Downfield Golf Club is a name that all too often fails to spark immediate recognition amongst the world's top golfers. A hidden treasure which has struggled to achieve the international recognition it unquestionably deserves. A wonderful oasis of tree lined fairways and fiercely undulating greens. Downfield is amongst the best inland courses in the land. It has length, charm and character all in abundance.
Moreover, it has a lengthy list of top quality tournaments to its credit. The Scottish Open, the Scottish PGA Masters, the Scottish Boys Strokeplay, and the Scottish Amateur Championship, which returns again in July of this year. Indeed, when the Open returned to Carnoustie in 1999, Downfield was one of four final qualifying venues used by the Royal & Ancient. It was through final qualifying that both Jean Van de Velde and Paul Lawrie both qualified for the 1999 Open.
At 6,803 yards, there is no mistaking the fact that Downfield is a long track. Furthermore, length is almost added by the fact that the grass is lush here and therefore the ball does not gallop down the fairway like it might on some of Scotland's links courses.
Accordingly, big hitters in particular will relish the challenge set by Downfield. However, do not be deceived into thinking that length is all that is required to conquer this course. Panache, skill and a silky putting stroke are essential if you are to have any chance of beating par round here.
The first at Downfield is a great opening hole which ensures the golfer has no gentle opener. At 425 yards, it is fairly long and the fairway is well guarded by fairway bunkers. Unless the wind is against you, the bunkers on the right hand side can be carried but it requires a good hit. Shorter hitters would be advised to keep left as this opens up the approach to the green.
In the past I have usually advised visitors to make sure they have enough club for their approaches and if in doubt to take one more than they initially think. However, the reverse is true for Downfield. At the first, as with most of the holes here, it is better to be short and chipping up the green than to run through the green.
The second is an intriguing dogleg right. Longer hitters should leave the driver in the bag as they may run out of room. Accordingly, an iron or three wood is best from the tee but be sure to keep left as there is trouble lurking on the right. The approach shot is deceptive and tricky at the second and precision is at an absolute premium for the green here is very narrow and runs off on both sides.
The par three third stands at an intimidating two hundred and twenty eight yards. Thankfully, the hole plays a lot shorter than that in the summer months as anything played down the right hand side runs down nicely onto the putting surface. Accordingly, do not dice with the bunker on the left, aim right as it all kicks left.
The perfectionist should try and keep the ball below the hole as the green slopes quite steeply from front to back. However, most of us will just be happy to have found the green with our tee shot. Indeed, we may consider that such a shot fits perfectly with the name of the hole..."lucky slap".
The fourth is a truly wonderful par five. The tee shot is played to the crest of the hill to what seem like a generous fairway. Longer hitters can knock it over the brow of the hill, but to achieve maximum benefit, their drives must be dead centre. For this narrows dramatically once over the hill and anything in the semi rough will stop abruptly, while those on the fairway may get as much as an extra fifty yards of run. Those fifty yards could prove crucial if the hope is to reach this green in two.
The approach shot here teases you to take on the carry over a weaving Burn, which despite its size, appears to be a really daunting hazard as you size up your second. There is a fraction for error if you take the carry on and keep the ball right, but my advice would be, if in doubt, lay up.
From a personal point of view I would have to say the remaining holes on the front nine were not as good as their counterparts in the opening burst. That said, the sixth was a particularly attractive par three with an emphasis on accuracy with a mid-iron.
The ninth green nestles in front of a recently renovated clubhouse and is the precursor to an outstanding back nine. The eleventh has to be one of the most idyllic par fives anywhere in the world. The shape of the hole demands a touch of draw from a slightly raised tee.
Try and keep the ball high on the right of the fairway if you can for this opens up the green and prevents disappointment as you see what initially appeared like a good drive trickling into the left hand bunker. Those who want to take on the green with their second must be sure they have enough club to get to the green for there is double stream in front of this fairly generous target. From the fairway, the golfer can only see the first of the two streams, so don't be too cavalier when weighing up your options.
The eleventh is followed by a wonderful par three at the twelfth. The tee sits by the water you have just negotiated and the green nestles at the base of some enormous Scots pine trees. A truly wonderful sight...nature at its very best. Enjoy this short hole for there are two par fives at thirteen and fourteen to follow.
Thirteen is a fairly straight forward dogleg right, that is until you come to the putting surface which slopes steeply from front to back. Visitors may find it hard to believe that the green use to be even trickier with a four of five foot step in the middle.
However, the green has been recently re-laid and the tiered effect has gone. Members dismiss suggestions that the green was reshaped to save their blushes after everyone of them had at some stage or another putted off the green when the pin was on the bottom and their approach shots had been too aggressive leaving them on the wrong side of the hole.
The homeward stretch at Downfield places less demand on length than the rest of the course, with some charming shorter holes. Nonetheless, each and every one can be devilishly tricky depending on the pin placement. My personal favourite is the sixteenth called "Round the Bend".
The tee shot is only iron for longer hitters but make sure you get to the bottom of the hill for this hole is a sharp dogleg right and almost turns back on itself. Consequently, anything not running out will find itself stuck behind the huge firs which are so prominent throughout at Downfield.
This is a wonderful golf course, which is at its best from June onwards when the course has had a bit of growth. Its quality and the kind of test it provides are best summarised by the great Peter Thomson when he remarked that Downfield was "One of the finest inland courses I have played anywhere in the world.
It's a tough, demanding test of golf admist some of the most picturesque scenery and you need to drive very long and very straight to have any chance of success here".
Downfield Golf Club
Tel: 01382 825595
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
Darren Clarke learned to play the game at Dungannon Golf Club, a pretty parkland course right in the middle of Northern Ireland. While the course is pretty enough and the green fee is almost embarrassingly reasonable, the appeal of Dungannon is the opportunity to pay homage to the 2011 British Open champion, Clive Agran writes from County Tyrone.
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