Only regular visitors to the southern shore of the Moray Firth will be convinced that this part of the north of Scotland is blessed with such a favourable climate that it's not unusual to see golf played on every day of the year. Happily, this assertion is true and golfers have been enjoying that fact since Moray Golf Club was founded in 1889. Old Tom Morris, who became a frequent visitor and played a number of exhibition matches in the early days, originally laid out the Old Course.
Currently a neighbour to RAF Lossiemouth, the Old course was extended to eighteen holes within two years of formation. J. Ramsay Macdonald, one of the club's more famous sons, was excluded from Moray Golf Club in 1916 because of his pacifist views, and he refused to rejoin on his becoming Prime Minister.
Moray was popular with visiting gentry in bygone years and the club had a number of members who were local distillers. The club is still strongly connected to the single malt whisky trade so hogsheads are bought annually and bottled at ten years of age. Moray and its near links neighbours present a fine option for a few days of links golf, particularly as a second course – called the New – was designed by Sir Henry Cotton and opened for play in 1979.
The shoreline 1st on the Old course is followed by a series of holes that work their way a little further inland over the first eight holes at Lossiemouth. Four of these are par fours exceeding four hundred yards, with bunkers providing an additional defence. The westernmost point is reached as Covesea Lighthouse dominates the skyline on the 11th and this hole begins another sequence of four strong par fours..
A three-hole stretch from the short, but well-bunkered par three 15th hugs the shoreline before the challenge of the 18th. Tightly bunkered down the left, with out of bounds on the right, a long accurate drive on this uphill hole is essential if the elusive home green is to yield up a finishing par.
Moray has played host to many national championships over the years and this excellent 6,717-yard par 71 links provides a real challenge to even the best of golfers. Featuring one of the finest finishing holes in Scottish golf, the Old course is well worth a visit.
Starting in 2014, Howard Swan has overseen improvement work on both the Old and the New courses. A number of bunkers have been refurbished, new tees created and gorse cut back in an ongoing renovation programme that also included remodelling the 1st and 17th holes.
If you want to play championship-quality golf and simultaneously feel as if you are an extra in the latest instalment of Top Gun, Moray cannot be bettered.
The splendid host of our B & B accommodation, situated opposite the club, is a former captain and wanted to play down the noise which accompanied our round.
I believe him when he says that the jets are comparable to the dolphins off the Moray coast in that they may not always appear just because they are there.
And, in any case, he joked: “I have only seen one hit by a golf ball once!”
But I have vowed to report honestly and our two days in Lossiemouth were punctuated by deafening but rather exciting Typhoon sorties.
Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. My drive on the fifth hole, which abuts the RAF base, required a rare feat of concentration as I tried to block out aircraft noise and ignore the cars on the parallel B9040.
I hit a belter and went on to a subsequent par.
Our B & B host is rightly proud that his family have been instrumental in the development of the club whose Old Course was originally designed by Old Tom Morris.
Moray Old is a raw links with humps and hollows, similar to those we experienced at Brora a week ago.
Its revetted bunkers can cause problems (more of that later) and the gorse can intrude on a good round but there are many chances to score (unfortunately, my short-putting let me down otherwise it would have been my best of our Scotland trip).
Thankfully, only the deepest rough will result in a lost ball. Mainly it is thin and wispy and allows decent contact.
The first hole sets the tone with several hillocks including a particularly tall one which renders approaches blind if tee shots, such as mine, drift to the left.
The second, an exciting par five, curves around with the boundary wall and the third is a deceiving par four to a raised green before a wicked par three whose target is just in front of the aforementioned B9040. Club selection on all is dictated by the wind direction.
I agree that holes over the road, next to the RAF base are less intoxicating (unless the jets are taking off) but the 8th was the first green I have ever played directly next to landing lights.
They become a feature of a second nine which stimulated me more.
The short 10th looked gimme off the tee but the strategically placed bunkers seemed to suck in drives which both Mrs W and I thought we had hit well.
Lossiemouth’s lighthouse becomes a central part of the vista for the following holes and a burn comes into play on the 11th - one of my favourites - which demands a key decision whether to attack or defend.
I loved the 17th - a bending par five to a partially hidden green which I struck in regulation but succumbed to yet another three-putt.
And then there is the 18th, one of the most fun closing holes I have experienced. Down the right is a hotel wall and the centre of the fairway is a series of dips and mounds but it is the second shot which is the real challenge.
I made the mistake of going straight at the elevated, sloping green and my well-hit ball fell away to a giant bunker lurking down on the left.
I disappeared from view of the clubhouse balcony but, for the final time on this holiday, opened my stance, lowered my tailbone and swished. To my considerable delight, the ball emerged onto the green.
We spent several hours imbibing beers and the dram of the week in the clubhouse later and saw a chap chip in for an eagle two. Obviously, he approached from the right.
We were warned in advance that the fairways at Old Moray were not as pristine as some and that is true – they have suffered from lack of water in the region, but the ball did not need to be picked and placed. The greens certainly matched the standards we have seen elsewhere.
