Established in 1889, Forres Golf Club’s first 18-hole course opened for play fifteen years after the club was founded. In 1912, when a more favourable tract of land became available at Muiryshade, the club decamped to that location, engaging Willie Park Junior to design a new 18-hole course which James Braid subsequently upgraded in 1923.
According to the book James Braid and his Four Hundred Golf Courses by John F. Moreton & Iain Cumming, a “Golf Illustrated article of 20th July 1928, surveying the courses of north Scotland, enthuses ‘here you see Jimmie Braid written all over the place… he suggested all the improvements that have made it what it is’.”
The book goes on to say that two holes, the old 5th and 6th, have since disappeared (resulting in quite a long walk from the modern day 5th green to the 6th tee) with two new holes – the 202-yard par three 7th (”Witch Tree”) and 368-yard par four 8th (“Rodger’s”) – replacing those that were lost.Five par fours in succession (at holes 11 to 15) form a formidable challenge on the back nine and they’re immediately followed by the signature hole on this rolling parkland track which is “Pond,” the 322-yard 16th, where the fairway doglegs right past a sizeable water hazard on its way to the green.
I am constantly amazed as I hack my way around Scotland how many of our small towns are in possession of good golf courses. Quite a few of these, incidentally, are nine-holers. But that's for another day. Anyway, Forres is a shining example of that observation. From the dramatic high tee at the opening hole - replicated at the 4th - the course makes its way through the trees with many changes of elevation to pique your interest. On the front nine I really like the short 5th, with a tall tree guarding the left side of the green, the 8th - where thick trees hem you in from both sides - and the view of the sea from the 9th green.The meat and potatoes of the layout come from holes 11-14, a set of tough long par fours. At 15 the green is invitingly tucked at the bottom of a steep slope and this is a prelude to the most striking hole on the course which features a pond on the right and a split-level fairway. It is hard to imagine anyone not enjoying a day at this James Braid gem. The only wonder is that it is not deemed worthy of a place in the top 20 for the region.
I played in the Forres five-day Open this year, returning after many years to a course I played as a junior. It was a happy homecoming, the greens were in great shape, the overall maintenance levels are consistently strong.
The course itself is fun to play, there are a good mixture of long and short holes for all abilities.
The undulating first five holes are particularly pleasant, a theme that continues on holes 14 thru 16. All of these are great looking holes, which sit naturally in their environment.
A stretch of long par 4s on the back nine are less easy on the eye, but present a good challenge especially for the better player.
All in all, Forres is a fine place to play and enjoy yourself!
The steeply downhill short par four 1st gets the round off to a spectacular start at Forres, with the fairway playing to a pronounced two-tiered green. The next couple of holes rise and fall dramatically on their way towards noticeably elevated greens before the best hole on the front nine is faced at the 379-yard 4th.
Played from a mightily impressive gun platform tee position in the southwest corner of the course, this hole drops down sharply to a fairway that eases gently left, over a little ridge that cuts across fifty yards in front of the green, to a two-tiered putting surface which slopes from back to front.
Five holes later, the front nine ends with an uphill shot to the plateau 9th green at the highest point on the course in the most northerly part of the property. It’s here that golfers can pause for a moment or two to take in the fabulous views across the Moray Firth to the Black Isle.
Holes 11 to 14 then continue back and forward across pleasantly undulating ground, with adequate separation from each other due to a lovely mix of arboreal specimens (including beautiful copper beech trees) lining the fairways. All four holes attract low stroke index ratings so they’ll certainly form a critical sequence in match play situations.
And there’s a delightful twist to the last of these par fours, with the green for the 14th positioned at the bottom of a large slope which runs down from right to left towards the sunken putting surface, so there will be plenty of second shots played blind here, even by golfers who are long off the tee.
The next two holes are also crackers: the tee shot through a gap in the trees at the 15th precedes another downhill approach to the green (which may well be blind), followed by the signature 16th, requiring an exhilarating shot from a high tee to a split fairway that doglegs right to a bowl-shaped green.
It’s a shame the last hole is comparatively mundane – with a big walk back to the tee and another blind approach to the green – but don’t allow that to cloud your thinking about the quality of the earlier holes as there’s enough good golf going on at Forres to guarantee it competes favourably with all the other courses in the local area.
I wasn’t sure what to expect of Forres but, for certain, I didn’t anticipate the big dipper start to the round, with severely undulating fairways pitching and rolling between elevated tee positions and raised greens on the opening five holes. You don’t exactly need hiking boots but I can imagine a few of the older members will be pechin’ on one or two of the sharp uphill climbs.
After such a thrilling start to the round, things then settle down a little until reaching the par five 9th, where contour lines on the map become tightly packed again as the fairway rises up another couple of steep inclines towards the hole’s putting surface tucked into the northwest corner of the property.
Something of a topographical hiatus occurs between the 11th and 14th on the back nine, where these four holes line up in parallel on relatively flat ground – though forget it if you think these flatter playing fields offer much respite as the stroke index for these holes is 7-1-3-9!
The 16th, with a split fairway offering a higher left or lower right driving option, doglegs down and right to the green and I can see why it’s singled out by many as the signature hole on the layout. For sure, that accolade won’t be given to the 18th as the home hole is rather weak, especially in light of the good holes that have gone before.