Organised golf has been played in this part of the Scottish Highlands for well over a hundred years with Golspie Golf Club formed in 1889 – twelve years after Dornoch, one year before Tain and two years before Brora.
Unlike these other three neighbouring courses, the terrain at Golspie is not exclusively links in nature. The course routing sets out over meadowland, quickly turns back as links along the Dornoch Firth for several holes, veers away from the shore into tree-lined heathland around the turn then returns to parkland and links by the end of the round – quite a combination!
There are birdie opportunities early in the round at the 493-yard 1st hole, named “Backies” and at the 522-yard par five 4th hole, named “Gully”. However, you’re well advised to leave your second shot at the 4th short of the small valley in front of the green – the ball may be playable on the right side but there is heavy rough on the left side and any shot out of here will be played blind to the green.
An interesting pair of short par fours – the 288-yard “Sahara” and 285-yard “Fleet” – are played immediately before and after the par three 6th hole, called “Saucer” then the course enters its heathland section at Ferry Wood, which was laid out by James Braid in 1926. Holes 8 to 10 are located here at the furthest point to the clubhouse and they form a lovely loop, bounded by tall pine trees and deep heather rough.
Holes 11 to 14 are all played over pastureland beside the road that runs down the left of each fairway. The 15th turns back, away from the clubhouse before an old fashioned golfing quirk is chanced upon – back-to-back par threes! “Cairngorms” is the 175-yard 16th hole played to a tiered green with magnificent views across the Firth and Tarbat Ness. It is followed by the 211-yard “Sahara Back” 17th hole which is often played short right by members to avoid sand and rough surrounding the green. A pitch and putt on the large, level green will often result in a par score at this hole.
At a touch over 6,000 yards in length, Golspie does not intimidate the visiting golfer in terms of yardage from tee to green but it does ask a fair number of strategic ball placement questions around the course so keep your thinking cap on when playing here.
When one of the golf magazines recently compiled its inaugural Scottish Top 100 chart, I noticed I hadn’t played four of the ten courses on that listing that are currently unranked on this website and Golspie, at number 63, was the highest placed of this quartet – only one thing to do then, of course; make the 450-mile round trip from Glasgow in order to satisfy myself that this course truly has what it takes to make it into the ranks of the national Top 100!
The opening 6 holes are a links delight with the rumpled fairways of the 3rd to the 5th hugging the coastline. The routing then turns inland to the raised ground around Ferry Wood and these heathland holes are surprisingly good. The 9th, “Paradise,” is an excellent par four that’s well worth its stroke index 1 rating and it reminded me of the type of hole you might find at the likes of Formby – same sort of undulating, springy fairway that’s bounded by heather and plays to a beautifully raised green with a wooded backdrop.
I know another reviewer has mentioned this part of the layout would not look out of place at the celebrated Hotchkin course in Lincolnshire. Well, I’ll echo that sentiment as I too loved this stretch of holes and they really set Golspie apart from most typical Scottish links courses. After playing alongside Ferry Road from the 11th to 14th, the course makes a move towards the coast for the closing holes and the back-to-back par threes at 16 and 17 are excellent, particularly the former with its wonderful two-tiered green.
I was alerted three years ago that this place could really be something if a little money was spent on it. Well I don’t know about the financial side of things since then but I do know that a couple of green keeping staff (with experience at Wentworth, Dornoch and Royal Aberdeen) have been brought in by the club and boy, does their input ever show around the place. This was the fourth time I’ve been north of Inverness to golf and the first time I’ve played Golspie. My advice to you if visiting either Dornoch or Brora is to make enough time for a round here as it’s a cracking little course that fully deserves its new found status as one of the best in the country. Jim McCann
Played Golspie last week and it's not in the same league as Royal Dornoch but who said it was? This is a stunning little course with probably the ugliest clubhouse I have ever seen. Still this review is all about the course and I really liked it... a few holes are a bit flat and a trifle boring but some holes are the real links thing and others would not be out of place on a Surrey heathland course. It has to be one of the best value courses in Scotland and frankly it is worth the 10-mile short trip up the coast from Dornoch. Well worth playing.
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