The Boat of Garten Golf & Tennis Club is located at the gateway to the Highlands. It’s an enchanting place. Flanking the course to the west is the quaint Strathspey Railway, which runs from the popular ski resort of Aviemore, through Boat of Garten, which is also known as the Osprey village. The lovingly restored steam trains, occasionally puff and pant their way past the course. The River Spey lies to the east of the heath and beyond that are the distant peaks of the Monadhliath Mountains. Dominating to the south are the mighty, snow-capped Cairngorms. This is some location.
Boat of Garten Golf Club was founded in 1898 and the celebrated Scottish architect, James Braid, was asked to convert the original 9-hole layout to an 18-hole course in 1930. Make no mistake – this is fun golf. This lovely course wends its way, up and down, through heather, whin, pine and birch. The fairways pitch and roll – sometimes alarmingly in the summer when the ground is hard – making for awkward stances.
It’s a short course, measuring slightly less than 5,900 yards from the back tees. There are a couple of long par fours and two short par fives, but apart from those holes, your driver will not be required. Unusually, Boat of Garten opens up with a par three – always tricky early on in the round – followed by a short par four, where the fantastic views really begin to grab the attention. If a good golf hole is a memorable one, then the par four 6th, called “Avenue”, will remain etched in the mind for eternity. The hole doglegs to the right – pine and birch trees tightly flank the fairway. Cutting off the dogleg is fraught with danger, but a lay-up will leave a 200-yard approach to a hogback green. It’s a beauty.
Some regard Boat of Garten as holiday golf. It's so much more in our opinion. Clearly it’s a short course, but on the other hand, it’s also a difficult course on which to score well. We think it’s an absolute delight and we’d happily become lifetime members.
Over 30 years ago there was a “Golf Courses of Scotland” supplement in Golf World, which I read avidly as a young golfer. Amongst all the great links courses, there was one short course in the Highlands that caught my imagination - and has stayed there ever since. Today I finally got the chance to play Boat of Garten and it lived up to all of my expectations.
Do not be put off by the relatively short yardage. This is simply a wonderful place to be and a really fun and enjoyable course. Unlike so many bigger name inland course - particularly those built in the UK in the last 30 years - it makes you think and play every club in your bag (including, for me, 5 different ones off the tee on the par 4s!). It also has incredible turf. After months of playing soggy golf in England (including some of the great Surrey heathland courses), it was dry and bouncy, even on a damp April morning. Wonderful!
If you’re ever up in the Highlands, do not miss it!
The Boat of Garten hasn't been on my radar before (and I suspect is not on the radar of others for the same reason) because it is a wee course, as the Scots would say. It plays 5,648 yards from the tees that visitors are permitted to play from, with a par of 70. What a big mistake it was not playing before, this is a fabulous place to play golf.
The course was immediately reminiscent of Walton Heath and Sunningdale: a beautiful heathland paradise, although the Boat also has a load of silver birch and Scottish broom as well. The "going back in time" feel while on the property is palpable. Because architect Braid kept the original hilly landforms unchanged the course features many blind shots. The par five fourth hole features a blind second shot and thus, the course has a lot of black and white striped poles to guide the golfer around. I know not everyone likes blind shots, although I do and find them fun and quirky. The thirteenth is a great hole, representing the only three shot hole on the back nine. Although only 469 yards, it plays uphill almost the entire way through a natural valley and gets progressively narrower from tee to green. It also has an unsettling forced carry off the tee. The top of the hill on the hole contains another directional black and white pole and the flag is not visible until you are less than 150 yards away. A further challenge is provided by the sloping nature of the hole, which cants from left to right from tee to green.
The 15th hole is one of the best I have ever played and must be unique. There is a tip-off that something is up when you walk up the hill to the tee box and there is a lookout tower. At the top of the steps is a platform that allows you to look out over the hole to give you some sense of what you are about to play, which is a sub-300-yard par four with two blind shots. The idea behind the lookout is to allow the unsuspecting golfer to attempt to get a lay of the land. A brilliant idea, but even after looking out over the hole, it remained an enigma. The hole’s name is "Gully" and it contains two directional poles to help the unknowing golfer find their way. I hit driver off the tee, which was a mistake, it really only requires an iron off the tee so that you don’t land in the gully (which you can't see from the lookout tower). The green is of a punch bowl variety and fun.
Personally, I can’t believe that the course doesn’t get more accolades, it is a seriously fun and yet still challenging place to play despite its lack of length.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
We played the Boat on a still quiet day in June 2018. We had the course to ourselves. The course is delightful and no pushover. The setting is superb and the holes always interesting, though you will get some quirky bounces in this dry burnt out summer. Combine the Boat with Nairn, about 40 minutes drive for a great trip.
