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Free FreeCaddie

As I said yesterday, I have decided to try out some of the most popular Android golf apps and write up my findings. Today was the turn of FreeCaddie – the free version. You can install either the completely free version of FreeCaddie or pay £2.37 (at the time of writing) to get the “pro” version with an extended range of options. Hopefully I will revisit and try out the paid version at some point.

FreeCaddie is a pretty small download from Play Store – just a MB or two. This is just the core app date though – you will download more as you add courses to it.

The first thing to do when you install it is to get some course data in there. When you run the app it will try to use your phone’s GPS to ascertain your location. If you are inside you can go into the settings menu and override the GPS by manually putting in your location. The app then comes up with a list of courses in the vicinity (I’m not sure the radius of the catchment but judging by the list I got I would say it must be 30 miles or so).

The list seems pretty extensive but is not exhaustive – I found an omission which actually happened to be the course I intended to play today, Maybole. It has obviously been overlooked by local golfers – one of the cool things I found about FreeCaddie that anyone can create course data, in fact I was told by the support team that they prefer local golfers who “know the course well” to create/ edit the course data.

So, I created an account at freecaddie.com and logged in to input the data for Maybole Golf Course. I had a couple of issues getting started with the course editor (it wouldn’t launch in my browser for some reason but I got round that by using a different one) but the support team were extremely helpful. They responded to my email in less than a day with the resolution to my problem. I was really impressed by the support provided – especially considering I was using the free version and haven’t paid them a penny (yet).

It was then a case of using Google Maps to identify the various greens of the course, clicking on front, centre and rear for each hole. This is extremely straightforward and it took me a matter of minutes to input the nine holes at Maybole. As soon as I submitted the information Maybole appeared on my list of courses in the phone app and was available to download.

When I first installed the app I downloaded the data for the various local courses that I would be likely to play – I did this on WiFi in the house to avoid using data as my phone package is not generous… The great thing is then that you don’t need a data connection when at the course – of course you need a GPS signal but that’s all. I can imagine there must be remotely located courses where you can’t even get a mobile signal so to me this feature is very much a plus point.

So, with the course data created, inputted on to the FreeCaddie course database and safely downloaded to my phone’s app, it was off to the course to try it out.

The first thing I can say about FreeCaddie is that it is accurate – really accurate! The recorded yardage for the 9th, a par 3, is 143. This is what FreeCaddie read as I stood at the tee:

Not bad at all! There are no markers on the course itself so it was slightly difficult to tell just how accurate the readings were but I did walk to the middle of a few greens and I think the distances FreeCaddie gave me were within a few yards at the most.

I have played Maybole before so even though there a number of blind holes, I knew where I was going. It was however rather useful to have an accurate range to the green for these shots when choosing club. It was so windy today that it didn’t make a huge difference to my game but I could see that in better conditions – and when I was hitting more consistently – the benefit of knowing how far the flag was would be a very useful one.

The distance screen above is what you see all the time with FreeCaddie – in the free, no frills version anyway – but for me it is pretty much all I want from a rangefinder. Other apps I have used have had far more information onscreen, typically using Google Maps imagery to show the current hole but, as noted, I didn’t really need this at a familiar course.

On the 8th I hit a pretty poor tee shot and was left with a longish approach shot (it’s a short par 4 so you should really be looking for a wee chip on after a decent tee shot). I went for the 7 iron then decided to double check with FreeCaddie. The yardage it indicated was more appropriate for an 8 for me so that is what I hit. I hit the ball cleanly and reasonably on target. The ball trickled off the side of the green but came to a halt almost exactly in line with the flag so the length was spot on. Had I hit the 7 iron as I had been inclined I would have been right off the back of the green!

The GPS lock on FreeCaddie seems really good. After it initially locks on when you start playing, it keeps locked on so everytime you pull your phone out, the yardage is accurate. This is exactly what you want. When I played using Hole 19 Golf recently, I was getting quite frustrated with the lag to relock at every shot.

One other thing that impressed with FreeCaddie was its (lack of) battery use. OK, I only played nine holes today but doing so only took about 10% of my battery. I didn’t turn off my data connection so if you did that it would be even less I presume. This is in stark contrast to other apps I have used when I have had to be extremely vigilant to have a fully charged battery in order to get all the way round with the phone dying!

