The old Torvean golf course opened as a 9-hole layout in 1962 and was subsequently doubled in size twenty- six years later. Originally operated as a municipal-run facility, the course was taken over in a leasing arrangement by the golf club in the late 1990s, with the land remaining in council ownership.
When the Inverness West Link Road was constructed, all but two of the holes on the course were lost to this new highway project. Highland Council then stepped in to provide a like-for-like multi-million pound golf facility for the club, engaging architect Stuart Rennie to design the new layout.
The sixteen new holes are routed across undulating land to the west of the old course, overlooked by the Scottish Natural Heritage headquarters. The vision, according to the architect, was to create a heathland-style layout with modern design principals where heather, gorse and fescue grasses can thrive.
Biodiversity is also an important consideration and a number of waterbodies and wetland areas have been fashioned to enhance the course’s eco credentials. Public access trails have also been provided, allowing the local community to integrate with the golf course and its new environment.
Interviewed in The Inverness Courier, Stuart Rennie had this to say about his first new build assignment:
“I was only 32 when I was appointed to design the course, very young to win such a job, and, let us be honest, there are not that many new golf course projects around at the moment. So obviously this has been a hugely important project for me, and I have put my heart and soul into it.
During construction, we had to ensure that there were always eighteen holes available for members to play, but we also had to have the new course open by 2019, so that phase two of the road construction could start.
The old course was pretty flat, but now we have a nice, undulating site. There is 65m (210ft) of elevation change between the top and bottom of the site. The soil is quite nice – sandy and gravelly, although it had been arable farmland. We were able to build a very lay of the land course.”
Completing the makeover package, the club was renamed as Kings Golf Club in honour of the 6th century Pictish King Bridei. Saint Columba is said to have converted this monarch to Christianity at nearby Craig Phadraig around 565 AD and it’s thought that Columba may have camped on this site whilst visiting the king.
The new course at Kings Golf Club in Inverness was a big surprise. To be honest, I had pretty low expectations before playing here – after all, wasn’t this merely the rebirth of a run-of-the-mill golf facility which was owned by the municipal authorities and leased to local golfers?
In actual fact, it didn’t take very long to appreciate that a lot of serious money has been spent here on the rebirth of the old Torvean Golf Club. The quality of the build sticks out a mile and the construction of sixteen new holes (from #2 to #17) has been accomplished to a very high standard.
Wetland areas have been introduced to the lower lying areas, there are numerous native vegetation plantings dotted around the property, and training some of the existing stone walls has helped tie the course into its surroundings. I also liked the liberal use of railway sleepers to shore up water features and provide crossing points over these burns.
Well-proportioned bunkers are of the ragged-edge variety and greens are interestingly contoured, though it might be a tough proposition to find a sufficient number of different pin positions on one or two of the more idiosyncratically profiled putting surfaces, such as the brilliant “big dipper” green on the 15th.
My favourite holes on the outward half were the 514-yard 5th (“Old Toorie”), with a wall cutting diagonally across the fairway, and the first par three on the scorecard at the 177-yard 7th (“Columba’s Quest”), where a tightly mown bank at the back of the green slings over-hit tee shots back to the intended target area.
There’s a climb uphill at the 8th, allowing the following half a dozen holes to be played out in this more elevated, northwest corner. The aforementioned 15th (“Longman”) brings players back down again and this mighty par five may well stake a claim in the future as the “signature hole” on the course, with a water course snaking across the fairway in advance of a really interesting green complex.
The 18th relies heavily on water to the left of the fairway for strategy on the way back to a home green that sits in front of a new, functional single-level clubhouse. Local golfers I spoke to in this building after my round were delighted with the new set-up and so they should be – there can’t be many local government councils investing in a really decent golf complex like this one, even considering it only came about due to a road re-alignment.