should tell you how to play your game, more give you directions for lines where necessary or when asked.  That said, he turned out to be such a nice chatty man who did indeed have lots of knowledge of the course and how it played.  In all I have mixed feelings about this course, as it really could be something much better but it did give me the opportunity to develop a new category of golf course – we have parkland, heathland and links – this one was in the newly developed category of meadowland.

Being whisked off immediately after golf to the Hasdrubal Spa Hotel I was treated like royalty in this highly regarded beautiful spa hotel.  Two treatments ensued with with me being plonked into a salt flotation tank – again wearing the obligatory paper thongs – which by now I’d got the measure of as to which way round they went on!!  A warm feeling overtakes the body as you gently get pummelled and rocked back and forth in this massage water bath.  In another treatment room I’m wrapped up after being smothered with a body detoxifying ‘mud’ – lying there thinking I could get used to this, I must have dozed off as the next thing the water is being drained from underneath the ‘mattress’ and I’m unwrapped – all sticky like a toffee which had been left out in the sun.  The cleansing shower at the end meant I was ready once again feeling great but heaven knows what I looked like!

On this elastic schedule week long trip the next day I’m back on the course.  El Kantaoui in  Sousse .  There are two 18 hole course here, the Sea Course and the Panorama Course.   Starting on the Sea course, I found it amazing how quickly my memory returned from playing here previously.  The take you away first hole, a par 5, SI10 450/372 meter hole begs the question why a par 5?  I have the theory that it was just being kind to get you going with ease.  I really liked the way the course appeared to have embraced the natural landscape and palm trees, which looked good splitting the fairways plus the odd white buildings of yesteryear made for a pleasant Tunisian scenes.  Residential buildings edge the course in places, without themselves being intrusive, the road noise on the opening holes provided a buzz, until a lorry came along that is!  But once you’d played a live game of ‘frogger’ to cross the road after the 4th, the road noise soon faded.   Good greens, narrow entrances to some of the greens and some deep sided bunkers.  El Kantaoui, Sea course  was shaping up to be a good thought provoking course to play.  Water in play, eucalyptus and olive trees make you realise you’re in a nice warm country enjoying some golf.

The Sea course takes on a different  appearance once you’ve taken the tunnel under the road to the 12th hole – this is the start of the sea views with 12 leading you towards the Mediterranean ocean.  Whilst your eye is drawn to the blue sea, the course slips gently away for the next few holes.  Before you realise it, you’re heading back down the 15th with the ocean behind you.  These few holes did show signs of heavy play or maybe in need of some water.  I thought hole 14 was a hole of stand out hole.  A par 4, 370/304 meters the tee box sits with the sea to the left.  A slight dog leg left, the drive is important to place centre right.  Too far left and the inside of the angle is fraught with danger by way of palm trees and a bunker to the raised green which in itself takes a slight turn left closer to the sea.  

Despite these few holes being ocean side, it was a shame the high fencing was a little tatty and giving you the feeling of being locked up.

As mentioned, I did love the huge palm trees taking centre stage on the fairways, but I also noticed that playing the forward tees actually put these palms in play, so think about the best tees for you and your game so you can just enjoy the experience.

Quick lunch and onto the Panorama Course.  Of a similar condition the the Sea course with big structural olive trees and the same great tee box boards showing the hole ahead in clear detail.  Although more built up with residences the course is worth taking some time to play – time wasn’t something we had, so a quick round was needed once again!

I recall the 7th a 371/312 meter dog leg right to a narrowish olive tree lined fairway, bunker right to a nicely elevated green.  Despite the warm weather turning the grass brown, both courses played well although there were a few bare lies.  That said the greens weren’t too bad and did play well.    Also worth a mention is hole 17, par 4 312/269 meters SI13) with its panoramic elevated tee.  The fairway makes it way around the water in the shape of an orange segment with water on the inside of the crescent.  Visually it was a pretty hole to play.  A small stream runs across the front of the green, so a decent tee shot and a careful approach shot is best for an easy two putt par.    The 18th – SI1 par 5 hole  (576/474 meters) is fairly wide off the tee box, but narrows as the water shrinks the approach into a narrow entrance to the green.  The Panoramic course is slightly shorter than the Sea Course by approx 300 meters, depending on which tee box you play from.   This could mean you’d leave your driver in the bag for a few holes.