As noted, FreeCaddie is a rangefinder – a very good one but that is all. No scorecard or bells and whistles. I believe that is a function available with the paid for pro version. It didn’t bother me greatly, I just used a note function to input on my phone but I guess it would have been nice as usually I would use the same app for yardage and keeping score.

Is it enough to make me pay for the pro version? Not right now but possibly if I settle down to using FreeCaddie as my full time rangefinder app I will want to have integrated scorecards. There are other functions in the pro version such as course mapping and you lose the ads so for the price it is a pretty good deal.

The thing that really piques my interest with FreeCaddie is its smartwatch support. It currently supports Sony Smartwatch 2 and the Pebble but according to the team they are working on adding Android Wear support this year. The Pebble doesn’t really appeal to me but I have seen the Sony watch on Ebay for in the region of £50, If I could pick one up at that sort of price it would be a serious consideration – especially considering the course I will be caddying at soon prohibits the use of mobile phones on the course.

The free version of FreeCaddie is an excellent rangefinder indeed and if that is all you want I have no hesitation recommending it. I am going to try out a range of other apps to compare so I will reserve judgement as to whether it is the best IMO for a later day.

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Putters in general and my putter in particular

Putters are very important clubs. When you think about it, we use them more than any other club in the bag. I average something like 2.1 putts a hole so that is something in the region of 36 putts a round and, for me, more than a third of total shots.

Putting is possibly the easiest shot to practise as you can do it in the house with nothing more technical than a spare cup on the floor. Of course a flat living room carpet is not exactly the same thing as a real green but know what I mean.

More than one person has said to me that the choice of putter is a very personal one. I couldn’t agree more. There are guides out there that will tell you “if you putt like… , then get a … style putter”. I would argue that it is much simpler than that.

My advice when trying to figure what kind of putter works for best you would be: “go to a shop and try out as many different types as you can”. That’s what I did and I am really happy with how things worked out.

As I have talked about in the first post on this blog, I returned to the world of golf last summer and dug out a complete set of Dunlop clubs that I’d had for a couple of years without ever using more than once.

I had got chatting with an old mate who played golf when I picked up the clubs. I didn’t know anyone in my local social circles who played so I wanted to chew the fat with someone who was into the game. Cue lots of Whatsapp conversations. One evening after we had exchanged a load of Ebay links to “bargain” drivers, it occurred to my friend that he had an old but in reasonable condition driver in his spare room that I could have!

After he got along to his local golf shop and got a cardboard box that could actually hold the thing, a day or two later I had a nice new (to me) driver, a Titleist 905R:

(“That’s not a putter, I thought this post was about putters?” you’ll be saying right now and you’d be correct. But, there is a point and I’m just getting to it.)

So, with a decent driver to replace the Dunlop one, what would be the best return for my money in upgrading my clubs I thought? Well, for the reasons noted above, the putter seemed the obvious choice (and there would have been no way I could have justified the cost of a new iron set at that stage in my golf journey).

So, I started back on Ebay, this time looking for a club to hit the shortest shots of the round! I literally didn’t know where to start. My mate suggested a “two ball” putter but they just didn’t appeal to my aesthetics at all… Subsequent Googling and a quick hunt around some golf forums again left me no closer to having a good idea what to go for.

With a host of different shapes and sizes to choose from it occurred to me that there must be variety in the feel of the clubs. This would be something I could never find out without physically holding them was the conclusion I reached.

So, I took a wee drive to my local branch of American Golf. The guys treated me very well and were extremely friendly. I explained I was in the market for a new putter and was referred to the shop’s “putter expert”. He asked what my budget was and I replied non committally and he didn’t pursue it any further – I think he sussed out that I wasn’t buying anything that day.

I explained that my experience was pretty limited – I had really only used the Dunlop putter that came in my set which was pretty conventional looking. He took me over to the putting area and showed me a few different clubs which I tried out on the (slightly bumpy!) instore green.

I tried out a few different clubs, mostly in the sub £100 price bracket. They were nice enough but there were no real standouts. Nothing really grabbed my attention and made me think “I need this club”.

