Few courses can claim to have the imprints of Old Tom Morris, Dr. Alister MacKenzie, and James Braid. The Rosemount course at Blairgowrie Golf Club is one of them.
Widely acclaimed as one of the finest outposts of inland golfc in the British Isles, Rosemount’s reputation comes not only from its idyllic setting in the fruit-growing region of Scotland not far from Gleneagles but equally from the quality of its challenge and the blue-chip purity of its pedigree. It can’t boast the dramatic grandeur of Gleneagles with its wide and glorious vistas, but Rosemount is a spectacularly beautiful place in its own and totally different way.
It also enjoys that wonderful quality of having each hole as an individual entity unaffected and untouched by any other. Each is played along a private thoroughfare fringed by heather, pine, and silver birch, where a variety of wildlife, long since impervious to the intrusion of man, roams the fairways and rough.
In some ways, it was rather sad that part of the original layout had to be given up to accommodate the new Lansdowne course, opened in 1979 to relieve congestion, but it was an unavoidable price for the addition of a badly needed second layout. Peter Alliss and Dave Thomas were given the task of creating the second course and they did so with the obvious intention of offering a contrast to the original. The result was a much tighter and more modern layout, more American in character, perhaps, but ultimately successful as a counterpoint to its more famous neighbor.
Contrast would have been inevitable given Rosemount’s pedigree. Old Tom laid out the original nine-hole course for its 1889 opening. It served the members well until 1923 when MacKenzie was asked to extend it to 18 holes. The club was soon thinking even further ahead and working on an expansion plan to acquire more acres for development from the Lansdowne family.
In a very shrewd piece of judgment by the club’s hierarchy a decade later, five-time Open Champion James Braid was invited to visit the club while he was in Scotland completing work on a new course at Glenbervie, 60 miles away. Braid was by then the foremost golf course architect in the UK and he brought with him a delicate touch and an understanding mind to look at remodeling MacKenzie’s layout.
Braid required very little time to walk the course, pegging out new greens and tees before accepting his $15 fee and setting off to catch the overnight train back to his headquarters at Walton Heath outside London. He left behind the outline of a masterpiece to be completed in 1934. It was surely the best $15 the Blairgowrie Golf Club ever spent.
The best of the Rosemount holes come at the beginning and end of the round. The opener is a tough 447-yarder that falls away to the left through the trees from the tee and is followed by a short two-shotter where birdie is possible but perdition is only a cluster of menacing bunkers away.
On the run home, the long par-four 16th calls for a good drive across the corner of Black Loch followed by a long and accurate second to a green with out of bounds uncomfortably close all the way down the left side. The short 17th is rated among the World’s 500 Greatest with its huge multi-tiered green, while the 402-yard finishing hole is a gem with trees on the inside of the dogleg forcing the tee shot wide, and the two-tier green stoutly defended by bunkers right and left.
In more recent times, the picturesque clubhouse, with its large bay windows and sheltered porch, has undergone major refurbishment. The original stables have long since gone to make way for today’s horseless carriage and its far greater demands on space. But the atmosphere of what the members used to call “a pretty rustic clubhouse” remains and still offers some of the finest food in Scottish golf.
Rosemount was the scene of Greg Norman’s first European Tour victory when the Martini Tournament was played there in 1977. Inevitably, there have been changes over the years, but much work has been done in recent times to return it as near as possible to the original Braid design with original Braid bunkers re-opened and greens reshaped to his plans. This year, Rosemount hosts the Junior Ryder Cup showcasing the next generation of young players from Europe and the United States.
Scotsman Malcolm Campbell is the former editor of Golf Monthly (UK) and The St Andrews Citizen and author of The Scottish Golf Book.