You might benefit from being part mountain goat if you plan to play this gem in the Cairngorms. As you’d expect from a location such as this, the scenery is beautiful and the course isn’t too shabby either. A series of sweeping holes cover some beautifully hilly terrain. The firm, springy fairways here haven’t been smoothed over, they’re full of lumps and bumps that add a real character to an extent that I haven’t previously seen on an inland course.
You need to play precision golf around the Boat, but don’t confuse this with target golf. I found the turf to be unusually dry and your ball can be knocked way off target by those aforementioned humps if you go slightly astray, something I found to my own detriment when pushing my ball to the right of the charming par three 3rd.
There are plenty of superb holes that you need to plot your way around but I’d like to pick out two holes that were personal favourites. The par five 13th is a long steep climb from tee to green meaning that plenty of length is added to what on paper reads like a gettable birdie hole. The green location is also tucked around a corner making the latter half of the hole play like a spiral. The short 15th is the other knock-out hole that I can recall, with not one but two marker posts to provide you with a sense of direction. As shown in the photo, this is just one example of the distinctive lumpy fairways at Boat of Garten, just mind out for the dell on this hole that will snaffle most drives of the uninitiated first timer.
I have to question why Boat of Garten gets overlooked by so many. Is it because it’s a short course, because it’s quirky or because it’s situated amongst so many great links courses? It’s probably a combination of all three. Please don’t be put off by the length of the course being sub-6000 yards, I’ve played many less challenging courses that have much longer yardages. There’s enough about the Boat to test the vast majority of amateur golfers and it’s a course that deserves far greater recognition. Just remember to bring those hiking boots.
Onword describes playing at Boat of Garten - FABULOUS. We stopped here on the way to Golspie for a weeks golf and it was one of the best decisions we made. The course was in fabulous condition and a joy to play plus the staff friendly and helpful. Everything you could ask for. We are hoping to repeat our Highlands tour next year and if we do we will certainly play hear again.
With around 3,000 golf clubs in the UK it’s inevitable that courses will get bracketed by style and character.
Whether it be parkland, heathland or links it’s usually quite easy to compare one similar type of course to another. Not at Boat of Garten! This is one of the most unique golf courses I have ever played.
Importantly though, not only is it unique and boasts a character all of its own, it is a golf course of an extremely high quality.
Boat of Garten is a great test, despite its modest length of 5,876 yards (par 70), and has more fun and interesting shots within its 18 holes than any other course that I can easily bring to mind.
I guess you could try and categorise it as a heathland-moorland hybrid yet the fairways and green complexes are more reminiscent of a links despite it being 30 miles from the sea.
“The Boat” was established in 1898 and is set alongside the River Spey in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, only 10 minutes from Aviemore, and the location is nothing short of stunning with an awe-inspiring backdrop ever-present. That much was apparent on our recent visit even on the overcast day that we experienced.
Short, quirky and fun would be three words to describe Boat of Garten but it is also much more than that. There is a real sense of quality to many of the holes. The second, sixth and 18th are three that easily come to mind and wouldn’t be out of place at much more famous venues. There is also a whole host of holes that back these up with interesting drives, often from an elevated position, and teasing approaches to plateau greens and other excellently sited putting surfaces.
Located just a few miles off the A9 road Boat of Garten makes a great stop-off for those on their way to or from the many wonderful links courses in The Highlands. But that is not to do the course justice because it’s worth making a journey here in its own right and must certainly rank within the top half-a-dozen inland courses in Scotland.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
I finished off my short tour “up north” last week with a game at the Boat and was so glad that I concluded my sojourn north on a real high. Playing here in early October on a windless day with the sun on your back and only the occasional peep-peep from a passing steam train to distract was an absolute joy.
I sometimes keep a score for each hole as I play it and at the end of the round I checked my card to see I’d given full points to twelve holes, six on each nine, with only the relatively bland par threes on the 1st and 9th holes meriting a minimal mark – now that sort of scoring is normally reserved for courses in the GB&I Top 100.
You don’t have to read between the lines with any of the preceding reviews to gain something of an understanding of what golfers feel about The Boat and that’s because it’s relatively easy for them to wax lyrical when they’ve been privileged to play on a little bit of golfing heaven on earth within the confines of the Highlands.
Right from the start, the view down the fairway from the elevated tee box on the 2nd takes your breath away before you then embark on a big dipper ride through the forest; often heading downhill, then uphill, towards an elevated green set precariously on top of a ridge or on the other side of a gully – it’s unrelenting, heart-stopping stuff.
