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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.
I don’t quite understand the lack of love for The Nairn from influential raters and rankers. I’m also not so sure about the level of “widespread displeasure” with the recent upgrade work carried out on the course – I suppose it could depend on who bends your ear when you visit. For sure, much of the new bunkering makes the course tougher to play in places and your focus must remain intact from start to finish.
I was fortunate to play the other evening after 5pm in a 2-ball and we had the place to ourselves, whizzing round in three hours. The famed quality of the greens was in evidence throughout, even though they were a little slower than expected, but the most pleasing aspect of the putting surfaces were the enormous run off areas, allowing all sorts of recovery shots to be played.
In particular, I love the new downhill 14th, which had a wild, wacky green before – and now has a wild, wacky green with more pinable areas and an open front so you’re not forced to access it through the air. I really liked the hole before and I like it even more now. It’s a bit like the new Machrie when a few people told me it wasn’t a patch on the previous version. Well, it’s all about opinions, and the only way to find out is to play it.
I played North Berwick (West) three days before I was here and I went to Castle Stuart the following day. For me, The Nairn easily holds its own against those other two highly ranked tracks yet it doesn’t compete on the same level in the rankings. I’m sure a lot of people will scratch their heads at that – is it too tough, do they need to remove more trees, is the inland 13/14 sequence too quirky? Answers on a postcard, please…
I suspect Nairn Championship does not receive the same accolades as North Berwick West because North Berwick West has one of the most famous holes in golf, the first Biarritz, the pit and many other noteworthy holes. It is famous for its quirkiness. Castle Stuart offers “big” holes, some with amazing elevated views of the fifth. It is very playable and many golfers now value that.
I really like Nairn and certainly think it is a top 75 course in UK & Ireland. It offers a very good mixture of challenging and interesting/fun holes. What it likely still does not have are holes one might include on their personal list of “top 500 holes in the world.”
In my opinion, any course in the top 100 for UK + Ireland is very special given the multitude of outstanding seaside links, parkland or inland courses. If a course is in the top 25 it is almost always one of the best in the world so it’s difficult to break into that level.
I have not been back to Nairn for some time but will likely plan a future visit based on your review.
Jim - Similar to Mark’s response- Nairn is perhaps more of a stoic test & less likely to capture the imagine on (or for) a one-off visit? This could lead to it being under-appreciated.
Mark - wasn’t the first Biarritz green in… Biarritz?
A friendly, genuine Scottish welcome (so different to a welcome at a top English club) met our group for the last round on our trip to the Highlands. The course, a traditional links, was in great condition but without the level of manicured areas of others. We played in a breeze that wasn't in the prevailing direction which always skews a golfer, makes the SI feel strange and makes one want to return and play it again, as intended.
The opening stretch are outstanding, with the sea a constant companion to a right handers' slice. A pull on the 4th, the shortest par 3 left this correspondent with a 50 yrd chip from the beach. (I had hit a rock on the way there!). The 7th is a terrific hole, long curving with the coast, and great fun. It takes you to the far end of the course where the historic buildings sit. Take a moment to drink in the history of the place.
Turning back, with a helping wind, gorse came into play, but the fun didn't wane. The 13th heads inland to an elevated green, giving the 14th hole the vista comparable to the best, on any course in the world. Smack one downhill 200yards to a well bunkered green and enjoy the walk seawards.
The final holes are traditional links, taking you to a splendid and relaxing clubhouse.
Played August 2021. Very very good. Old school links. Well worth playing.
Fantastic course - opening run along the sea front hugely enjoyable and very memorable.
My memory of the course is probably aided by how well i played the first dozen holes in quite miserable conditions, but a course i am raring to get back and play once again in 2022.
They say that Royal Aberdeen has the best front nine in golf, the opening seven holes at Nairn are of a similar standard. With the sea to your right providing the sights and sounds to accompany a challenging yet fun set of holes with well placed bunkering, it is difficult not to wear a smile when you reach the eighth tee.
That smile will be wiped away if you have enjoyed the breeze at your back for the preceding stretch of golf as the remainder of your round will be more of a battle.
