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16 miles east of Inverness.
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Nairn Golf Club is located on an elevated, rumpled piece of linksland on the Moray Firth coastline, close to the historic fishing port. It’s one of Scotland’s lesser-known gems.
This is a course which has been touched by many great architects. The club was founded in 1887 to an original design by Archie Simpson. A few years later Old Tom Morris extended the layout and, prior to the Great War, James Braid made further alterations. Directly after the Great War, Ben Sayers added his mark to the course only to find James Braid itching to polish off the design. It is no wonder that Nairn is such a detailed masterpiece.
One of the most spectacular seaside courses in Scotland, Nairn boasts sea views from every hole. If you are a right-hander and you’ve got a slicing problem, you could find the beach from your very first tee shot. The sea is in play on six of the first seven holes; make sure you’ve got an adequate supply of balls.
When the sun is low in the sky and the shadows are long, you cannot fail to appreciate the undulating, bunker-pitted moonscape that is Nairn. It’s a delightful links with fast, firm but narrow fairways, a number of which are framed by gorse bushes and heather, heaping further pressure onto a nervous drive. The greens are sited in the trickiest places – some are raised and others are nestled in hollows. Most are well protected, either by bunkers or natural hazards, and all of the greens are fast and true, a Nairn trademark.
There is a plethora of good holes at Nairn and the 5th is one of the best. It’s a great 390-yard par four called “Nets” which requires a straight solid drive avoiding the beach on the right. This will leave a short approach shot to a small, elevated green that is well protected by bunkers and a sharp bank sloping off to the right.
The 9th, named “Icehouse”, is a lovely par four to close the outward nine. A tough long drive from the tee is required, avoiding the whin bushes on the left and the bunkers on the right. The green is located to the right of the white cottage which is, in fact, a Salmon Bothy Keep your eyes peeled for the Icehouse which is covered in thick grassy turf where salmon was kept on ice for up to two years.
Nairn is a very long way north. However, you may be surprised to hear that despite Nairn’s Highland latitude, it is located in one of the driest places in Britain. So, why not follow in the footsteps of Peter McEvoy? In 1999, here at Nairn, he lead the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team to a resounding 15-9 victory over the USA.
I am not sure why Nairn is ranked so high. Sure the Moray Firth is nice to look at but are there really any memorable holes? I think part of the challenge is the potpourri of designers, starting with Andrew Simpson, Old Tom, James Braid, Ben Sayers and CK Cotton. I am reminded of the horse that was designed by committee that resulted in a camel.
The first 7 holes are seaside, but you really have block or slice to bring it into play. The first is welcoming and the second is a short par five that is reachable but watch out for the ditch that is about 160 yards out from the green. The 8th is a short par 4 with a really tricky green as it slopes front to back. Almost impossible to hold your approach. The 9th is also a short par 4, aim at the icehouse as just about everything will waggle to the right. The 13th is a beast, 430 uphill with fairway bunkers as well as left and right greenside bunkers. Long is death. The 14th is an attractive long downhill par 3, we played it ugly. You can catch your breath on the short par 4 15th that is driveable. The finishing holes are forgettable.
If you were paying I might join you
I’ve followed The Nairns’s fortunes in the rankings very closely in recent years and was rather sad to see it drop out of the GB&I Top 50 last year, though it still retains its place within the Scottish Top 20. I called in last week to see Fraser Cromarty, the club’s CEO, before heading out onto the links as I’d heard there were plans in place for Tom Mackenzie to start renovating the course very soon.
Fraser showed me the proposals, featuring a couple of new greens and an alteration to the fairway bunker style, and I understand work starts very soon on an exciting 2-year project that should go a long way to restoring the course to its rightful place amongst the elite golfing venues in the British Isles. There’s no dire need for an upgrade, far from it, but such a move will rejuvenate the course for years to come.
A couple of things grabbed my attention at the club this time.
The first was the great wee halfway house that’s been established inside the old Bothy, next to the Icehouse, between the 9th green and 10th tee, and it’s a great addition to the club’s amenities. My only concern was the low level of light inside the old building but maybe they’re trying to generate some authentic 19th century atmosphere in there!
The second was the Archive Room in the clubhouse which Gordon, the starter, very kindly showed me round. It’s a room where you could easily spend an hour browsing the artefacts on display so my advice is to ask at the pro shop before playing to see if it might be possible to have a look around after your game’s finished because it’s well worth a visit.
I have just visited "The Nairn". This was about my fifth visit and whilst I respected the course I had never truly loved it. I've now changed my mind totally. the first 7 holes court the sea and as the course moves inland it becomes ever more engrossing and demanding. the back nine is very challenging and the long downhill 14th is one of the truly great par 3s in GB. the long uphill 13th is a terrific hole, and the finish, usually into the prevailing wind, presents a serious challenge. Nairn contains several fine holes, the setting and condition are superb, and the course is a joy to play. we are going back next year.