Then, I think more to show off the store’s extensive range of putters than as a genuine realistic option, my putter expert showed me a Scotty Cameron club. It was a thing of beauty with utterly gorgeous machine detailing and felt so nice in my hands. I then took a few shots – around 8 I think – at the hole from about 10 yards and sank every single one of them!

“How much is this one?” (I braced myself…)

“£250.” (Dammnnn!)

So, clearly a non starter at that price range. I had been giving the issue of buying a new club some serious thought as in my wife’s eyes, any money spent on golf is superfluous. I had to keep a new putter purchase a lot less than two hundred and fifty pounds!

It was an utterly beautiful club though. One of the things that really struck me and really did appeal to my aesthetics was the position of the hozel. Unlike all the other clubs I had tried out that day it met the clubhead right at the heel:

For some reason this just struck me as the way that a putter should be designed.

But that price was just a non starter.

I left American Golf after thanking the staff and picking up a few lake balls and returned home to Google some solution to my quandary.

It didn’t take too long to find a candidate for a similar club to the beautiful Scotty Cameron at a more reasonable price. The Odyssey White Hot XG 9:

You can see that it has a fairly similar design, with the hozel set right back on the heal. I liked it. Retail prices were around £70 to £80 so it put it at a much more realistic price range than the Scotty Cameron.

Ebay is a wonderful thing. Within about ten minutes of deciding the White Hot XG 9 was a putter I quite liked, I had found a seller in Telford (which was about a 45 mins drive from my house) listing an apparently hardly used club at £35 buy now! It was a pick up only listing but that suited me as taking delivery of packages could be a pain at times and the petrol costs were probably lower than typical P&P for golf clubs.

The transaction was made and I made contact with the vendor to get his address and arrange a time for me to pick it up. The next day I had my new club.

Earlier in this post I talked about not being able to feel a putter without holding it and to an extent I was taking a bit of a gamble buying a club that simply resembled one I had fallen in love with. The first time I used it though, I knew that my gamble on the White Hot XG 9 had most definitely paid off!

It feels lovely in the hands. The head has a really nice weight to it (without being overly heavy and making swinging it a chore). It just feels like it swings itself. I like the way it addresses the ball and it seems to suit my putting action.

Here are some shots of it today:

Clearly American Golf or whatever pro shop you frequent would prefer you to purchase your lovely new putter from them but even if you, like me, prefer to bargain hunt the virtual aisles of Ebay, I would most definitely recommend you go to a shop and try some different putters out before you buy anything.

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Why do we play this game?

Is a question I sometimes ask myself… I played at Seafield a couple of weeks ago and it literally started snowing on the 16th which is an exposed hillside hole. I was dressed fairly appropriately but still it was not a pleasant experience.

Why do we put ourselves through all the pain that comes with the pursuit of golf? Sometimes I really question it – not only did I choose to be out that January morning hitting a wee white ball up and down hills and over dunes, I paid money for the privilege! On a previous visit to Seafield in November last year, another day of horrible weather, a Facebook friend commented on my status update “are you actually mental?”. (Obviously said friend is not a fellow golfer.)

So what exactly is it that compels us to venture out in weather which most people wouldn’t even walk to the shops in? (To be fair, it is not only the cold, crappy stuff that we brave, there were a couple of times I played in Japan at the height of summer – 30°+, near 100% humidity – the kind of weather you just want to hide in an air conditioned space inside somewhere.)

And it’s not only the conditions we brave, the game itself can be pretty bloody brutal. How often have you totally mishit a shot and thought to yourself “Why am I doing this to myself? Sport is supposed to be fun…” (I do this a lot but it is gradually getting less frequent.)

Well, I don’t think there is any secret to it. The good stuff far outweighs the crap! We play golf for that feeling when you sink a 20 foot putt to save par. For that drive you catch just right that flies off the tee, fading just nicely to come down in the middle of the fairway 250 yards away. For that chip from just off the green that trundles towards the flag and duly drops into the cup. For that full swing short iron approach shot from 100 yards away that lands here:

When you think about it, golf is pretty absurd. We are using some stick like implements to whack a wee white ball hundreds of yards over some very mixed terrain – to put it into a 4 1/2 inch wide hole. It should be difficult, it is a ridiculous task. So, when we catch the ball just so and it does exactly what we want it to do, it is truly a rewarding feeling.

