Without a single hole measuring 500 yards or over, it would be easy to dismiss Southerness as no more than a holiday links. Easy and wholly mistaken. Those who have visited the course even once – not to mention the lucky members whose privilege it is to enjoy playing here regularly – know better and differently. In fact, Southerness is one of only a handful of courses anywhere in Britain where the standard scratch score is four over par.
That is because, despite having only two par fives to set against a quintet of short holes, from the back tees it still measures in excess of 6,500 yards. Royal St David’s, in Wales, may commonly be regarded as the world’s hardest par 69, but that can only be on account of fewer people having made the journey to this detached corner of south west Scotland.
In total, 12 holes measure over 390 yards while two of the par threes stretch well over 200. In other words, the only easy pickings come at the two par fives. Elsewhere, and especially throughout the back nine, par is a score to be clung on to with good chipping and clutch putts. Birdie chances are few and far between.
With the notable exception of Kingsbarns, in Fife, Southerness is the youngest of Britain’s premier seaside courses. Nestling in Dumfries & Galloway, one of the few regions of Scotland that does not contain several exceptional courses, the reason you do not hear very much about Southerness is simply that it remains a golfing outpost.
And that in spite of there being another underrated links of great quality less than 10 miles away. On a clear day Silloth can be seen across the Solway Firth, though, rather frustratingly for us golfers, it takes the best part of two hours to make the drive to Cumbria and the northernmost reaches of the Lake District, via first Dumfries and then Carlisle. In the same time, going in the opposite direction, you could be at Turnberry.
Southerness was designed by Philip Mackenzie Ross, the first president of the British Association of Golf Course Architects, shortly after the Second World War. Although relatively recent in golfing terms, this was still an age when courses were laid out, rather than created, and as such Southerness is the most natural of venues.
Sandwiched between the sea and the hills of Queensbury, just before the land further inland turns to that more suited to the grazing of cattle, it is as peaceful a place as you could wish to find yourself; the kind of course where you can hear the sound of your shoe as it meets the turf and of your ball rolling across the true greens.
Completely flat, the course follows an unusual routing, with the front nine being played around a central paddock and the inward half circumventing the practice ground.
Only one point on the course affords clear views of the sea, and that is the 12th; elsewhere the ocean is more of a distant factor than spectacular presence. It is somehow fitting that way because Southerness as a club is not in any way concerned with the spectacular.
It is as peaceful a place as you could wish to find yourself; the kind of course where you can hear the sound of your shoe as it meets the turf and of your ball rolling across the true greens.
It begins very much as it means to go on, with three stern par fours that play into the prevailing wind. Taken together – and Southerness is very much the sum of its parts – they represent a formidable beginning. Expect to need a wood for your second shot into at least the 2nd, if not the other two as well.
Nor are the short holes straightforward, with the first of them, the 4th, perhaps the best defended. The elevated green can present an elusive target when any amount of wind blows. The next hole is a par five, and if you can find a green that rejects in all directions there is every chance of a spirit-boosting birdie.
It will doubtless be offset rapidly, perhaps by the 215-yard 7th that at least offers a generous target for what will more often than not be a fairway wood approach. As far as Southerness’s par fours go, the next hole offers the best chance of picking up a stroke but the nine ends with a hole of such difficulty it is a par five in all but name.
Well over 400 yards, any drive that is not drawn will move away rather than towards the green on a hole that sweeps significantly left more or less over its entire length. Another raised green ensures that only the truest of approaches will find the heart of the green.
Still the hardest part is to come, beginning with the signature 12th, a dogleg towards the sea. Here again the feeling on the drive is that it is running away from the green, and with bunkers protecting the angle of the dogleg it is a difficult hole to attack, the second shot always being longer than you feel it should.
Anyone without a serviceable long game simply should not bother tackling the next stretch of holes, which measure 467,458, 217 and 433 yards respectively. This is truly championship-level golf, though those content to play within their limits and play for bogeys should not find any of them card-wrecking.
For flagging spirits there is never a more welcome sight than a closing par five, and in truth this is a gentle one unless the wind is in your face. A four to finish is very much a possibility – but whether that will be enough to offset what has gone before is another thing altogether.
Overlooking the green is Southerness’s unfussy but homely clubhouse. In many ways it is well matched to a course that many of the locals probably do not realise how spoilt they are to be playing every week of the year.