It may not be the most obvious destination for a Scottish golf break, but Ian Backhouse found much to admire in this borders resort
Any golf trip to Scotland is probably planned around visiting one of the many regions containing a list of renowned championship courses on most golfer’s bucket lists.
The Scottish borders isn’t the most obvious destination for such as trip, but the more informed know there are plenty of quality courses in the area worth a visit – or a stop-off on the way to those appetising bigger venues.
Nestled away just 45 mins south of Edinburgh is Macdonald Cardrona Hotel,Golf and Spa.
Set in the village of Cardrona, with the River Tweed running through the golf course and rolling hills in the background, this really is a venue with outstanding natural beauty and a premier destination for golfers and non-golfers alike.
The modern 99-bedroom hotel boasts elegantly appointed rooms with fantastic views across the valley, alongside a popular restaurant, wedding/conference facilities, a well-equipped gym and luxury spa.
The hotel is also a hub for a range of outdoor activities for the non-golfer. Hiking, cycling, canoeing and fishing are all available locally, alongside the opportunity to visit historic sites and scenic beauty spots.
The golf course opened in 2001 and was designed by former Ryder Cup player Dave Thomas. A par 72, the course has several tee markers stretching from over 7,000 yards from the back tees to just 6,100 from the front. In the past, it has hosted both EuroPro and Challenge tour events.
In common with other Thomas courses, this layout is well bunkered, has large receptive USGA greens with smooth run off areas, and quite generous fairways.
Before setting out, there is a large practice area in front of the hotel and a large chipping/putting green to get the pace of the greens right from the start.
Following Covid, the hotel group have invested heavily in improving the greens and drainage and are hosting a Tartan Tour event in the coming weeks along with the Scottish Girls Amateur Championship.
Forewarned is forearmed as there is a small sign outside the golf shop informing golfers that is six and a half miles walk around this course.
Unless you are feeling very athletic take a buggy, or at least a trolley, as although you are distracted by the natural beauty of the area, it’s a long haul with a bag on your back.
The course starts with a slightly uphill long par 5 which, alongside playing into the prevailing wind, features some of those Dave Thomas bunkers across the middle of the fairway and around the greens.
Next up is a short par 4 that some may feel they can reach off the tee, and this is followed by two long par 4s returning next to the 1st tee.
The course layout then works its way over the River Tweed and enters a small loop of three which contains some of the best holes on the course. A tough par 3 of 175 yards (all the par 3s here are at least this length) requires a well struck shot to a long, well guarded, green.
A long par 5 is next. You drive over a ditch and negotiate the slight right to left dog leg, which gives you a view of the green. This is into the wind that could be whistling down the valley so reaching in two shots is a big ask.
The final hole in this loop is the stroke one hole. A sharp dogleg left to right with a tee shot over a ditch really asks questions off the tee. If you manage to find the fairway, the second shot is up to a raised narrow green which will be tricky to keep the ball on if you are hitting a long iron. Play these three holes in par and you are well on your way to a good score.
The layout then comes back across the river and, after the short par 4 eighth, moves down the valley and becomes more open as you head away from the Hotel. On the 14th tee you reach the far end of the course and head home.
The 16th would be my favourite hole. With a tight tee shot down what seems like a narrow alley of trees on one side and a course boundary on the other, make sure you are on the right side of the fairway or hit it miles as there is a large downslope in the fairway that cambers right while the hole doglegs severely left!
A short iron should mean a straightforward par, but any poor tee shot could leave you with all sorts of problems. The 17th is a good par 4, made easier by a slight draw off the tee and easier shot into a well-guarded green.
The final hole at Cardrona is a 400 yard par 4 but, if you look carefully, you will pass on the walk between 17 and 18 the back tee which is a further 100 plus yards behind the yellow tee. It turns the hole into a par 5, with the tee shot being over the river.
A good finishing hole with the practice area out of bounds on the right and thick rough to your left means you need to be premium again off the tee. A good shot into a slightly raised green with a pond guarding on the right-hand side should see you home with a par finish.
This course is a great layout and with the recent investments, ongoing planned improvements and drive to bring more tournament golf, this course is sure to climb the rankings lists.
Whether you are an avid golfer looking for a good test, or just seeking a stunning retreat in fantastic surroundings, there is something for everyone at the Macdonald Cardrona.
The warm welcome and great service will only add to the experience, and you are sure to bookmark this as a place to visit again.
For more information, visit Macdonald Cardrona’s website.
We dive deep into the golf ball roll back plans!