So, we enjoy our round and our entire experience of Scottish golf at its purest? We certainly did. The history was wonderful the welcome was superb but next time, we might just take earmuffs.
A great Links challenge even on a bright sunny day with very little wind (unusual for these parts) The 18th is the stand out hole with it's elevated position and clubhouse backdrop. Green complexes were subtle and a good touch with the flat stick is definitely required if the greens have been dried out by the wind and a lack of rainfall. Like many Links courses some areas of the fairways appear to have little grass coverage but that makes the challenge all the more interesting. Always a pleasure to play.
Golf at Lossiemouth on a early summer day with the gorse providing an endless vista of bright yellow and the gulls' cries the soundtrack is utterly exhilarating. Both courses here (the Old and the New) are excellent tests of golf with the Old just having the edge. A gentle start is followed by two tough par fours before the utterly charming short 4th. After crossing the road, the next four holes are probably the least memorable on the course. Back over the road, the 9th and 10th are short par fours while 11 and 12 are longer and have a burn to contend with. the 13th goes towards the town before the 14th takes you back towards the lighthouse and the section of the course closest to the sea. I have always found the par 3 15th very tricky as it lacks some definition and it is followed by the short par four 16th with humps and bumps galore on the fairway. Moray Old saves its very best for last. The par five 17th is a sweeping right-to-left dogleg to a green cut in to the base of an imposing dune and the rightly-celebrated 18th where you play uphill to a green set right in the heart of the town is often regarded as the best 18th hole in Scotland. Come to Lossiemouth and play both courses any time of the year and you will experience golf as it is surely meant to be.
The most vivid lasting memory of playing at Moray are the RAF jets that fly very low overhead as you play. An active air force base, Lossiemouth, is immediately adjacent, the planes scream by when they take off and you almost feel like you can hit a golf ball into them. Best to avoid Old Tom’s difficult pot bunkering, strategically placed around the course. The 18th is clearly the most memorable hole, playing up the hill back into the village and it is a beauty and among the best finishing holes I’ve ever played. Worth a visit.
The better of two great links 18's with a super St Andrews like (but uphill) 18th. When we played it The Stig was watching from a window of a house to the side of the hole....I presume it was a dummy ?!
Yet another superb highland links
Moray Old brought back memories of wonderful days spent on some of Scotland's other great old courses such as North Berwick, Elie and the Old Course which also start and finish in the town. Bordered by the Moray Firth on one side and RAF Lossiemouth fighter base on the other, the two courses here may not be the most tranquil to play on but they provide a fair and challenging test and certainly lack nothing in terms of interest. The first seven holes run straight out in roughly the same direction to the middle section of the course with the 1st and 2nd providing a gentle enough start if the bunkers can be avoided. The numerous bunkers are a constant threat, as is the gorse which comes into play on most holes, even the traditional snaking Scottish burn, more of a feature on the New Course, appears briefly on the back nine. Holes 8 - 14 switch back and forth in various directions, many being long par 4's which seem to be ever present in this tough middle part of the round with numbers 7,8,11,13 and 14 all playing over 400 yards. The attractive run for home plays along the Moray Firth starting at the 15th, a beautifully bunkered 180 yard par-3, and culminating with the excellent and atmospheric 18th. With its crumpled fairway gently rising to a wonderful green benched into the slopes and perched beneath the grand old clubhouse we save the best hole till last. Brian W
Last minute decision to play Moray today and so pleased I made the decision. Super track with great mixture of holes. Thoroughly deserving of top 100 status. The highlight is the drive off 18. The tee box is next to a stone wall and walls and houses follow you up the hole - very dramatic. A little like the closing holes at St A and North Berwick but the closing hole at Moray is far more challenging (uphill par 4 of 420). In summary, a real treat of a golf course.
I suppose the Old course at Moray gets overlooked by many of the visiting golfers who arrive in the local area to play the headline tracks at nearby Dornoch, Brora, Castle Stuart and Nairn. Leaving the Old Tom Morris layout at Lossiemouth off the schedule is a big mistake as there’s some great golf to be played out on the linksland that lies to the west of the town, between the RAF Lossiemouth base and the Covesea Skerries Lighthouse.
Returning here a few days ago was like being reacquainted with an old friend, one that I hadn’t seen for almost nine years. It’s been spruced up a bit since then, as I hear work was carried out recently to renovate bunkers, extend the semi rough and swap the 12th hole tee positions with the 12th hole on the New course. Swan Golf Designs are also involved in a long term bunker renovation program so the club’s obviously taking the upkeep of its most prized asset seriously.
Highlights for me on the front nine included the triangular-shaped green that sits in a bowl on the 2nd hole, the pair of wonderful long grass bunkers flanking the left of the green on the 6th and the sand ridges that are brought into play – the green at the 3rd lies on top of a big one and two smaller ones run across the front of the greens at the 5th and the 9th.
I also noted the heather thriving along the right of the fairway at the 7th and to the left of the 9th and sincerely hope the club is doing all it can to promote this growth here and elsewhere on the course.
I’d forgotten about the delightful little back-to-back short par fours around the turn, allowing golfers a little breather before the rigours of the inward half, starting with the long par four 11th, where the burn that cuts diagonally across the front of the green caught me out once again.
