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Issue 39 - Hidden gems: 7 steps to golf heaven

Scotland Magazine Issue 39
June 2008

 

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Hidden gems: 7 steps to golf heaven

BRORA GOLF CLUB 5872 yards, par 69 Green fees: £37 (weekdays) / £42 (weekend) After taking the overnight Caledonian Sleeper service from London to Inverness I pick up a car and head further north. Afriend has told me about an excellent links course at Brora designed by the great James Braid.

Indeed, Brora is the HQ for the James Braid Golfing Society. It seems like a perfect start to the week.

The first thing that strikes you about Brora is it’s beachside location. It has echoes of nearby Royal Dornoch, which is worldrenowned.

If you can drag your attention from the vistas of Kindtradwell Bay and onto the 1st tee you are in for a treat: the opening nine holes hug the bay in true links tradition.

Highlights of the round include the incredible views of coastline afforded from the 2nd tee; the approach to the beach-side 9th green; and the elevated 17th tee. Using the lighthouse on the horizon as a guide it may just be one of the best driving holes in all of Scotland. Indeed, such is the jaw-dropping beauty of the setting and the varying challenges on the course this just may be the most memorable four hours I’ve ever spent on a golf course... and this is only day one of my trip!

BOAT OF GARTEN GOLF CLUB 5,648 yards, par 70 Green fees £34 (weekdays) / £39 (weekend) Apleasant night passed in Brora and I set off south in search of my next hidden gem.

Boat of Garten in the heart of the Spey Valley is another James Braid classic. If all this talk of Braid is lost on you he was part of the famous triumvirate including JH Taylor and Harry Vardon that dominated the game before WWI.

Boat of Garten is a personal favourite. As soon as you step onto the course you will be taken aback by the backdrop provided by the Cairngorm Mountain range. It is stunning and the course borrows much from the surrounding landscape. It is the golfing equivalent of a roller coaster.

The course weaves in and out of the birch, broom and heather, with numerous blind tee shots and elevated tees and greens. The 355 yard, par four 8th is a case in point. Many will see their approach shots fall short of the elevated green and take what is known locally as a ‘Boat bounce’ back down the hill past them.

I doubt any golfer leaves ‘The Boat’ wishing never to see it again. It’s a real golfing challenge and makes the green fee seem paltry in relation.

FRASERBURGH GOLF CLUB 5,835 yards, par 70 Green fees: £34 (weekdays) / £39 (weekend) East of the Spey Valley, near Aberdeen, is Fraserburgh. Doubting whether the golf could get any better I am pleasantly surprised upon arrival.

I was told about Fraserburgh in hushed tones in the clubhouse of the London Scottish Golf Club – half the fun of hidden gems is how you find out about them.

Fraserburgh is typical of East coast golf.

The links are wild, true and testing. The imposing dunes put you in mind of a lunar landscape and the constant wind adds to the challenge. If history is your thing you’ll love it here too. Established in 1777 it is the seventh oldest course in the world (and yet another James Braid creation).

The Corbiehill course here is as tough a test of links golf as you’ll find anywhere. The undulating fairways and lightning quick greens provide a challenge for even the best golfers. There is a proliferation of excellent par fours but the highlight of the round is the par three, 7th. It’s one of those holes that you just want to go back and play again and again.

I leave envying the locals who pay just £410 per year for membership.

MACHRIHANISH GOLF CLUB 6,235 yards, par 70 Green fees: £50 (weekdays) / £60 (weekends) There’s hidden gems and there’s hidden gems. Machrihanish is very much the latter.

Set in the dunes on the western shore of the remote Kintyre Peninsula, ‘Mach’ is famed for its stunning first hole. Here players are required to carry a portion of the Atlantic Ocean dotted with surfers and array of marine life.

The hand of that other great 19th century golf architect, Tom Morris, can be detected at Mach: ‘Old Tom’ was also responsible for Muirfield and Royal Dornoch too. The fairways here are undulating and the views stark: the Isles of Jura and Islay loom large on the horizon.

Machrihanish is not just about the famous opening hole, however. The par three 4th is virtually unplayable and every tee shot, save for the closing two, demand increasing degrees of accuracy and luck. It’s everything a hidden gem of golf should be: challenging, stunning and overlooked.

The course’s location will never allow it to be overplayed, however. It is a three-hour drive from Glasgow, a ferry ride from Turnberry or you can arrive by plane from Glasgow.