Having paused for breath around the halfway mark at the relatively flat 9th and 10th, it’s then time for more of the same golfing drama on the back nine, with the stretch from 11 to 15 as good as any five-hole sequence I’ve played this year (and I’ve been fortunate enough to play one or two top tracks in 2016).
An earlier reviewer mentioned an “almost mystical” feel to playing here and I would go along with that. The Machrie on Islay is the only other course where I’d describe the golf experience in similar terms and The Boat now joins it in that high regard. I sincerely hope it’s not another ten years until I return to this wonderful place…
What an amazing lovely course Boat of Garten is! For the pure joy of golf, this course is second to none. Played there in a sunny and warm September afternoon and all I can say is that, after playing in the same trip such courses as Dornoch, Castle Stuart or Brora, I had more fun in the Boat than in any of the others.
The atmosphere of the club, the secluded and remote location... everything comes together to make The Boat a really special place.
I would give the albatross rating if not for that, in terms of presentation, it may not reach the level of other courses, but that doesn't mean that the greens don´t roll well and the bumpy and uneven fairways were fast and hard.
Despite being somewhat outside the traditional golfing circuits (especially coming here from Spain), even in the Highlands, no one should miss this lovely golf course.
An absolute delight.
What a brilliant, brilliant golf course. If you make your way to the Highlands for a golf trip, be sure to tag this gem onto your itinerary. It is stunning, and one of the best inland courses I have ever played. So enjoyable, and so interesting. Tight fairways, tough green complexes, huge elevation changes, all with the snow capped Cairngorms as a backdrop. Inland golf doesn't get much better than this, and after 3 tough days on the links, it was a welcome respite to have some shelter from the winds!
Fully expected this to be a fun knock around before the flight back south, but it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable rounds of golf I have ever played.
So pleased that this place has shot up the rankings, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it creep up further over the coming years. I cant wait to go back. At £25 it was also, without doubt, the best value round of golf I have ever played. To think you could play this course every day for a fortnight for the same price as one hit around the West at Wentworth is astonishing. I would prefer to fly up there at the crack of dawn, play 36 here into the evening, and then fly back that night than play the West again - and it would be cheaper!
Having read a number of golf magazine articles describing The Boat as one of Scotlands hidden gems, it was one of the courses on The Digger Bucket list. When a course has such a reputation, sometimes the actual experience does not meet the expectation and leaves you wondering what all the fuss was about. We finally played in the The Boat's Greensome Open on Sunday 29th September and the experience was, by far, way way better than I anticipated.
On arrival, you just know it’s a friendly and welcoming club and has a strong community spirit about the place. Having played a number of courses in the Highlands, my only regret was not to have played it before this year. The only hole that you would say is not outstanding is actually the 1st, which is a 169 Par 3. However I expect James Braid designed it this way, as a simple entre to introduce you for the waiting feast ahead. And what a feast it is. When you face the 2nd hole, a 351 yd par 4, you are faced with a mogul-filled fairway, severely slanted landing area, and a plateaued green. Stunning. From there it just gets better, or as Digger's misty-eyed playing partner would later pronounce on the 18th fairway. "Every hole just gets fabulouser and fabulouser, a wonderment". yes Indeed, my vocabulary challenged friend. Hills, heather, the abundance of trees, the Cairngorm mountains always in the background and a steam train that blows its whistle as it chugs past the 4th and 6th holes from time to time. A real wonderment.
The member in the car park will tell you to keep your driver in the trunk, however playing off the whites and into the teeth of an ever increasing wind, The Boat tempts you, at ever turn, to get out the big dog and have a lash. Yes, the fairways are tight, but not over severe. Hitting on the short stuff and you are rewarded with the pleasure of hitting into superb greens, with your mid to short irons, giving you every chance of birdie. But beware, don't be fooled into thinking that this course is just about the breathtaking beauty that surrounds you. For the seriously errant shot, this course has nasty teeth, in rough gorse, bunkers and the strategically placed heather and trees, which will bite you deep. To the point where, yes, after hacking your way back onto fairway, you then know you should listened to the member in the car park, or at least ask yourself the question and pull a long iron or fairway wood. The Boat will ask you the question at every tee-up and, unfortunately, The Digger and his playing amigo were found wanting on a number of occasions. But it mattered not a jot, as this stunning course will test, challenge and ultimately bring you back time and time again to try and "best it". More importantly, it is a fun and enjoyable experience. The way Braid designed it to be, no doubt about that.