It must be awesome to be Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer or any of the top golfers. They are hitting the ball the way they want to the vast majority of the time. (Of course they skank shots from time to time like any human being but most of their shots are largely as they intend them.) Think about how good you felt the last time you played a cracking drive – well Rory feels like that all the time (see previous qualifier).

It’s a bit of a cliché but golf really is a test of the character. To deal with all the frustration that comes our way when playing the game is certainly a trying experience. There have been books and books written about the mental side of the game so I am just going to scratch the very surface in this brief post. I do really think that if you can handle playing golf without losing the heid you are in a pretty good position to deal with some of the shit that life throws at you.

A couple of things occur to me as I write this.

Last year I went to play a round at Troon Fullarton – the shortest and easiest course of the three municipal courses there (I will write a review of it soon enough). I was playing alone and I strode out to the 1st tee at almost exactly the same time as another visiting single ball. It seemed the natural thing to do so we played together. He was called Andy and was a retired company director from Worcestershire who was visiting Scotland with his wife and managing to sneak a few rounds in!

I have heard it said many times elsewhere but Andy made the remark that if you are thinking about doing business with someone, the best thing to do is play a round of golf with them before doing so. What he meant was that playing golf gives a good insight into the character of a person. After all, you are not going to enter a commercial relationship with someone who rants and raves and curses just because this wee ball he’s hitting doesn’t do what he wants it to do, are you?

I think it is important to have a selective memory to enjoy golf. You need to forget instantly the anger and frustration you feel when you slice yet another tee shot off into the trees. By the time you have returned the club to the bag you need to take a deep breath and let that emotion go. “The most important shot in golf is the next one.” a far wiser man and better golfer than me famously once said.

At the same time, we need to remember the joy when you do hit a shot well. That emotion we need to keep as it will fuel us to keep going.

So, forget the pain and remember the joy and you will enjoy your golf! That’s why we play this game.

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Course reviews wanted!

I have written about many of the courses I have played at over the last nine months or so on this blog but I am quite quickly reaching the end of my current experience. The plan is to use sites like Tee Off Times this coming season to continue to add to the course review category but I don’t know how often I’ll be able to post new reviews…

In order to try and continue to build this site I am therefore appealing for guest reviewers! Please get in touch if you would like to share your own experiences of courses you have played. They can be anywhere – the name of this site is after Calum’s World of Golf  – and it does have an international readership.

So, if you fancy penning a few words about a course you have played, get typing and get in touch! (There’s a contact form at the bottom of the front page or you can Tweet me.)

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Maybole Golf Course

I’ve talked elsewhere about the great membership deals you can get with South Ayrshire Golf which let you play a variety of courses around the county. One of the lesser known ones is this one, Maybole. On the face of it it doesn’t sound like a great place to play golf but I really like it. I will talk more about why I like and I will describe the course to you and maybe you will feel like playing there too?

Maybole Golf Course is to be found at the south end of the town, next to the swimming pool. There is a clubhouse but as far as I’m aware it is no longer used so when you arrive you should go to the pool to check in and get your game ticket.

It is a relatively short (no par 5s) nine hole course basically built on the side of a hill.

After checking in, there is a short walk up to the first tee. If you wish there’s a putting green, chipping bunker and a practice net if you want to warm up. I have never seen the place busy though so you will probably not need to wait to start. (Yes, I know it is a really good idea to warm up before playing regardless of having to wait or not but I just want to get on the course and play!)

Seeing as there are only nine of them, I think I will just talk my way through the holes in sequence.

From the first tee it is down the hill and, as the hole name suggests, there is a railway line running down the right of the hole. The green is to the left so you’d need to really muck your shot up for the railway to come into play. (And amazingly, I have never been in that situation.)

Spotted today:

With a tail wind and a long drive, the green might be reachable in one but for me today I ended up just behind the trees on the LHS and had a shortish iron shot on. Nice start to the round, playing off an elevated tee is something I always enjoy.

Of course, what comes down must go up. And the next hole is back up the hill you just played down. There is a ditch that traverses this side of the course and if you can get up near that you are still faced with a blind iron shot up ower the raise. If you’ve played the course a couple of times you will know where to play but for the first time you’ll want to walk the hole or have some kind of mapping app to guide you.

Once you get up and ower the hill there is a relatively straightforward green, although like almost all greens on this course it is not level and has a slope.

