Grantown-on-Spey is one of the most delightful parkland courses in the Scottish Highlands. It was set up as a 9-hole course in 1890 then Willie Park Junior extended the layout to 18 holes in 1911 before James Braid made further improvements ten years later which remain to this day.
The course was never constructed for championship play – it is more of a holiday golf destination – and, as such, it is the perfect foil to a round at nearby Boat of Garten, some ten miles to the south. Both venues share the same spectacular mountain scenery, of course!
The first six holes are laid out on flat, open parkland. Holes 7 to 12 are routed through hilly woodland then the final six holes are played out over undulating parkland. Each set of holes have some marvelous names – “Peesie’s Nap” at the 4th, “Poor Hoose” at the 11th and “Wee Dunt” at the 16th.
The 7th hole is named “Bobby Cruikshank” after a Grantown member who emigrated to the USA in 1921, turned professional in America then lost in the 1923 US Open play-off against Bobby Jones, who won his first major with a score of 76, two better than the man from Grantown. Bobby Cruikshank, or “Boback” as he was known in Grantown, came close again to winning the US Open in 1932 when Gene Sarazen narrowly beat him but he never did get to win a major.
The signature hole on the course is the 275-yard, short par four 9th called “Murdie’s View” which is played to a backdrop of pine trees and the Cromdale Hills. Short par fours are a feature, in fact, with no fewer than six out of the fourteen par fours on the card being less than 300 yards in length.Five of the eight other par fours measure less than 400 yards so not-so-long hitters will have no problem getting up in two shots at most par fours – and at only 5,710 yards long with a standard scratch score two less than the par of 70, it can truly be said that Grantown-on Spey is a test of accuracy rather than power.
Played in the middle of August, 34 years after my last visit. I have treasured memoires from a two-week family holiday with my father and brother. Like the Boat of Garten the location is beautiful. The 1st breaks you in gently but the next two holes do require good shots, certainly hole 2. A short par 4 awaits on hole 4 but a solid hole follows on the next. Hole 6 is a fairly short par 5 but good shots needed all the same
The terrain starts to become more undulating over the next run of holes evident on hole 7, arguably one of the best holes on the course. Good tee shot required and with the ground running so fast hitting it on the right line is critical. The par 3 hole 8 uphill is a wonderful old fashioned design. Having played the hole and looking back down from behind the green you will understand what I mean.
Hole 9 is where I had a photo taken 34 years earlier, sadly my dad is no longer with us but I’ll encourage my brother to a return visit for old times sake. While the hole is short and downhill hitting it straight is important.
Next two holes are very good holes, off the tee at 10 it is best to drive it far enough to see the green or a blind shot will be waiting for you. Keep the second shot left to middle of the green due to the slope of the green. The next another uphill par 3 which will require a well struck shot. Hole 12 challenges the 7th for the best hole on the course. A long well place drive is required avoiding fairway bunkers followed by good iron shot which can be a slightly blind. Choose the right club and commit to the line. For me the sequence of holes from 7 to 12 are the best with less exciting holes to finish excluding hole 14 which like the 7th requires a well struck tee shot on the right line.
I really enjoyed playing again with treasured memories coming flooding back. The course did not disappoint, for my travelling party it was a gentle way to break our journey up from Cheshire before heading further North.
Looking at the mountains in the back ground, the purple heather in bloom along with some very good holes it really is an idyllic place to play, holiday golf at its best. I won’t leave it 34 years to visit again.
I’ll bet a few eyebrows (other than mine) were raised in 2011 when one of the golf magazines included this course in its inaugural Top 100 chart of Scottish courses. The continued presence of Grantown-on-Spey in the magazine’s 2013 listings was all the impetus I needed to belatedly check out just how good the layout was and I have to say that I just loved playing here in the heart of the Highlands. In absolutely no way did I find it dull, boring or tedious, as might have been suggested by an earlier (somewhat curmudgeonly) review.
The middle section of the course between the 7th and 12th holes is by far the best part of the layout as the holes occupy the most undulating and naturally wooded part of the property. The driveable 9th is cited as the “signature hole” here but I think that either “Bobby Cruickshank” at the 8th or “Caper Cailzie” at the 10th are far superior par fours that could easily be classed as best on the scorecard.
Overall, course presentation was first class, with the clubhouse and its environs as spick and span as you could care to imagine. Grantown-on-Spey might well epitomize holiday golf in these parts but it’s certainly worth a play as it’s an engaging wee track that holds your interest all the way round. Whether it’s worth a position in the Top100 of Scottish golf is another matter, of course - though some might argue that if the likes of Auchterarder can make an appearance in the Tartan Ton then maybe there’s a spot available for Grantown-on-Spey too.