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.
Have we got lucky this week! Ducking much of the rain blowing across the UK, our trip to Boat Of Garten on Tuesday was once again blessed with dry weather. This course has been on my must play list ever since I read a Top 100 UK & Ireland Courses Magazine in 2012 and this was in the next 100. It looked glorious - 8 years later I have been able to enjoy this beautiful course 1st hand.
Having played Gleneagles on Sunday, it was great to compare James Braid design over these 2 courses. B of G is situated near the Cairngorms and Aviemore and the surrounding scenery with snow capped peaks is stunning. As is the course. It sort of wends itself up the side of one hill (holes 4 - 8) then across the plateau (holes 9-11) then back down the other side. The routing is exceptional.
After a gentle start across what is quite a wide open ‘field’ (I’d prefer some more heather eating into the carry area to add definition) on a 170 yard par 3, the 2nd gives a great impression of what is to follow. You can see how the course has been built using all the natural contouring so the fairways have lumps, bumps, dips, hollows a plenty - one can imagine James Braid stood there, working out which trees to clear and simply working with the contouring that is left.
After the 2nd par 3 on hole 3, the course really gets going with a 509 yard par 5, played alongside the railway, before 2 excellent holes in the par 5th and 6th, the 1st players uphill and then to a raised green set into the hillside, before the dog leg right 403 yard 6th, which plays back down the same hillside. The 7th is a blind shot over a hill with a well hit second finding its way to a green that is sat down the other side of the hill. The pick of the front 9 for me was the 8th; teeing off from a high tee, the hole is lined with silver birch trees, and then the green is raised high above you, so your 2nd shot needs to be all carry.
You then reach the plateau and the shortest par 3, but again don’t be even a tad short as the ball will be thrown off left, rather than bouncing onto the green. The 10th is a short par 4, only 271 yards long, with a wide fairway, and a real birdie chance. The 11th plays back along the top of the plateau; play to the left hand side and this will open up the green (which you can see from the 9th tee)
Then exit left and over to the other side of the hill, to the beautiful and tight looking 12th. Again played from an elevated tee, the landing area narrows the further up the hole you go. Take note of the pin placement on this 2 tier green.
I really like the par 5 13th. A generous landing area, narrows as you hit your second shot up the hill, leaving a short iron shot to a green which is still above you. Bunkers and steep slope to the right.
The last few holes are all good, my favourite being the 15th, which is played blind over two markers, and over a gully to a green in a dell. Beautifully framed with broom and birch, even wild deer were in attendance.
The 16th is the last par 3 - the slope to the front will mop up any short shots, leaving an up and down to make par.
A short, let it rip, par 4 precedes the 18th, at 437 yards par 4, requires 2 good long shots. Aim left hand side off the tee as anything central will feed back to the right, leaving a tighter shot down the tree line. The green sits beside the clubhouse and tennis courts, which are also part of the club.
Whilst short this is a fantastic, picturesque, undulating and challenging course. It doesn’t have the conditioning or finishing touches which the Queens at Gleneagles does, but it is so easy to see how it was designed and you get to marvel at Braids handiwork in what is a stunning location.
I’m loving these short courses, not because some of the shorter holes provide plenty of birdie chances, but because of the clever use of land and natural surroundings to present challenges to even the best golfers, whilst allowing those who play them to have fun.
The village of Boat of Garten is located in the highlands of Northern Scotland, on the road less travelled.. The locals had long known that the course was something special, but when Tom Doak published his 'Confidential Guide to Golf Courses' all those years ago, and sang its praises, Boat of Garten GC was thrust onto the world stage...
The course is a par 70, measuring 5876 yards from the back tees. The land is hilly. Although I found it an easy walk, the holes move up and down significantly, and there are quite a number of blind approach shots, or blind drives, where you must hit over a marker and have faith!
A number of the fairways are crowned as well, and a seemingly straight drive ends up well into the rough. It really is a course where you would benefit enormously from playing more than once. There are surprises around every corner!
We played on a cool, overcast June day with the heather just about to burst into colour. I could imagine playing this course on a sunny day with the purple heather in full bloom, and the silver birch backdrop, and being overwhelmed by the beauty of the place... It is just a gorgeous site for a golf course.
Boat of Garten is not a championship course, but simply a lovely local course in a wonderful setting. I liked the course, but can imagine it would frustrate some, with those crowned fairways, and so many blind shots.
Among my favourite holes were:
- the short par 4 5th hole with its elevated green surrounded closely by the silver birches on 3 sides
- the short 15th, aptly named 'Gully'
- and hole 17, a mid length par 4 with a delightful green complex.
We had a lovely day- it is a beautiful spot and the course is enjoyable... And if you stay in the area, dine at Anderson's restaurant. It is a perfect way to finish the day.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Tucked away in the remarkable Cairngorms National Park, this is a stunning golf course in spectacular surroundings. I heard that this was a nice place to stop when driving up to the Highlands, but I’d strongly support changing that mentality and suggest that this course is absolutely worth a trip just for itself rather than being an add-on to break a journey.
As previous reviewers have appropriately mentioned, it’s truly hard to believe why this course doesn’t get more accolades. The undulating ground, beautiful flowers and trees with mouth-watering mountainous surroundings are a golfing paradise. Adjacent to the golf car park is the Boat of Garten railway station which boasts a fabulous Steam Engine train that goes right past the course during the summer, which just adds to the charm of the picture-book setting.
The value for money, charming architecture and local hospitality were fantastic, and I could easily see this climbing up in the rankings just based on the golf design alone. I made a lot of my friends jealous that I played here, and I could only encourage you to do the same soon. Great golf!!
Got lucky and added this into an already packed itinerary on a tour, and how glad I am that we did.
Amazing course with some stunning scenery.
Such a contrast to the many links courses.
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…