The third is quite a tricky par 3. At just under 200 yards it is quite long. The fairway plays back across the hill so there is a distinct R >>> L camber on the hole which can take your ball for a wee ride if you’re not careful.

This is the view from today’s tee (it was slightly further forward than summer tees would be and the green is a winter one so the hole was a bit shorter today all round).

You can see the normal green behind today’s flag here. I was a bit disappointed that this hole (most were not winter greens) didn’t have its usual green as I like the way it is dug into the slope of the hill.

The fourth is, you guessed it, back down the hill!

The green is over to the left of the picture so I aimed at the trees on the LHS and my slice/ fade landed nicely in the centre of the fairway! (Wish that happened a bit more often…)

This is what it looks like as you drop down from the tee:

My drive was a bit short so I still had quite a long iron to get onto the green – and in fact I was short so it took 3 to get on. Not great…

The fifth goes back up the hill. (You’re spotting a pattern here, right?)

As the name of the hole suggests, you are playing up to that monument at the top of the hill. I didn’t look at it but I presume it is for the war dead of the town in one of the world wars last century.

This is the ditch I mentioned earlier. On this hole it is the fourth, and penultimate, time you cross it. This hole plays really like the second with a decent tee shot still leaving you with a tricky blind second to get on/ near the green.

According to the stroke index the sixth is one of the easier holes on the course (rated 6) but I would beg to differ. It is a very tough little par 3. The tee shot is totally blind, this is your view:

The first time I played this course last summer, I had to walk halfway down to the green before I could figure out the lie of the land. Once you get down the slope, there is actually a reasonably generous bit of fairway playing down to the green but you really wouldn’t know from the tee.

If, like me, you don’t reach the green with your tee shot, you have quite an awkward chip on, down the slope of the hill. It needs to be very delicate as your ball will run!

The seventh is another blind tee shot – although this time you have a thoughtful post marker to give you some guidance:

What you don’t see from the tee is that the hole sweeps away to the right so if you play straight at the marker you will have quite a long second shot to the green. If you have a fade you will fare better and for those brave golfers, you could actually aim to the right of the post. This latter approach would take you quite close to the rough though…

The eight is quite short but again you can’t see the flag from the tee. It is guarded by a stand of trees which hide the wee kick to the right at the end of the fairway. A straight tee shot will give you a relatively short and not too challenging iron on. Today, I sliced my drive and ended up on the hard right of the fairway with no line of sight to the green so needed three on!

To finish is a really cool par 3. The tee is higher than the green so you play down and slightly to the right. It is the easiest of the three par 3s on the course but still a bit of a challenge; to hit the green you will need an accurate tee shot although you will probably be playing a shortish iron so very much the best birdie opportunity of the course’s short holes.

Considering that South Ayrshire has the Belleisle and Troon course to offer, it is not surprising that Maybole is overlooked. And, of course, being a nine holer it will not give enough golf to many. For me today it was ideal – I had a window of a couple of hours to get out and if I had tried to play a full course I would probably have run out of daylight.

I’m not proud, this is my round (as recorded by Hole 19 Golf):

There is just something about Maybole I really like though. It is the total antithesis of golf as it is played in many countries and the image many non golfers have of our sport – big swanky clubhouse, artificial landscapes that cost a small fortune to be allowed upon, played by rich, white middle aged men.

It is very “rough and ready”. There’s the odd dog walker, some of the greens are quite scruffy (I think I was the only person today who repaired their pitchmarks…)  and there was some litter at some of the teeboxes. But, to me it represents the grassroots of golf. You don’t need to be on an executive salary to play here and you most certainly do not get a buggy to drive around in. You take your clubs and you walk around some hills for an hour and a half or so and you play golf. No frills golf I guess you could call it.

Considering we invented the game, I guess it is natural that we have access to golf in Scotland that many other places don’t but we are lucky. Golf in Scotland, and South Ayrshire, is accessible, the courses are enjoyable and it doesn’t cost a fortune. A winning combination if you ask me.

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The Open on Sky

When I started this blog I stated that it wouldn’t be a news site and it won’t be one but there was a development this week in the world of golf that I feel compelled to write a few words about.