As the week hots up, so does the quality of the golf, next stop The Residence.  This Robert Trent Jones II course is one I enjoyed previously.  Quite open in its design, I found it harder to see the RTJII usual design go to’s- not such a bad thing to show his diversity of design.  Again the grass was quite brown, but this didn’t detract from its playing ability.  Water was in play for a few holes, and playing around that water bought in the inevitable narrowing of the fairway.  Playing 6285 from the back and 4804 meters from the front tees, it is a fair test of golf.  Hole 5 was the start of the water side holes.  A pretty par 3, 153/80 meters, SI7 had water cutting in from the right, the water was planted with high reeds and beyond that, a green side bunker – clever in design and clever in aesthetics. The par 4, hole 6 kept the water expanse to the right before moving away with the water behind us as we played hole 7, another par 3 of only123/82 meters.  These were some of the holes I stepped back to play them slightly longer.  Three pretty holes in succession with a huge beach just beyond the reeds.   The openness of the course is ever more apparent on these few holes.  Arriving at the 11th, one can see the string of bunkers guarding the green and again narrowing the landing spot of this par 4.    I also liked the 15th hole a 176/116 par three hole with scrub to hit over and little bail out.  Funnily enough the tee signage showed the shrub as water, so maybe during high tide it is water?  The day we played it was shrub, a little like heather with patches of sand between.  With many undulations across the course, playable bunkers weren’t in short supply, great putting surfaces and water either in play or picture framing the fairways – I thought The Residence is a course of beauty and one I’d like to return to again.  Great food too!

A journey North towards the Algerian boarders to play a new course for me – La Cigale in Tabarka.  A grey day met us to play this little, but arguably the best course in Tunisia.  The course was set in amongst trees with wonderful elevation changes throughout.  Being North near the Algerian border the temperatures aren’t always as high as in the South.  But the damp air did not damped the course, its condition or our spirits- maybe having more rain enabled the course to shine?  Unfortunately the course had been hollow tined on some of the fairways, leaving small plugs dotted along the fairways but this wasn’t on all of the holes, and as I’ve said before, I’d rather see maintenance than see the course not being managed or invested in.   Besides the greens were the best I’d played in Tunisia.  I understand that the signage was being upgraded, so the tee box boards weren’t as helpful as they will be when the new ones have been installed.  That said, the course and its strength in design carries off any anomalies with ease.  More like playing an established course in the UK any other Northern European country, the lush greens against the white sandy bunkers and imposing trees was a pleasing sight.  The topography of the course did mean it was up and down hill a bit, but in truth, it encapsulated the changes in elevation and worked with it.  Hole 3 with its elevated tee and the sweep of the green fairway swishing around to the distant far reaching views of the ocean and drew the eye towards the flag stick just before the ocean.  This par 4, SI 18  measured 301/275 meters and was as inviting as some of the best with the waves crashing against the back of the hole – well the sea was actually a bit further away, but the visual effect was that of the waves crashing agains the back of the green!  Lovely.

Sadly the rain came in and my game went to pot!  It came back a few holes later, but not without pulling some horrible shots left almost into the ocean then having to recover over a wire fence – but an image tells that story better!

So taken with this course that a few of the holes remained me of Kawana in Japan or Whalsay in Shetland with their oceanside holes – different oceans, different parts of the world but all similar in terrain and appearance.

The 8th took you away from the Ocean and into a parkland style of course again.  I particularly liked the bunkers at La Cigale, the sand was gritty and the club came through with ease to pop the ball out. 

A big tree is in play the par 5 9th which forces a strategy of careful play – I’m not best known for safety shots.  But you need to keep the ball fairly left on the 494/428 meter hole.

For a pleasing vista view, take stock on the 14th tee with its through the valley far reaching views framing the ‘castle’ in the distance.  Deceptive off the tee the 18th, with its floral tee exit looks difficult with water in play, another sign of a good well thought through design lends itself to a great finishing hole with a water fountain marking the end of this wonderful course.  A course that transports you from natural beauty to the modern designed club house which weirdly sit in harmony with each other.

There are plans for La Cigale to be changed; more bunkers added and of course new signage, so watch this space to see how these new improvements also benefit the overall experience on the course.

Obviously travelling so far North, you need to stay somewhere and the luxury La Cigale Hotel is only minutes to the golf course.  Comfortable beds with each room being given plenty of water bottles to go about your day, not to mention the evening meal being superb, sadly the breakfast was a little sparse but did the job.  This hotel and course are, in my opinion, worth the journey North, but allow yourself some time to enjoy it.

Travelling back to Tunis didn’t take as long, but we did take a slight diversion via Sidi Bou Said – the picturesque ocean side village painted in strict blue and white shades offset against the blue ocean was a welcome stop over.

As I had time to reflect on this latest trip to Tunisia, I came back to my original question – has Tunisia sunk or swam during a global torrid time?  I guess, a bit of both.  Some hotels and golf offerings were not up to par, others offered the same good experience and one stood out as a must visit.  The hotels were, in the main, better than five years ago, with the exception of one which was dated and tired, the others were upbeat, clean, welcoming and modern or traditional in equal measures.  Could it be a golf destination to rival other more established ones?  Most likely but not yet – however, it could be a great destination which has golf.  A destination for all the family and who knows one day, with some investment and cohesive thought, it could well be one to watch in the future.

