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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.
Just over four years after I first played here, when I was distinctly underwhelmed, I returned to reappraise the course at Nairn. The main difference this time was that I had my long term trusty golf partner with me - a man with 97 of the Scottish Top100 under his belt - so I knew he would confirm or dispel my feelings for the course without fear or favour.
What was the verdict this time around? Well, put simply, not since we played the wonderful Balgownie at Royal Aberdeen have we both been in such a state of bliss on a links layout!
The course was simply in brilliant condition with wispy rough bounding the opening shore side fairways and beautifully fast, smooth greens taking the art of putting to an altogether new level.
I’d forgotten how effortlessly the routing rises after the 7th, past the wonderful “Icehouse” buildings on the 9th, up the hill to the 13th green before plunging back down to finish on the flat after the 15th. Some golfers don’t like the inland holes at 13 to 15 but I absolutely love them.
And if I confess to maybe harbouring one or two doubts about Nairn’s Top 10 position in a golf magazine’s recent Scottish Top100 chart, then I can honestly say they were dispelled within ten minutes of teeing it up at the 1st – and the quality I sampled from tee to green on the opening hole lasted through each and every hole for the remainder of the round.
I wonder if the arrival of another potentially world ranked course along the coast at Castle Stuart has been the impetus for Nairn to up its golf game? Make no mistake about it, Nairn is more than worthy of hosting the Curtis Cup next year and I look forward with great interest to watching how the top amateur women fare from the championship markers here.