This week, it was announced that from 2017 the BBC would lose the rights to broadcast the Open live. Sky will be taking over and the Beeb will be left with just a two hour package in the evenings.

As I have talked about elsewhere, I have only fairly recently rediscovered the joy of golf so my experience of watching it on the TV is quite limited but I did watch the Open last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. I did not watch the evening highlights…

It may just be my personal opinion but to me the whole point about watching golf on the box (as opposed to going out playing myself) is the drama that unfolds as all the different permutations of who plays which shot and gets what score. While there will be of course some amazing shots which are quite entertaining to watch, I don’t personally think it is like football where the highlights are an acceptable substitute for watching a game live. To me, watching golf requires a context.

My most enjoyable experience watching golf was Tom Watson’s battle for the 2009 Open. At the time I was living in Japan so the final afternoon’s action was unfolding late at night on the Sunday. As I had Monday off work I relaxed and followed the game over a few beers as it unfolded. That to me epitomises the experience of watching golf live. Sure, you could review the final day’s action over the highlights and appreciate Watson’s achievement but it just wouldn’t be the same experience.

There are of course those who argue that the quality of Sky’s coverage will benefit the competition and I can see where they are coming from. I would hypothesise that the folk saying that will be comfortably off golfers who already pay out for a Sky subscription to enjoy the other tournaments it covers. (I have watched a few competitions on Sky 4 and they do cover the sport well, I will freely admit this.) With falling participation levels, this is not the kind of person that golf needs to reach out to.

I’m sure I am not along in having childhood memories of digging out the old tennis racket and whacking a ball up and down the street outside alongside all the other neighbourhood kids during the Wimbledon fortnight. That is what golf needs, not to consolidate its coverage with a core market that are happy to pay for it.

The R&A’s argument that giving the rights to Sky who will invest in the game and will mean more money injected into grassroots golf to me misses a huge point – if there are fewer people watching the most prestigious golf tournament in the world, how much of a grassroots game will survive?

I have had a good few rants on Twitter about the Scotland National Team games being exclusively live on Sky the last couple of years (interesting that the England games seem to be protected on terrestrial TV but that is another topic for another day and probably another blog) so to see the Open go the same way is pretty galling to be honest.

I have no idea whether Sky will hire Peter Aliss or not but this move could also mean the end of his words of wisdom and that would indeed be a sad day.

What is certain is that the Open will now be seen by fewer people. I for one am not currently a Sky subscriber and have no plans in becoming one and certainly not paying the exorbitant rates they charge for their sports channels. Even when I previously had a Sky package I had no interest in the sports or movies channels.

And to me it is that simple. Which channel/ medium will ensure the highest live audience?  That can’t be Sky. I have seen and heard arguments about the BBC viewing figures being poor in the last few years. Well, handing over broadcast rights to a channel that has significantly fewer viewers is not exactly going to fix that problem is it?

So, it is with regret that I will most likely be watching the Open live for the last time next year. I seriously don’t want golf to be in the same position as football when it is a trip to the pub to watch something live (final round Sunday afternoon?). That is not going to help matters whatsoever to bring in fresh blood to the game (the kids we need to come and play can’t go the pub after all…).

I suppose the only glimmer of hope if that it is an initial five year contract. We can only hope that some common sense prevails during those five years and the Open returns to free terrestrial TV in 2022. (Again, a topic for another day but it is entirely probable that Scotland will regain its independence during this period which would require an SBC to negotiate with R&A; maybe that will result in a more favourable outcome for the average golf fan.)

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Hole 19 Golf

I recently started Tweeting to let people know that I had started to write this blog. As my Twitter activity is not really golf focused I had no idea how many/ if any of my followers would be interested so I started using the #golf hashtag. Since then, I have had some interest from other golf players and enthusiasts and one that started following me was @hole19golf.

I followed back and read their profile and discovered it was a golf GPS/ scoring/ tracker app. They invited me to try it out but I commented that I wasn’t an iOS user and had an Android phone – and at that moment in time it was only available on iPhone. In response they invited me to join their Android beta community which I did. However, the Android version of the app has now had its full release and is freely available in the Play Store.

I hadn’t actually got around to installing the beta so when I saw the full version was out, I thought I would give it a go. I played a round at Seafield in Ayr today and gave it a try out so will share my thoughts here.