The routing moves closer to the coast at the 14th – the offset tee positions on holes 16 and 17 are such simple, effective devices to knock golfers off their stride on the tee box – before you tackle the magnificent 18th at the end of the round, where a net “4” feels like a real golfing achievement.
The Old course, with firm and fast fairways laid out over gently undulating terrain and very even-paced greens, was an absolute treat to play and I was gratified to see it in such excellent condition. The game of golf is in good hands at understated, unpretentious places like Lossiemouth.
Moray Old, or more affectionately known as Lossiemouth is without doubt one of the most underrated courses I’ve come across. The golf club’s location isn’t ideally located for Scotland’s visiting golfers and all too often, touring parties make the mistake of driving between Aberdeenshire and the Highlands whilst bypassing this classic Old Tom Morris links layout.
An imposing granite stone clubhouse keeps watch above the course and offers members and visitors wonderful views of the opening and closing holes. Whilst the clubhouse exterior maybe grand, the interior is modest and has the atmosphere of a social club.
The day I played Moray Old, my round came accompanied with 40+mph winds which I thought would make the course unplayable. However, this was absolutely not the case. Whilst this made the course the most severe of tests, the course was still eminently playable. Other than the final hole which I’ll get to later, the ground game is a real option here and bump and run is the order of the day. But you’ll need to make sure your game is sharp as the fairways are full of lumps, humps and bumps. To my personal disappointment, those winds I described did mean that the Typhoon jets at the nearby RAF base were grounded, so I was not exposed to the sound of the planes flying overhead which I know has been a bugbear of some people. However, the landing lights are unavoidable and offer a fun, quirky feature across the course.
Moray Old is a traditional 9 holes out and 9 holes back set up, but the course twists and turns along the way, so you’re saved from playing a long string of holes with the same wind direction. In addition, seven of the par 4s measure over 400 yards, so it pays to be a long hitter at Lossiemouth, particularly when those holes are played into a stiff wind. When you combine this with the deep, revetted pot bunkers that are ready to collect a stray shot, and the heavy gorse alongside the fairways, you’re presented with a championship standard test that will examine every facet of your game.
It’s a flat layout and whilst none of the holes on the front 9 are particularly standout, the Covesea Lighthouse offers a picturesque backdrop to many of the holes. The most memorable holes come at the end of your round. 14 is a brute of a par 4 with a drive towards the lighthouse and a green that has a gorgeous setting against the beach. You then turn back towards the clubhouse at the 15th and this stretch through to 17 is played alongside the beach. The 16th is a challenging par 3, followed by a short par 4 across a road to a sunken green and then the penultimate hole is a wonderful dogleg par 5 around the dunes. Whilst I’d class this as probably the second-best hole on the course, the round culminates in absolute classic. The 18th, Lossiemouth’s pièce de résistance must be the equal to any final hole in the UK and Ireland, and I include the Old Course within that comparison. The tee is set at an angle from the houses that border this hole and you’re asked to hit a gentle fade to a heavily bumping and rolling fairway. The second shot is then an absolute masterpiece as you hit towards the stone clubhouse, up to a deep and raised plateau green guarded by a gaping bunker on the front left of the green that is well worth the challenge of playing out of, even if only just for the sheer fun of it.
Finish your round with a pint with the locals and look out at the beast that you’ve hopefully just tried to tame. Play this unheralded gem like I did during Spring when the gorse is in bloom and you’ll find it to be every bit as good as some more high profile clubs in the region.
The Old is an unheralded classic links designed by Old Tom Morris with deep revetted bunkers, undulating gorse lined fairways and some excellent green complexes. At 6,717 yards to a par of 71 and SSS of 73 it is a superb test of golf but also throws in little bits of quirk to the mix creating a truly engaging experience.
We should perhaps start at the end because the 18th on Moray Old is something else. It’s out-of-this-world good and undoubtedly one of the best finishing holes in golf as well as being the first thing you see as you enter the club grounds. At 413-yards the first two-thirds of the hole are relatively level, although there is plenty of undulations in the fairway, with out of bounds tight to the right and a splattering of bunkers down the left to negotiate. It then climbs up to a raised green sitting right under the impressive clubhouse like a theatre stage with two menacing sand traps – Hells Bunker and Devils Hole – to the left hand side which falls away towards the firth. The intoxicating setting is magnificent but the actual hole is even better and I’m sure much drama has been witnessed here.
There’s a real feel of Cruden Bay and Royal Dornoch to the setting around the clubhouse, the first and eighteenth holes with some magnificent houses looking down on the links from the inland side of the course. Meanwhile, Covesea Lighthouse dominates the horizon at the opposite end of the links.
The proximity to the road on a number of holes, the RAF landing lights dotted about the course and the wonderful 18th are all fond memories I will take away from Moray Old as is the quality of fairway bunkering and the many fine green complexes.
Moray Old more than holds its own when compared to other apparently better courses. I had played the famed Nairn course the day before and Moray was certainly a match for this if not its superior, albeit by just a fraction. High praise indeed though for a course that often goes under the radar.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.