If like me you are interested in discovering thrilling golf set in absolutely stunning surroundings at a ridiculously low cost... then read on. Scotland's the place for such extraordinary encounters and there are a fair few such glistening gems tucked away in the back hills that should definitely be placed as high-priority on your personal to-do lists.
The village of Balfron sits between the Campsies and The Trossachs surrounded by some of Scotland’s most scenic countryside. Loch Lomond is only 6 miles to the west. The City of Glasgow is 19 miles to the south and the ancient historic capital of Stirling about the same to the east. Urban influence seems hundreds of miles away in this secluded little quarter.
For the golf reconnoiterer this is a great area to explore with other courses of character nearby such as Callander, Aberfoyle and Killin. These are often short, slightly hilly tracks but the quality of presentation and the unique challenges they offer provides a style of golf that can be as rewarding as the nearby premier tracks such as Loch Lomond, Gleneagles or Scotland's renowned coastal links. I'm not trying to take anything away from Scotland's upper echelons as I love them dearly all but this is a different proposition! Here you play in some of the most beautiful surroundings in the world; enjoy fantastic course conditions on zesty tests that will sharpen your short game no end. And as if that wasn't enough, you pay a mere fraction of what you would visiting a 'Trophy' course. In fact, without actually getting my calculator and working it out, I imagine you could enjoy a week's golf here for the price of a single round at one of the big courses. What's not to love about that?
The area is close to or within the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park and it really is one of the most scenically striking and recreationally diverse parts of Scotland which offers the sort of golf break you could take your better-half and have a fantastic few days away - whether they golfed or not. It's almost ridiculous the amount of the things there are to see, do and eat.
Balfron Golf Society presents an ideal gateway into the area. If you come up from the south via Glasgow or Edinburgh the village is a little more than a half hour from the M74/M8 motorway system. Yet stepping out of the car, you feel like you're in a different era let alone country.
Balfron Golf Society was only established in the early 1990’s although there had been a nine-hole course above the village for many years before WWII. The society was formed by a small group of enthusiasts most of whom lived or had been born in the village who set about establishing a new golf course. Greens and tees were established in accordance with to the lay of the land and the clubhouse (a disused sports pavilion) was restored and erected.
Of all the 'Hidden Gems' scattered throughout this area, Balfron is probably the most challenging. At a shade over or under 6000 yards depending on which tees you choose, it's a Par 72 and a good test mainly due to the wind that frequents the more exposed holes. But there's great variety, cause for care and fineness especially playing into the small, sometimes sloping greens.
The course flows over a varied terrain, sometimes wooded, often open with great outlooks to the surrounding hills. Ben Lomond stands out to the north with the Campsies to the south. The 1st is one of the most interesting holes, a short but intricate Par 4. Locals take a mid-iron off the tee to set up to attack the small, ledge green across a fairly deep valley. It’s a good two-shot hole that calls for restraint and short-iron integrity. The green is tiny therefore you need to land on it rather gingerly. The background couldn't be more inspiring though with the conical shape of Ben Lomond standing up proudly behind the green.
The route then unfolds over several levels, crossing two burns that dissect the course at least a dozen times. Many of the holes are quite open to the wind and it nearly always exerts its presence. The defensive nature of Balfron’s greens lies mainly in their subtle borrows.
There are few better views of the Campsies than you find from the upper part of the course. At 400 feet above sea level, wind again plays its part in making these holes all the more tricky. The 13th is the highest hole enjoying panoramic views. 14 different Bens can be seen on a good day from this spot with the Old Kilpatrick Hills, Lomond Hills, Ochils, Campsies and the Gargunnock Hills nearly always in view.
I've play Balfron twice now and found the welcome most hearty. Visitors don't usually have to book but, as always it’s highly recommended especially on Saturdays and Sundays when they are busy with competitions. The green fees are what you might be tempted to call 'a steal' especially when you see the condition of the course. But whatever you choose to call it, call ahead to check when you want to play and enjoy a terrific round.
Balfron Golf Society
Balfron G63 0SZ
Tel: 07814 827 620
2014 Green Fees: Weekdays: £15 per round. Weekends: £20 per round