If you are passing through the Scottish Borders and feel compelled to stretch your legs and hit a golf ball you’ll never have a problem getting a tee-time at Langholm Golf Club in the Esk Valley.
High on the slopes of Whita Hill, looking down on the quaint border town of Langholm – home to jumper giant The Edinburgh Woollen Mill – is a nine-hole golf course with 120 years of history and more slopes than an Alpine ski resort.
Be honest and pay your green-fee
It’s likely the clubhouse will be closed when you arrive – catering is only available at weekends – and there is no professional at the club – but all you need to do is deposit £10 in a charming and understated honesty box, collect a card and set out to the first tee a few feet away.
Don’t worry about where you are going – for most of the tee shots are Langholm are blind – and so look for the gorse, trees, and the slope of the land and play for the ball to bounce with it.
Do this and you won’t go far wrong.
The first is a gentle opener under 400 yards. There is a ditch around driving distance, so play short of it with an iron or rescue club and then hit over a hill to a small green nestled into the hillside.
The ball bounces left on landing and right of the green there is a sloping run-off – so land short and left to start your round with a par.
At the second hole – which a long serving member reliably informed me was the “toughest on the course,” you need to summon a long sliding fade around a corner and back up Whita Hill to a green that appears to be defended by an earthen trench reminiscent of Viking burial mounds.
Fly over the mounds and play for a bounce left and you’ll again find a small and tidily mown green. Like the other greens at Langholm it runs true but is woollier than the sheep grazing in the fields nearby.
I played it in the height of summer, with browned and fast running fairways and even then the greens were slower than almost anywhere I’ve ever played – but it was fun – for the fact you could take a run at every putt.
The greenkeeper is said to be afraid of the greens burning out and even a new sprinkler system –installed with the help of a past Club Captain who works for the local water board – won’t persuade him to risk cutting them short.
What’s truly striking about this golf course are the views, both down into the Esk Valley and South to England’s Lake District, which is visible on a clear day. You feel truly at one with nature and free to swing and stroll at your leisure.
Speaking of the strolling, that’s misleading, it’s more of a yomp up and down the steep hills and slopes, and you’ll certainly feel it in your calves and thighs once you’ve reached the home hole.
The third is a par-five that you can reach in two but the second shot has to be hit over a corner gully and a thick copse of gorse and trees to a tiny green with a runoff at the front of the green. You aim high on the hillside at a grey shale crater in order to locate the fluttering flag.
This is swiftly followed by the 4th at 176-yards, a delightful par three set against a canvas of thick pines behind the green. One club member has recorded two holes in one at this hole in the same round – an incredible feat – especially as one was a good shot and the other a push that bounced in from the hillside on the right hand side.
Better to be short than long here as chipping from in among the tree roots and woodland is a testy affair.
The 5th and 6th holes are two short par fours with blind tee-shots and no sight of the green, and it’s best to keep left on both and open up the approach to the green.
This leads us to Langholm’s most famous hole – the 7th – a 340-yard par four that plays straight downhill, as straight as an Olympic ski jump slope and with a drop as fearsome. Some swash buckling players will attempt to drive the green but when you reach it you’ll see it’s better protected than the famous Alcataraz Island prison in San Francisco.
The green is raised up and short of it you’ll find a stream, gorse bushes, rough, trees and a grey rocky canyon around 20-feet below the putting surface. Behind the green is out of bounds. The green is tiny too. The best advice is to hit an 8-iron and a pitching wedge and hope for the best.
Rumour has it that a competition was launched in Scotland for an artist to win a £6,000 commission to paint any golf hole in the “Home of Golf.” The winner could have chosen The Road Hole at St Andrews, The Ailsa Lighthouse at Turnberry, Carnoustie’s fearsome 18th or Troon’s Postage Stamp.
He chose the 7th at Langholm and immortalised this steep and severe siren golf hole.
By the time you reach the 8th hole you’ll be grateful for the fact it’s flat. A drive and a pitch will earn you a par at this straight away hole.
The course closes with a short par three and in my opinion the best hole on the course. The green sits on a shelf 140-yards away, with the simple grey clubhouse behind it – a proud Scottish Saltaire flag – flicking back and forth in the breeze.
A rough low lipped bunker lies short and left and there is a ridge in the green which slopes back to front. Aim right to bounce it in left and try not to overcook it as anything landing left of the green runs down the slope leaving a long lofted pitch back to the tiny green.
The course is just 9 holes and you can play it twice for the full experience but nine was enough for my legs and feet.
Quite satisfied I holed out and scrambled up the hill at the sloping car park – make sure your handbrake cable is in good condition – and headed back down the tight windy roads to the centre of town for a drink of The Douglas – one of a small number of local watering holes – where the kitchen closes at 8pm.
If you are visiting in July don’t miss the Langholm Ride-in, a famous procession of locals who race their horses to the top of Whita Hill – in a spectacle a bit like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, or shrove football in England’s villages.
The pubs open at 5am on ride-in day. It’s the highlight of the town’s calendar and a spirited day out.
Famous Langholm Golf Connections
Langholm Golf Club was founded in 1892, this club’s first captain was Thomas Moses, director of the world-famous cloth makers Reid & Taylor, which manufactures the cloth for Augusta’s famous Green Jackets.
Langholm also happens to be home to Scottish golf weatherwear company ProQuip Golf – suppliers of waterproofs and rain gear – to more than 19 Ryder Cup Captain’s, European and American – and a leader in developing lightweight, breathable rain jackets for golfers.
For more visit Langholm Golf Club’s website