In fact few courses away from the coast in Scotland can better what is on offer at this mature and well-conditioned private-members venue.
Founded in 1879, when six holes were originally laid out by Old Tom Morris, the course is a very consistent heathland layout that requires accuracy from the tee because most of the fairways are tight, tree-lined and flanked by heather. Stray off line and you will be punished. Fairway bunkers also add to the driving challenge but are used sparingly and are mostly quite shallow so advancing the ball from them is relatively easy; you’re actually better off in one of these than running through into the trees and undergrowth.
It also requires precision when playing into the greens thanks to protection from much deeper sand traps, often positioned both left and right, and generally speaking the greens are quite small targets. The greens themselves putted really nicely and whilst there are some slopes overall the putting surfaces are reasonably flat.
Despite its early origins it wasn’t until the early 1960’s that Ladybank became an 18-hole layout. The present day routing traverses a compact site in two loops of nine although the par-71 course can stretch to a lengthy 6,821 yards and it is these championship “green tees” that were mostly likely used when Local Final Qualifying for The Open was most recently held here in 2010; it has also been staged at Ladybank six times previously.
Indeed, many famous golfers, including several Major winners, have walked the firm fairways of Ladybank and a SSS of 73 is testament to how tough a challenge it can be. That’s perhaps one reason why so many leading national amateur championships have also been played here.
Most of the holes, some of which have a more parkland feel, bend slightly through the narrow woodland of Scots Pine and Silver Birch although the third is a sharp dog-leg and the par-five seventh is a tricky S-shaped design. Others have a more modest dog-leg and getting in position from the tee at Ladybank is paramount to recording a good score. This is not always easy though due to the slender nature of the playing corridors.
The terrain is quite flat and it isn’t until the ninth that we see any sort of significant movement in the land with a deceiving dip located just in front of the green. The back nine contains some further modest changes in elevation towards the end of the round.
All of the short holes are pretty and have well defended greens but it is the par-fours that are the real strength of Ladybank. The par fives work well too.
My favourite two holes on the course came late on. The 15th and 16th are a couple of fine two-shotters that play in opposite directions. The first is played left-to-right towards a lovely green complex, where approaching from the left is favourable, whilst the next curves the other way to a slanted green.
Offering good value and with a strong reputation Ladybank is more than very pleasant, provides a fine test and comes highly recommended – especially the warm welcome you receive from the Pro Shop - but it doesn’t quite stir the golfing soul like the links courses of Scotland but then again what does.
Copt Heath is a very fine parkland golf course that requires precision, plotting and a deft touch around the slick greens.
The Blue is a mix of American-style design and traditional English parkland. It's an unusual combination which makes the most of the terrain available. It was designed by Simon Gidman and opened in 1994.