Stranraer Golf Club in Wigtownshire was the last course James Braid designed in a career that spanned over half a century. It opened in 1952 – although the club itself is much older. It’s loosely a parkland course but the trees tend to frame, rather than intimately hug, the layout.
It is just the most attractive parkland course, set high on the escarpment above the western side of Loch Ryan, with the added bonus of sea views from the majority of holes. Further adding to the attractions of flora and fauna are varied stands of trees lining the fairways and sightings of the many types of birds for which the Galloway peninsular is famous. However, beyond the pleasures of the attractive ambience of the course, is the golfing challenge set by its master architect.
A relatively gentle par 4 opener only lulls you into a false sense of security as the course starts to get very challenging from the third. If you respect Braid’s vision, and try to work out what the great architect intended, then hitting good shots into the right areas will be rewarded.
We have no hesitation in recommending Stranraer for its stunning location, its playability, its modern clubhouse with views over the course to the loch, and, not least, for the outstanding greenkeeping.
This is not a course on which you will lose balls, unlike too many of the Scottish links courses with an over-profusion of gorse and heather. This is manicured, parkland golf at its most attractive.
Not that it lacks challenge; the short rough on each side of the fairways is properly short enough to ensure that you can find your ball without difficulty, but heavy enough to make shot-making difficult and make you wish that you had stuck to the fairway.
The bunkers are well placed and protect small, true greens which demand accurate approach shots, and although most par fours are under 400 yards, there are four between 420 and 470 which demand length as well as accuracy.
The first of these is the 3rd, a truly outstanding hole. Unsurprisingly named “the Burn”, after the hazard which runs its full length, it is a monster which demands a drive of supreme accuracy and of at least 240 yards in length to clear its first watery manifestation. Lay-up, and you have a carry of some 200 yards over three separate stretches of the winding burn to reach the green. For most mortals, it is a true par five.
The second most intimidating is the spectacular 5th, which from its elevated tee can be seen the narrow shore-line fairway far below, and the vista of Loch Ryan beyond. There are too many memorable holes on this lovely course to describe them all, but mention must be made of the prettiest – the 10th.
It is a truly lovely valley hole, surrounded by woodland, and distinguished by a challenging dogleg created by a stand of Scots pine.
The 14th is the only par 5 on the course and it’s one of the centrepieces of a really strong back 9. You can run out of room from the tee on the sharp dogleg, and you can also be distracted by the glorious views of the loch on your left, but the approach to a small green quickly grabs your attention.
There are just three par 3s and, of those, it only feels like you can really take aim at the 12th. The 15th is the hardest of the lot, with a deep bunker and a sharp bank meaning getting close to the putting surface is absolutely paramount.
That’s the start of a really difficult run in with 16 and 17 both lengthy par 4s of more than 450 yards and usually playing into the prevailing wind. It doesn’t matter what you have done before, your score is only really determined in the last hour of play.
The 5th hole at Stranraer is an obvious choice for the best hole on the course, looking down from an elevated tee with the glorious Loch in full view. Corunna, as it is named, is a spectacular hole and you do wonder if it is possible to hit the fairway. But when you belt a drive into the middle, it is a very satisfying feeling and this is clearly a very strong contender for one of Scotland’s great holes.
But the short par 3 that follows, The Wig, is a classic Braid short hole and just a sheer delight to play. It may be only 160 yards off the whites but finding the small green, which slopes sharply off both sides, is by no means a cinch. I love some of the deep sculpted bunkers that mark Braid’s work and there are six of the blighters guarding the front and right hand side of the green.
Golf aside, the surroundings, the multitude of birdlife, and the ships on Loch Ryan docking at Cairnryan on the far shore mean that if you plan a leisurely round, it might be worth taking your binoculars.