Expectations were high as we arrived on the first tee at The Nairn Golf Club, a stalwart of golf in the Highlands and a darling of all the Top 100 Great Britain & Ireland course rankings.
The love for Nairn, a traditional championship links founded in 1887, quickly becomes apparent as the opening seven holes flow gracefully along the southern edge of the Moray Firth embracing the sea lapping gently on the beach a matter of feet away. Drinking in the smell, sound and sight of the firth as you walk down the first fairway, along with the backdrop of the Black Isle, really opens up your senses to appreciate the best of links golf.
There’s a real innocence to the opening stretch at Nairn which, after a gentle start, enjoys of a run of holes between the third and eighth of outstandingly high quality. Nothing feels forced or manipulated as the holes glide over the low-profile terrain effortlessly. Green complexes at three, four, five and six are breathtakingly good whilst the heroic drive towards the water on seven is heavenly. My personal pick of this excellent sequence is the short fourth, played semi-blind to a fascinating green angled between dunes and the sea.
The rhythm of these opening holes is quick but not rushed. Like at St. Andrews you leave a green and you are only ever a few paces away from the next teeing ground. The round moves effortlessly and before you know it you have all too soon left the water’s edge and turned to play the eighth, a fairly none-descript driving hole but with an approach and green to die for; the best on the course and cunningly difficult to play towards thanks to all the undulations short of the putting surface which itself falls from left-to-right and front-to-back.
Over these first eight holes the proximity to the sea, the natural movement in the land and sheer quality of green sites will have most golfers drooling. I certainly was.
From here on in Nairn is good and at times very good but there’s no denying that the magic dissipates. Although the aura of the sea is still in the subconscious the course naturally takes on a more inland feel with narrow fairways, gorse, heather and at times trees an ever increasing threat. The holes, particularly on and around the greens, still offer plenty of interest and intelligent play is required but you don’t have to use your imagination as much on the inward half and whilst the closing stretch demands good golf it doesn’t have the big finale that the very top courses nearly always conjure.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
I have been to the Highland area a couple of times now and always ignored Nairn. I played it a few day ago and I have to confess: I made a mistake a couple of times. What a great course this is. Perhaps it is easy to fall in love with a golf course on such a glorious sunny day. And yes, I was in a great mood anyway, since I had the opportunity to revisit the great links of Brora and Dornoch on the days before. But then again: When I strolled around the course of Nairn before my round I hadn’t had very high expectations. It seemed to be very crowded, the clubhouse was a tad too American-style, and obviously I was not willing to find a new favourite course. But when it was time to check-in for my tee time, everything started to cheer me up: The lady in the pro-shop was very kind, the practice facilities were nice, and my practice strokes were easy.
When I approached the first tee, the starter gave me a warm welcome and explained a lot of details regarding the routing and every single hole on the course. He then wished me luck and fun and he smiled and so did I.
The course was in perfect condition, the greens were true and extreme fast, much faster than on the links I played the days before. It took me some holes to adjust, but then it was pure pleasure to putt on these greens. The course is a little bit tighter than Brora and especially Dornoch so on a few occasions you have to wait with your tee shot before the group behind or in front of you clears your view. But that is not much of a disturbance. The course offers everything: Long Par 4s with hard to hit greens due to their twisted saucer design, short Par 4s, which even a shorter hitter can reach with a risky tee shot, reachable Par 5s, short Par 3s, a burn, which is running through the second and 17th fairway, and first and foremost: Just a lot of beautiful views over the Moray Firth and - especially from the green of the 13th and the tee of the 14th hole - over the course.
After Cruden Bay and Dornoch, Nairn is my third six baller here. I will most definitely come back, soon.
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One word to sum up Nairn – classy. We played in June on a windy but sunny day where you had to make your score going out and hang on coming back. The greens were fast and true, the gorse looked beautiful and the course was in great condition overall. The closet comparison I can come up with in terms of superb course maintenance is Formby on Lancashire’s Golf Coast.
The sea hugs the 1st seven holes and one of our party took full advantage of playing from this lateral hazard by hitting the green in 2 on the par 4 5th via the beach!
The clubhouse was modern, well equipped and served good food. We were looked after very professionally with no complaints whatsoever, but here’s my one comment which stops the course getting the full 6 stars. It was almost too clean, too polished, too professional such that I felt that it was missing a bit of character. A course like this is no doubt steeped in history but this didn’t really come across. It seemed set up more for corporate golf. This is clearly a personal view and I’m sure others will disagree and, please don’t misunderstand me, this is a very good course; just not quite into my category of a great course. RdeD
Played Nairn in April on day 3 of a tour encompassing Dornoch and Castle Stuart. In truth, I didn't have huge expectations given the quality of the others courses, and we actually contemplated skipping Nairn to play one of the others again.
