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16 miles east of Inverness.
Contact in advance – Not Sat/Sun am
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.
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.
Bit harsh on Castle Stuart - it is a great course. I understand where you're coming from but you ideally need to judge it by what it is and it what it isn't: Not all clubs are born 150 years old and serve a local community - some need to aim for the corporate market to be viable - just think if Trump International at Aberdeen had targeted the local golfer - considering everything that went on during the development and all the other existing great tracks they already have...
...but places like this can still be and are great courses.