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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.
Following a Course Audit presentation by Tom Mackenzie at a Special General Meeting, approval was given to start work on a course upgrade at the end of 2018. New forward tees were added and new greens constructed on the 1st, 7th and 14th holes, with further reshaping and bunker adjustments made to a further twelve holes.
The welcome was warm, the tees, fairways and greens were pristine and the views across the Moray Firth were stunning.
But both Mrs W and I found Nairn easily the toughest of our adventures in the north of Scotland. Indeed, it defeated us.
Nairn has a sense of being more up-market than our two previous venues - Brora and Royal Dornoch.
The smart clubhouse has an air of everything being ‘just so’ and the spotless asphalt path to the starter’s hut alongside the perfect practice putting green give an impression of care about detail.
There is certainly no lack of staff activity on the course – every hole on the front nine was being maintained as we played.
Indeed, the very friendly starter proudly pointed out the considerable expenditure on the course over recent years, especially on the sand traps.
Ah, the bunkers of Nairn. I don’t think I am exaggerating if I admit having played in at least eight of them possibly more.
In my opinion, the course relies on them too much. Even the supposedly easier holes are defended by them and we often found that what initially appeared to be good shots were gobbled up.
I accepted my fate on the picturesque par-three fourth where a bunker lurks once the approach has been weaved through two mounds.
But the defence on some holes was so stern that it was almost impossible to see a way around them. For example, I felt pity for Mrs W on the 11th after her well-struck tee shot found the deep trap directly in front of the flag. Her lie was flush against the face, so she didn’t score.
The opening seven holes have the potential of beach sand coming into play if a mistimed shot heads towards the sea.
The starter had informed us that the tide was out so if we were wayward, we could play back on to the course. I nearly took him at his word with a shanked shot into the first which resulted in a lost ball in the rocks!
Nairn devoured more of mine than any course since I played Portrush in a storm about five years ago. Sure, it wasn’t my best day with the driver but I thought the landing areas were too narrow on a couple of occasions found my punishment was unfair.
This was especially true on the short par-four 15th when I hit a pretty tidy strike from between the trees on the set-back tee only to be searching in vain for my ball.
Of course, I could appreciate that there are some cracking holes at Nairn. The 212-yard downhill par-three 14th is a scorcher as is the uphill par-four 13th.
But whereas I felt that during our recent games, courses were set up with an eye to the player gaining some success, it felt that Nairn was set up to punish us.
And there was simply no let-up.
Was it because the wind direction was the opposite way round to normal? I don’t know but I did feel that it required a level of golf I don’t possess even though I’m off a respectable 12 and only last week I had a decent game around Muirfield, one of the world’s toughest tracks.
On an overcast, chilly day in late June we teed off for an impromptu round at Nairn GC, near Inverness in northern Scotland. We were staying at Boat of Garten, and it was a last minute decision to make the hour long drive to Nairn. We arrived after 4pm unannounced, but were warmly welcomed by manager Fraser and his team, and we were on the tee by 4.30....
We set off with a 1 to 2 club wind behind us for the opening holes, which played right beside the beach. In fact the course basically goes out along the beach for the first seven holes, before turning back to the clubhouse, but the latter holes duck and weave in different directions as the course heads home.
The beach holes at 1, 2 & 7 are relatively flat, with the sea views and the lovely revetted bunkers the main features. The are virtually no sand dunes evident on these holes.
Hole 3 doglegs slightly inland and introduces more interesting terrain with low lying dunes, Heather and gorse. I loved the par 3 4th which heads back to the beach, with the movement around the green and the green itself, and being the first hole into the wind, and all carry, it required an adjustment with club selection to hit the target despite being a shorter hole.
Both holes 5 & 6 maintained the interest and energy before the flattish 7th took us to the furthest point from the clubhouse.
Then the course moves away from the sea, with some solid if not spectacular links holes with the gorse much more evident. Hole 11 is a mid length par 3 that grabbed my attention with more than its quota of revetted pot bunkers, and lots of movement around the front of the green to negotiate.
But the stand out hole for me was the downhill par 3 14th hole which measures 219 yards from the back blocks.... The hole is beautifully framed by the bunkers, and has pine trees and the ocean as a backdrop.
The run home is relatively flat but but bunkering and ditch in front of the 16th and the burn on 17th maintain the challenge.
Nairn is a quality links, and without doubt one that every lover of links golf should play.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
For many years, Nairn Championship was always in the conversation of what is the best course in northern Scotland behind Royal Dornoch Championship. The debate included Royal Aberdeen and Cruden Bay. Now that Castle Stuart and Trump International Aberdeen have been added, Nairn Championship often gets overlooked and bypassed by golfers.
But bypassing it would be a mistake. It is a very fine links course. I do note that I played this a year ago and did not notice the change to some of the bunkering as mentioned in the other post. If so, that would be a tremendous mistake as it changes what one would expect to see on a course of this caliber.
Yes, the first eight holes run along the sea but like the other post I did not find the sea to be in play on a relatively calm day with a light breeze.