If not for the stretch of holes 10 -> 13 where the course heads inland this would be (for me) a course worth flying in to play. The 14th, signature hole, is visually attractive off the tee but would be more enjoyable if a little shorter. The closing stretch (16->18) reminds you of the opening holes with the sea nearby and a classic links feeling.
Standout holes are the par 3 fourth where the tee shot places huge emphasis on accuracy and the par 5 seventh, a long way from tee to green with the sea breeze and noises reminding you of the natural amphitheater you have entered.
Anyone making the trip to the highlands should stop by Nairn whilst taking in the likes of R Dornoch and Castle Stuart.
One of the best courses I've played in Scotland, loved every hole. Not only is the course challenging each hole feels different so it is a very entertaining round. The course is stunning with many holes giving a beautiful view of the bay. Can't rate this course higher and excellent day of golf and would love to return one day to play again.
9 years ago back in 2012 I made a trip to this area but could not play this one as it was hosting Curtis Cup a couple of days after the day I was there. They allowed me to walk it entirely and I took some picture but not having played it will not make justice in the comparison I would like to make to value Tom Mackenzie restoring job which has to be one of the best he has done.
After the round on Tain we drove 1h10m and were able to tee off immediately which allowed us no warm up but it was the chance of playing on a twosome before the Members so it worked perfectly. It is another piece of land to take your breath playing by the Moray Firth with an excursion to the woods on 13th, 14th and 15th in my opinion the best and most scenic on the course. It was a day where my driver struggled a lot so could not play well and it was like a battle against a stronger opponent and even tough having not played great I enjoyed the small best to outplay me from 6th to 18th as I had a pretty good start.
As for the layout it goes away from the club from 1st to 4th, then short 5th comes back and then again away 6th & 7th before coming back on 18th and then again away on 9th to a very nice green near a House Barn where they “hide” the small food cart.
10th back, 11th short away where we almost saw an ace from a Member and then 12th which is the most difficult hole playing over 450yds into the wind.
A very special paragraph to the Woods excursion:
13th is with the ocean on your back to an elevated green playing way over 420yds… when you turn your back from the green the view is breathtaking.
14th a long downhill par 3 to a Biarritz green well protected by bunkers and again views second to none.
15th the famous short 4 which I was expecting to play but my driver decided to go off the fairway again … the false front toughens the short approach and again with the Firth back on it … WOW!!!
Final 3 holes into the wind, tired and close to KO by the course but a really good closing stretch being 16th the tough one and the final two decent chance for birdie if you hit the fairway!
Some special words for Tom Mackenzie and his job: his classic multishaped bunkers with fescue over the borders bend perfect with some classic riveted links bunkers. If it was good before him, now It is even better and a serious contender for the World Top 100 having hosted The Amateur some years ago.
It is one of those courses like Royal Dornoch, Royal Aberdeen, Western Gailes and now Dumbarnie that will not host The Open but the challenge could really be matched if place for hospitality and lodging was enough. Don’t allow The Open venues to overlook courses like this, Nairn is an amazing course in a dream piece of land and can challenge the best golfers in the world!
Played Nairn in July 21 shortly after the Amateur, I scored 28 points which would suggest I didn't have a great day, however this was one of the most fun rounds of golf in my entire life.
The first is maybe the best opening hole I've ever played, and the opening stretch of 7 on the moray firth is exceptional, the fifth being perhaps my favourite, where a playing partner who will remain nameless found himself hitting from the beach.
Though you turn away from the waterside the quality of holes doesn't drop, I'm having a very hard time thinking of a poor hole or one that's squeezed in for lack of room. I also want to mention The bunkering around the course, fairway bunkers I can only describe as looking like the imprinted footsteps of a tyrannosaurus rex, they're so cool and add so much drama to The course.
The par 3 14th fees off from the high-ranking and is abreast of a hole. But after that the closing stretch is quite straight forward.
Hospitality in the club is second to none, staff all very friendly, and great views from the clubhouse across the course. The pro was all to happy to chat to us for a while, and the starter gave a great introduction of the course, it all seemed a very professional and wellrun setup. If I was a highland resident, and I've thought about this long and hard, id sooner be a member here than RD!
In a week that also contained Royal Dornoch and Carnoustie, Nairn really held its own. I recommend to all
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.