Fergus Bisset: A trip to Angus

This week Fergus drove south to experience some of the golfing delights on offer in Angus

When I was about 12, my father took me to play a round at Letham Grange in Angus. From a golfing perspective, it was like nothing I'd ever experienced. I'd played most of my golf on the short and quirky parkland tracks of Deeside but I'd been to the links quite a few times and, in my early golfing days, thought all the properly tough golf courses were on the coast.

Our visit to Letham Grange was when I first realised this wasn't the case. The track was probably too difficult for me back then, but I loved it. Teeing off in front of the imposing Mansion House, I remember feeling rather wee as I clipped off a shot with my Patty Berg 3-wood. As we made our way over swooping fairways past towering trees, ponds and streams to sprawling greens, I was captivated. My score would have well over 100 that day had I finished every hole, but I remember just wanting to go out and try it again, I've taken every opportunity to return since.

So I was delighted to be offered a spot on a trip to Letham Grange earlier this week. After a few years of legal wrangling, the owners of the resort are making efforts to take the course and hotel forward. An initial £300,000 is being spent on refurbishment with further investment likely after the first phase.

It's welcome news as the place undoubtedly needed a cash injection. The grand old Mansion in particular had suffered over the period of legal stalemate.  

We arrived at the hotel on Sunday evening and took the chance to play the first six of Letham's Old Course before retiring to the bar to watch Phil Mickelson secure a deserved victory in the US Masters. The first six of the Donald Steel designed layout ease you in rather gently. The real test begins from the 7th onwards so this Sunday evening sortie was the perfect warm-up.

Following an excellent cooked breakfast (much needed after one too many whiskies watching the golf the night before) we departed for our first full round of the trip at Forfar Golf Club.

Founded in 1871, the course is a product of the architectural efforts of Old Tom Morris and James Braid. It's really a heathland track with undulating fairways lined by whins and heather that wind through the pine trees. The fairways are so undulating because many are constructed over land formerly cultivated by the old "rig and furrow" method. It means you have the potential for the odd cruel bounce or tricky stance even if your drive is straight.

The course was in impeccable condition, the fairway turf was springy and firm while the greens ran fast and true.  The quality of the playing surface was amazing when you consider the tough winter just past. There was, in fact, still evidence of that winter as we caught the occasional glimpse of snow-capped mountains through breaks in the trees.     Forfar is a relatively short course and a number of the par 4s require little more than a drive and a flick. But, the greens are well bunkered and subtle run-offs demand a deft touch. As regular readers will know, my touch is more daft than deft so, despite striking the ball well, I could muster only 35 Stableford points.

For dinner on Monday night we went to the Old Boatyard in Arbroath. Looking out onto the pretty harbour, the restaurant predominantly serves fish and I had a fabulous meal of Scallops followed by Moules Frites.

A full round on the Old Course at Letham Grange was on Tuesday's menu. I was excited for the others to experience the more challenging and visually striking section of the course.

From the 7th onwards, water is an almost ever-present factor - mainly in the form of the burns and streams that meander across the layout but also via a couple of significant ponds. On the 160 yard 8th, you play to an island green across a duck pond. A watery grave waits short, right and long.   Letham Grange was a different animal to Forfar the previous day. The ground still fairly wet following bad flooding through the winter (a problem the resort is making strides to counter,) there was little run on the fairways. This is undoubtedly a course where players able to carry the ball a long way are at a distinct advantage. Designed by Donald Steel and opened for play in 1987, it's a big track with huge trees, significant changes in elevation, daunting tee shots and large putting surfaces. I've always thought it's a course that would suit a professional tournament so was unsurprised when it was chosen as the venue for last year's Scottish Young Professionals Championship won by David Patrick.

On the final day of our tour of Angus, we travelled to Monifieth Golf Club on the outskirts of Dundee. In 1999 Jean Van de Velde came through final qualifying at Monifieth before going on to endure one of the most spectacular collapses in Open history on the 18th at Carnoustie.   Nine of the holes at Monifieth were laid out as far back as 1845. They were the handiwork of Allan Robertson and Alexander Pirie. In 1880 the course was extended to 18. It's a superb links and the greens deserve special mention - I've seldom putted on such quick surfaces up here so early in the season. We experienced the track on a relatively benign day but I know from past experiences, this can be a brutal challenge when a strong wind whips up.

Angus is a region packed with a diverse array of excellent courses both on the coast and further inland. Letham Grange is undoubtedly a great base from which to explore the area and they're currently offering an awesome deal for golf breaks - £279 for three nights accommodation and four rounds of golf. To find out more go to www.scotiatravel.com/index.php?id=26 For general information on the hotel go to www.lethamgrangehotel.co.uk

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?