I thought the conditions were excellent and the greens very good to putt on.
The holes I favored the most were 2, 3, 12, 14, 15 and 16. None of these holes are truly spectacular but they are very strong holes nonetheless. In fact, that is what I would say about Nairn Championship in summary, it does not have any exceptional holes, but it does not have any weak ones either. One might remember the inward holes a bit more due to the heavier presence of gorse and a feeling of slightly narrower fairways. The gorse seem to pinch the fairways in one's mind so much that when you get to the 18th tee, a nice par 5 that played downwind, you feel like you have stepped out of a shadow that has been around you for the past 40 minutes. And I did like the finishing hole. My partner easily put his second on the green with me pushing mine a bit left, he missed his eagle and I missed my birdie but we loved how it finished on a hole that had your attention due to the bunkering, but was very fair to play down the middle or left side.
The green complexes are not overly done in terms of being too penal. A green that had more tilt and slopes to it seem to have fewer bunkers whereas slightly flatter greens seem to have more bunkers. But that could be just a memory from where I hit my approach shot.
The par 3's were the strength of the course, despite the above average length of the par five's for a links course. I liked the sixth hole the best of the par three holes due to the combination of heather, gorse and bunkers.
In summary, any golfer going north should stop and play Nairn Championship. And for me, if I had to make a choice I would play Nairn Championship before Cruden Bay because Nairn is more consistent. It doesn't have the spectacular holes that Cruden Bay has nor does it have the same quirkiness, but it is a joy to walk and play.
One final note: similar to Pebble Beach and Royal Aberdeen I often wonder whether the architect got the routing correct. Seems to me it would have been more interesting to play the final 8 holes nearer to the water. At Pebble Beach I often wonder why the architect did head inland at the 3rd green with 2 being changed to a dogleg and do the course in reverse until you arrive at 17. Yes, you give up the downhill 7 but I think 8 requiring a drive over the chasm would have been interesting. The same applies here at Nairn. Perhaps it was the prevailing breeze that dictated the original routing of the first eight being seaside, but for me the course would have been better had it "built momentum" as you played the round and finished along the sea, even if you see the sea from every hole if you look for it.
The golf is strong at ‘The Nairn’, and has a long list of contributing architects – including most recently from Mackenzie & Ebert. An aerial view of the course will solidify that essentially every par 4 and 5 is a straight hole except for the 3rd hole which was arguably my favourite on the front side. The continuous stream of straight holes was a little one-dimensional for me.
The journey away from the sea to the holes perpendicular to the Firth was most enjoyable at the uphill 13th and beautiful downhill par 3 14th, but again they are pretty much dead straight holes with different visuals. The most upsetting, and dare I say “alarming” news at Nairn is what the current consultants are doing to progressively convert the original turf sodden bunkers with crisp edges into dreadful looking heathland shaggy bunkers with heather on top. There is widespread displeasure towards what’s going on, and I fear for the negative impact it’s destined to have. I don’t know who wanted this, I don’t know who supports this, and I don’t know why on earth this was ever suggested. The holes that have the original bunkers are lovely and authentic. However, the holes with the new converted bunkers are a visual disappointment at what is otherwise a very strong golf course with sublime playing conditions.
The improvement works were carried out following a detailed study into the historical evolution of the course with the aim of setting the course up more appropriately for the modern game. The architects correctly identified that a number of fairway bunkers were not in play for the better player with the steep revetted faces being excessively penal to the average player. As such, numerous fairway bunkers have been repositioned with the better player in mind and designed in such a way to enable more recovery options.
Their appearance is clearly subjective and the club has decided to remove the heather tops from the bunkers. My personal belief is that the bunker tops should match the surrounding areas with heather added where required as grassy tops surrounded by heather may look just as out of place.
The historical study found that originally, there were very few, if any revetted bunkers on the course so it depends on how far you want to go back to define the "original" style.
It is not correct to state that there is widespread displeasure with the changes as the majority of the membership agree that the course has been significantly improved as a result. Obviously for some however, evolution and change with the times is always going to be difficult to accept.
Loved it here. Fabulous set up with some great true links golf holes.
We played Nairn in late June of 2017. Conditioning was flawless. The course sits right by the Firth of Dornoch and the views are beautiful. It is a classic out and back links we a couple of holes on a hill inland (which the starter called the course's "signature" holes. The piece of land it sits on is quite narrow, which makes it a bit a precision test, it is easy to get off the fairway and the rough is not the most forgiving (I enjoyed Brora a lot more for instance). I would say it is by no means my favorite golf course in the Inverness area, but I can see why some people rate it quite highly. The vibe at the club is a little uptight but rather friendly and welcoming and the pro-shop is very well stocked. We stayed at the cottage on the property, which is awesome and can be booked through the reservations office (it's a good place to stay if you want to spend a few days in the Castle Stuart/Nairn area). They also offer discounted twilight green fees after 3pm, which makes it worthwhile. Overall I would say it's a 4.5 balls course but I would rank it behind Dornoch, Castle Stuart and Brora in the greater Inverness Area.
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.