I am so pleased we didn't! Its a great golf course. In my opinion it sits behind Dornoch and Castle Stuart, but only just and it is still a must play. A brilliant stretch of holes from the 3rd all the way to the 18th with a couple of tree lined holes in the middle to shake things up a bit.
We found it to be a pleasant ,very well kept course ,with nice views over the Moray Firth. Some very good golfing holes and others ,perhaps not quite so ...perhaps rather flat..Some of our group were slightly disappointed,maybe having too high expectations,or from having played Cruden Bay the previous day....we enjoyed it thoroughly,but a few thought that it was overrated and pricey for a club golfer. Well appointed Clubhouse and facilities.
Played in mid-April, 1-2 club wind, 58 F/14 C. A fun course and experience that, like Brora, reminds us that golf in Scotland isn’t just about sport, but about community, because this looks and feels truly like a “locals only” course, especially with so many walking their dogs along the firth as we played it on a fine Spring day. While the opening stretches along the water offer outstanding views, the holes are pancake flat with 1 and 2 as a rather dull beginning.
Things start getting interesting with the semi-hidden greens and 3 and 4 (the latter a terrific par 3 with a sliver for putting surface). The course zig-zags away from the water at 8 and into the gorse, and gradually the screws are tightened, culminating with 12-14 -- a brutal stretch of golf comprising two loooong par 4s and a loooong par 3. My group surmised that very few amateurs have made it through those three holes under par from the tips.
Holes 13 and 14 may be a bit out of character with the rest of the course (into the “woods” so to speak), but given the added muscle the holes bring to the course, I think the trade is fair – I disagree with those who think they detract from the links. After 15 (a good short par 4 -- Nairn has a number of good short par 4s), the course then beelines for the clubhouse with some more fairly flat holes to finish, but the nasty little pot bunkers, true and pleasant greens, very firm fairways and the occasional surprise (a hidden hollow in front of a green, or the inevitable burn you thought was out of play from the tee) all offer exactly the kind of playing conditions I enjoy -- not to mention the wind.
My golf ball rating for the course would be a 4 or perhaps 4 1/2 but Nairn gets an extra ball for having the kindest, most welcoming membership of anywhere I’ve played in Britain. My group had as much fun chatting in the bar (and on the putting green AND the first tee AND the range) as we did playing. Nearly two dozen different folks stopped by to say hello, to ask how our round or our trip was and what courses in the States we liked. We all agreed immediately this would be the club in the Isles we’d join were the people we met the only qualifier. But that’s not to disparage the golf at all – it’s an enjoyable, fair, straight-forward, attractive course with enough bite that one is ready for a pint or two, especially with the friendliest folks around, afterwards.
The real challenge awaits at Nairn’s version of Amen Corner – the 12th to 14th holes. These three holes are rated 5, 1 and 7 so par them all and you have done exceptionally well.
Twelve requires an accurate drive and the avoidance of a fairway bunker on the left. The 13th runs up a hill and with plenty of trees, gorse and heather for an indifferently struck ball. Allow yourself an extra few minutes on the tee of the picturesque 14th. A par three of 221 yards, it heads back downhill from the highest point on the course.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.
It's hard to find much wrong with Nairn; it's conditioning is certainly as good as you'll find anywhere in the country. Ok, so it may not have the towering dunes that give some of the other great links courses their character, but in Nairn's case this is no bad thing as it affords unbroken vistas across the Moray Firth to the Black Isle. And it is the Moray Firth which is the most obvious hazard here, certainly on the front nine, where an errant shot could put you on the beach on any of the first seven holes. On a calm day the sea may only threaten the wildest of tee shots, but the prevailing wind will exploit any weaknesses in your swing and, like a siren, lure you towards the rocks. For the sake of your score, you will be glad to reach the 8th tee and turn inland.
My favourite stretch of holes is 3,4 and 5, where 3 is a shortish par 4 with bunkers on the inside of the dogleg and a green guarded by deep bunkers and contours that will usually repel, but sometime assist. Tip: land it to the right of the flag. The 4th ('bunker') is a gorgeous short par 3, playing back out towards the sea and the 5th, although not the longest par 4 on the course, is one of the toughest, requiring a drive over the beach. If you do have a tendency to slice, hope that the tide is out as you can play from the beach and a heroic par is still possible. Pull that off and you will be recounting it in the bar for a long time afterwards.
The back 9 is tougher, and 12,13 and 14 are probably the pick of the holes coming in. 12 is a long par 4 to an upturned saucer of a raised green. 13 then takes you up the hill to the furthest point from the sea, where your reward is spectacular views of the course and beyond. 14 is a great par 3, played back downhill to a green complex that will confound if you find yourself at the back. Great track.