I should point out that as far as I can tell it has only been in the Play Store a matter of days so I’m sure that it will continue to receive updates which may well address any doubts I may have over the software.

I have previously tried out Golf Pad and Swing by Swing and while I did like them both, in slightly different ways, have never really used them extensively. I will write about those apps in more detail on another occasion.

Initial impressions of Hole 19 Golf were good. It has a very clean, minimal look which I really liked. It asks you to log in either using Facebook or Google or by creating an account with your email address. I generally don’t like linking together so many different networks/ apps as you end up not feeling in control but likewise I couldn’t be bothered setting up yet another account for a service I may well not use long term. So, I signed in with Google and within a few seconds I was looking at my Google+ profile photo on the front page.

It does look really clean, and doesn’t have many options to play around with but that is absolutely fine – it sets out to do a fairly straightforward job so we don’t need tons of bells and whistles.

I initiated a round and you can then find your course by location (GPS if you are at the place), search by name or your favourites (this builds up as you access different courses). Again, I was pleasantly impressed; all the courses I looked for were present and there were no confusing double entries which I have found in other golf apps.

After you choose your course you move on to the meaty stuff – the distance and scoring of an actual round. The map data seems to be from Google Maps so it does look like other apps which use the same aerial photography. It has a nice function where you can click on a part of the map (e.g. a bunker you want to drive over) and it gives you the distance to it from your current location and then from there to the green.

So far, so good. The only slight issue I had was that the crosshairs which you use to aim didn’t line up under my finger. Ie, if I pressed the screen in the middle, the crosshairs lined up about 1/2 a cm above my fingertip. It was at least consistently the same distance away but it was still a bit frustrating when trying to get accurate distance readings.

After some feedback from the Hoe 19 team, it turns out that this is a deliberate feature of the app to allow you to see where you are aiming. I will reserve judgement until I play a few more rounds. My initial reaction was that I didn’t really like it but I can see their reasoning and it may well grow on me.

It has got a nice drop down overview of the distance to the different parts of the green:

The only other real complaint I had was the length of time it took to get a GPS lock after pulling my phone out of my pocket. As I walked up to my ball I would unlock the screen lock of my phone and bring up Hole 19 Golf. It would take quite a delay for the GPS to get a lock and for my accurate distance to display. This did slow me down on a couple of occasions as I had to wait for the phone to “catch up” before choosing my club and playing my shot.

(My phone is not a top of the range one but it is not a budget cheapy. I cannot rule out the fact that the delay is due to my phone’s GPS mechanism as I don’t really use it in many other apps regularly to have a good comparison but I don’t think the other golf GPS apps I have used had this kind of lag.)

On each hole, you can enter your score and a few other details such as number of putts and sandtrap saves which then inform the feedback statistics once you have finished. To be honest, I am not at the stage yet when statistics mean a lot to me so I am not too bothered by this aspect – what it has is fine for me. The only stat I really pay much attention to is putts and that is easily recorded.

Overall, after only playing one round, I quite like Hole 19 Golf. I like the clean look and streamlined function set. Unlike other apps, as far as I could tell, it does not have adverts or try to sell add on services (Swing by Swing for example lets you use the yardage tool for a few holes before trying to sell you a subscription to keep using it).

If I can get used to the aiming tool so it feels more accurate and the app gets locking on quicker when playing a shot (due to the delay I was not hitting the ball as soon as I should have been when I was waiting for the yardage) it will quite possibly be my choice in golf app this season.

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Girvan Golf Course

As I have previously mentioned, I moved from the West Midlands of England to the South West coast of Scotland in summer 2014. Before I moved, I had the chance to take some lessons to boost my (re)beginner’s level a bit and I was able to play at a few courses in that neck of the wood.

Golf is nice in England but let’s be honest, I am totally biased and have to say that it is much better in Scotland! Especially for those of us who are able to play around South Ayrshire. One of the first things I did after moving was to go down to the local course and sign up for a South Ayrshire Golf membership. As I was joining more than half way through the season, I was able to take out an eight month membership, where I paid a set amount up front, followed by three subsequent monthly payments. I then get four months without having to make any payments and it settles down to a rolling, very reasonable, monthly payment.