Sarah Forrest

Golf Guru Group

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Hallamshire Golf Club, Sheffield

An incredibly understated and uninviting piece about golf in the local Sheffield Star reads:

“Hallamshire Golf Club is nestled between the Peak District and the City, on Redmires Road.  The club is home to one of the best and most challenging courses in the North of England”

Well thats true, but …

Recent winner of the US Open, 2022, Matt Fitzpatrick is a member here, not only that but other greats such as Alison Nicholas, the winner of the US Women’s Open 1997 and Solheim Cup Captain in 2009 and 2011, lesser known Mary Everard, (recently deceased), was a four time player in the Curtis Cup- all have links to the Hallamshire – in short this course produces winners, quality winners at that.

It is true, Sheffield isn’t known as a tourist trap, its deep rooted industrial heritage in steel surpassed only by the friendly (and sometimes not so friendly) rivalry of the two home grown football teams; the Owls and the Blades. The natural friendliness of Yorkshire people and their, usually deserved, status of ‘no flies on us’ approach puts this city on the map for many reasons – but golf isn’t one of them.

Fitzpatrick admits that his home course is very similar to Brookline, Massachusetts where two historic wins US Open as an Amateur in 2013 and the more recent one of the US Open Champion 2022 puts him as only the second person (behind Jack Nicklaus) to win both these titles at the same course.  Matt says of his home course; the Hallamshire is shorter (than Brookline) but the greens can be tour standard and are the best around.

The pro shop, albeit welcoming, is just like any other, the clubhouse doesn’t scream at you despite its commanding elevated position overlooking the course. Truth is, unless you knew it was there, you could easily drive past the club.   But what it lacks in showy appearance it more than makes up for as a challenging, well designed course for all.

A fairly intimidating first hole appears narrower than it actually is off the tee, but the clubhouse popping up into full view once you’ve driven the ball is enough to put anyone off – especially if you’ve hit a poor drive.  Add the OOB on the right and the in your face wind, you’d be happy to survive hole one with a decent score and scurry onto the second tee as you become engulfed in the course.

The 4th, par 4 SI7/1 (460/378 yards) is quite a straight hole called Bilberry Dimpling.  The name bought back fond memories of me sitting atop the Moors picking bilberries for Mum to make jam.  Whilst hole 4 didn’t bring back those comfort memories of home cooking, it is a fairly open yet lovely hole.  From the 4th, over the 8th, you can see the aptly named Snake Pass as it winds its way along the hillside carrying people to endless opportunities in their little square boxes on wheels.

Redesigned in the1930’s by Harry Colt, Hallamshire golf course embraces the natural terrain of hillocks, sways, heather, gorse and of course bilberries. Add the odd bunker – whose level of consistency with their sand and depth of sand was as good as any top course I’ve played, and you’re on to something special.

The 6th intrigued me with its far reaching views of Hallam Gorse Moor with its WWI training camp.  Even to this day overhead images show the outline of the trenches dug – weird to think that another great golf course designer, Alister MacKenzie was instrumental in the design of the trenches during WWI!   Hidden behind the trees on this par 3 193/127 yard (SI15/17) hole you can just about see Rivelin Dams.  

The (member) legendary 9th, with it’s hard to stop the ball on the green challenges any such notions of making a birdie on this par 3!  Such is he slope of this green that any downhill putt is met with trepidation. This is not a hole you’d give a gimme in a match!

As the back nine is 220/360 yards longer than the front, bagging a decent front nine score could help you with your overall score.

The 10th is a par 5 from the front, par 4 from the back tees.  It is literally laid out in front of you.  A slightly elevated tee off area before it drops down to a water course crossing the fairway.  The green is cleverly positioned to be slightly off centre with a bunker left.  A brave shot over or work you way around into the mouth of the green. Its name  Perfection is one you’d strive to live up to on this hole.

The course continues to work its way around the natural landscape throwing in many challenges, especially for those who haven’t played it before!  Large sways of gorse are in play as they hug the ravines transcending downwards or pop up in places you’d rather they didn’t.  

Hole 15 is called Long.  This par 5 is a test for those who may no hit so far or have left their ‘A game’ in the car park.  Measuring 584/506 SI10/4 this is one hole which you could be punished or rewarded on.

Slightly different in outlook and design is the 17th, a par three over a shallow gorse ravine to a slightly elevated green.  The imposing rock face sits immediately to the right of the hole and green.  A clean hit is required to make it over the gorse and over the multiple bunkers protecting this 134/123 yard par 3.

A sloping fairway right to left closing hole par 5 487/452 yard SI 14/5 is one where you could walk away with pride or hang your head in shame as the clubhouse and any patio loungers overlook the final green.

In summary; the Hallamshire greens were superb, the bunkers were consistent and the fairways offered so many different thought provoking opportunities – from all the tees.  It is a must play for any golfer.  Enjoy the hospitality which is sure to be extended to any visitor.

Sarah Forrest

Golf Guru Group

Instagram @tlg.golfplus

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