A 36 hole day at Golspie on a perfect October day is a golfing memory I won’t soon forget. If there’s another course with such a natural flow through all sorts of landscapes, with firm and fast rolling links turf, I haven’t played them (but I should!). This is what I imagine Alister Mackenzie meant when he stated it is the architect’s duty to take the golfer on a journey across the highlights of a property, never showcased better than at his masterpiece on the 17 Mile Drive (taking everybody’s word for it unfortunately).
I’m not usually summing up too many individual holes but there’s just a lot of architectural interest on many of them at Golspie. Take the 2nd, which is an excellent par 3 that comes after the gentle opening par 5, with an intimidating teeshot to a well guarded but big multi tiered green laid on the same level as the tees, in a bowl with a Royal Lytham like backdrop of brown stone houses. The next 3 holes all run along the beach and are excellent golf holes. #5 is the pick of the bunch, being a short, even reachable par 4 at 288 yards, but very awkward to pull off that fact, as it narrows towards the sunken green and the landing area is heavily undulated. The more distance you gain, the less your stance will be level. The beach is also very much in play as the fairway and green are perched hard against the edge of the beach, divided by a low wall. A more conservative tee shot gives more comfort and should seal at least a bogey and in most cases a sub 100 yards blind shot which can be hit short and will release towards the green as it falls down steep to a flat green. The green is very receptive, which is a nice compensation for having to negotiate the blind approach. The 6th is a lovely par 3 hit to a green nestled in the base of a dune with another sort of bowlshaped green sloping back to front and left to right, with Ben Bragghie, the megalomaniac statue of the highly impopular late Duke of Sutherland, lurking in the background as a spectator. Maybe that’s why I pulled my teeshot.
The 7th is a transition hole that takes you from the links land to the heathland part of the property. But it’s much more than that. The fairway runs steeply uphill and you need to decide if you want to take the risk of ending up in the gorse when you take out the big dog in order to obtain a view of the green for the approach. It’s just a full or flip wedge to the green, but the green is bonkers. I was a bit bummed we couldn’t stay there for half an hour to try all the different putts, turning 180 degrees and what not.
The heathland part of the course, 8-11 is a wonderful challenging stretch of 2 long par 4s, followed by a picturesque short par 3 and a mid range par 4, all gently flowing through fields of heather and each with their own charm. The course then leaves behind the heathland and opens up again with two more engaging mid length par 4s, followed by a wide par 5 which one must take advantage of and gain a cushion and keep the momentum going for Golspie’s grande finale which is the finishing stretch 15-18, back on links land.
15 is a beast of a par 4 requiring two long shots into a right to left sloping green. The challenge is to remain on the low side but not be too low. Leaking it right will leave an impossible up and down as the ball simply won’t stop. It might be wise to take your medicine if you find your drive out of position, and make sure to leave an easy chip or pitch to the flag, if you’re able to open up the green with a lay up.
The consecutive par 3s 16 and 17 are both exquisite and would not be out of place on any famed links. Both require accurate shot making, have exquisite green complexes based on simple but effective design principles. The 16th green is shaped with a run off on the left and in front of the green, whereby the run off on the front is steep on the left and flat on the right. The green is multi tiered and deeper than it is wide. Once again, there are many fun recovery shots imaginable on this hole.
The 18th is reminiscent of the 15th at Brora with an Alp in the middle of the fairway on a long par 4. The approach is blind but there is not much to be afraid of, besides another excellent green.
It’s not just the course in its entirety that has great variety, also the different segments of the course are varied, in shots required, playing direction, par numbers and the give-and-take game of challenge versus opportunity. The green to tee hole walks are limited to a minimum in as you’d expect of a Braid design. Whilst the routing is not an out and back design, there are no 2 loops of 9 holes but you do meet the clubhouse after 5 and 13 holes respectively. A couple of old members playing in front of us made good use of the first option and went in for rest and a cold one and were still able to enjoy a 5 hole game on their beloved links. Blend all these ingredients and this means we’re looking at a superstrong routing here, in addition to a very natural, unpretentious environment and an anthology of beautiful landscapes.
The only weakness worth mentioning is that the set of par 5s is not particularly strong. While they come at convenient and fitting times in the round, both are very wide, can be reached easily and have little interest compared to the other holes. None of them are bad holes however.
Brora, anno 2021 having reached cult status, receives all the praise but Golspie is hardly behind in quality, playing fun or variety. Its green complexes are very engaging, the ways in which challenge had been created on the short lay-out is very inspiring and the set of 5, each unique par 3’s is of superb quality. Understatement and quirk are constantly taking turns.
If I were ever to apply for an overseas membership in GB&I, this might very well be the place.
Date: December 07, 2021