I think the payment plans are changing for 2015 but the main point is still absolutely true – you can become a member for a very reasonable amount of money. And, the best thing about that is you can get access to up to eight courses across South Ayrshire! My level of access is the “restricted” membership which lets me play all but the top two courses, Belleisle and Lochgreen.

Last August I took advantage of the package to play at Girvan Golf Course. I hadn’t really thought about playing there until chatting with an old mate about the golf courses around Ayrshire; he described it is a “mini Turnberry” and sang its praises. I looked into the course a bit, checking out some reviews on Golf Shake and I liked what I was hearing.

It was apparently a James Braid designed course! Cool, I thought his courses were to be found in far more illustrious venues than a council course in a wee seaside town in Ayrshire. (In addition to the King’s and Queen’s courses at Gleneagles, Braid actually designed Belleisle in Ayr – I will review that one as soon as I have played the course!)

Girvan is to be found in the south of South Ayrshire:

It’s a bit far for me – over twenty miles and about a 45 min drive. What’s more, on the day I played last summer, I got stuck behind a tractor on the single carriageway road for a good few miles on the approach to Girvan. I was then late for my tee off slot by a few minutes – it was a lovely summer Saturday afternoon so the course was pretty busy. The young chap in the starter’s office rushed out to speak to a group of golfers at the 1st tee and came back to tell me that if I was ready to go then, they would let me go out ahead of them (they were a 4 ball and I was on my own). A nice, friendly welcome to the course!

At less than 5000 yards and par 64, Girvan is not a tough course at all for the decent handicapper. As noted, this was only a couple of months into my golf journey so that didn’t apply for me! It has no par 5s and eight par 3s so “on paper” doesn’t perhaps offer much of a challenge but some of the par 3s are pretty tough.

Girvan is somewhat similar to Seafield in that it is both a links and a parkland course. In fact, the contrast between the two differing components is even more than the Ayr course. The front eight sit right on the coastline looking out over the lower Firth of Clyde and (as long as the weather is clear) provide views of Ailsa Craig (hence my friend’s comments comparing it to its far more famous neighbour).

I will say it right here: the front eight are, in my opinion, worth playing the course for alone. I’ll talk more about them later but the back ten are a bit bland and nowhere near as exciting as the front of the course.

The 1st, 6th and 7th, being perched right on the coastline are probably the most spectacular and sure enough when I teed off on the 6th, my slice struck and I sent my ball soaring into the waves. I can’t really say it enough, if you get the weather, this is what links golf is all about. (The holes, not the putting your ball into the sea.)

The 8th is quite a tricky par 3, at 218 yards, I wasn’t likely to get on to the green in regulation.

And sure enough, I had to chip on and two putted for a bogey.

After the 8th, there is a wee walk past the clubhouse (closed for renovations when I visited) to the back part of the course which is the parkland section. I really should point out that I didn’t think it was poor or anything but just after the treat of the front eight, the last ten holes do disappoint somewhat.

The good thing for me was that, as the fairways were not narrow and the rough only longish grass, it is quite forgiving and I didn’t lose too many balls!

The Water of Girvan runs through the back part of the course and adds a wee bit of interest to proceedings. The 15th tees off over the river and while your tee shot doesn’t have to be long to make it over the water, it makes the shot a bit more exciting.

As I have already mentioned, the area comprising holes 10 to 18 is not as visually interesting as the start of the course but is a pleasant enough half round of golf. There are a couple of more challenging holes and the one that really springs to mind is the 17th.

At 213 yards it is quite a long par 3 and to make things even tougher, the green sits atop a rather steep incline. The green must about at least ten yards vertically higher than the tee and this is all just in front of the green – the fairway is flat out in front of the tee. There was no way I was getting up to the green with my tee shot (you may have heard me mention my slice…) so I layed up at the bottom of the slope then chipped up to get on in two.

With another par 3 to finish, the 18th has an almost completely blind (a tree blocks you LOS to the flag) tee off but is at least reachable in one!

I finished my round in under three hours – and this was when the course was pretty busy. It is not long and, if you can hit your tee shots straight, shouldn’t present too much of a challenge to even the high handicapper like myself. I absolutely loved the front part of the course and definitely intend to play the course again this coming season.

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Troon Municipal Golf – the Darley

TLDR, hard as fuck, bring lots of balls.

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