NORTH BERWICK GOLF CLUB 6,458 yards, par 71 Green fees: £65 (weekdays) / £85 (weekend) Ashort drive down the coast, hindered by last night’s whisky consumption, and I’m at North Berwick. This course stands in real golfing heartland. Indeed, when The Open is held at nearby Muirfield final qualifying is played here.

Founded in 1832, the West Links is shaped by the shifting seaside landscape. It could never be cultivated and that is the key to great links golf.

The opening nine holes are set just back from the shore of the Firth of Forth. Off-shore is the island of Fidra that is said to have inspired Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

There is not a weak hole on the course. The three stand-outs are the 13th, 14th and 15th which snake home along the sea front. The par four 13th boasts a sunken green protected by a low wall.

The 14th is ‘Perfection.’ Seriously, local legend states that it takes two perfect shots to find the green. I only know that two mediocre shots do not. The par three 15th rounds off the trio with a testing tee shot demanding the player holds the sloping green with a deep gully to the right awaiting waywardshots.

THE ROXBURGHE 7,111 yards, par 72 Green fees: £65 The Borders may not be famed for golf but The Roxburghe is challenging that perception with this great inland track. Of all the courses I’ll play this week this is the one I know least about. Yet it came recommended by none less than former Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance.

The Roxburghe is a baby: it was only opened in 1997. It may not be characteristic of Scotland but is one of the crowning achievements of Dave Thomas’ career (Thomas also designed The Belfry). With myriad deep bunkers, wide rolling greens and wide fairways mirroring the contours of the land, it offers a unique challenge.

The course is as picturesque as they come and during the round as you drink in postcardperfect view after view you’ll thank the Duke of Roxburghe, who lives on the estate in Floors Castle, for opening up this rich man’s playground for all to savour.

There’s not a better hole on the course than the par five 14th that runs along the banks of the River Teviot. And who better to endorse it than Torrance himself: “It’s such a beautiful hole in such a glorious setting.” Quite.

STRANRAER GOLF CLUB 6,056 yards, par 70 Green fees: £28 (weekdays) / £33 (weekends) On the drive west I detour past Stranraer. It’s not on my itinerary but a Brora member said I must play it because it was the last course James Braid designed. The course looked great bathed in the summer evening light so I cancelled my tee-time at a nearby course and went grovelling for one here instead. I was squeezed on early the next morning and played with a local member.

On such a fine golfing coast as this – Barassie and Troon lie to the north – Braid knew he had to do something special. And he didn’t disappoint. The par four 3rd in particular is spectacular. Using all his collected nous, Braid makes the player cross a stream three times to reach a green protected by a huge bunker on the left and a steep bank on the right.

After my experiences with Braid’s courses it was hard not to get nostalgic as I walked up the 18th. Named Braid’s Last it was a fitting way to round off my trip.

It was with heavy heart that I left Scotland.

I wondered had I really just packed all that wonderful golf into a week or had it all been a dream? But it was not a dream. It was enjoyable, easy on the wallet and utterly memorable. There was only one problem: a week was too short. Next summer I’m coming for two.

Getting there The First ScotRail Caledonian Sleeper travels nightly from London Euston to Inverness (excluding Saturday) www.firstgroup.com/scotrail Campbeltown (near Machrihanish) is served by scheduled flights from Glasgow Airport: Loganair www.loganair.co.uk Tel: +44 (0)1586 552 571

Contact
Brora Golf Club
Golf Road, Brora, Sutherland, KW9 6QS
Tel: +44 (0)1408 621 417
www.broragolf.co.uk
Boat of Garten Golf Club
Nethybridge Road, Boat of Garten,
Inverness-shire, PH24 3BQ
Tel: +44 (0)1479 831 282
www.boatgolf.com
Fraserburgh Golf Club
Philorth Links, Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, AB43 8TL
Tel: +44 (0)1346 516 616
www.fraserburghgolfclub.net
North Berwick Golf Club
Beach Road, North Berwick, East Lothian, EH39 4BB
Tel: +44 (0)162 089 504
www.northberwickgolfclub.com
The Roxburghe Hotel & Golf Course
Kelso, Roxburghshire, TD5 8JZ
Tel: +44 (0)157 345 033
www.roxburghe.net
Stranraer Golf Club
Creachmore, Leswalt, Dumfries & Galloway, DG9 0LF
Tel: +44 (0)1776 870 245
www.stranraergolfclub.net
Machrihanish Golf Club
Machrihanish, Campbeltown
Argyll, PA28 6PT
Tel: +44 (0)1586 810 277
www.machgolf.com