A 9-hole layout was in play at Portmahomack in 1894 but it took another fifteen years until Tarbat Golf Club was established at nearby Seafield on a site identified by John Sutherland, the secretary of Royal Dornoch, and a solicitor from Tain named W.J. Munro.
After opening remarks from the Rev. Donald Macleod, the minister of Tarbat, the first tee shot on this new 7-hole course was played on 17th June 1909 by a Mr Gilroy from Edinburgh, who was a patron of the club and a regular summer visitor.
Over the years, the club has managed to purchase the grounds on which the course is laid out. Glebe-land to the southwest of the property was leased from the Church of Scotland for eighty years until it was eventually sold to the club in 1991.
Land in the central section of the course was rented from several different owners before it was acquired from the Department of Agriculture in 1977 and Bindal land to the east of the other two compartments (leased after the club was formed to add another two holes) came to the club in three stages.
In 1983, a triangle of Bindal land was bought from the Gordon family to allow the building of a new clubhouse. Land already leased by the club was obtained four years later then a further L-shaped 12 acres were purchased to extend the course south towards Ballone Loch in 1990.
Today, the course extends to just over 2,450 yards from the regular tees for the nine holes, playing to a par of 34. There are no par five holes in play and only two par threes. From the back markers, there are two different sets of tees (white and blue) which stretch the course length to 5,188 yards for an 18-hole round.
Tarbat is a course I have long wanted to play but previous visits to Dornoch and travels through Inverness have not quite worked out in my favour to squeeze a quick loop at this nine-hole* links course which dates back to 1909.
I was therefore thrilled to finally play it this October and what a little charmer it is.
The reason for the asterisk next to ‘nine-hole’ is that this is not entirely true because there are in fact 10 holes at this rustic and rugged links. The 7th and 16th are two separate short holes which are only played once as opposed to the other eight holes which are played twice. It all adds up to 5,188 yards and a par of 68.
The best of the golf at Portmahomack comes in the final five holes with some terrific undulating terrain. The eighth is an outstanding golf hole with a brilliant rumpled fairway before you play to a raised green with lots of movement and fits its surrounds perfectly.
However, there is much to enjoy before we get to this point and the short holes, of which there are three all told, are worthy of special mention. Both the one-shotters I mentioned earlier are very good (and different) whilst the other short hole (the 5th/14th) is also a treat with a cunning little green.
Holes two, three and four don’t enjoy the best of the linksland but they are still decent holes and the putting surfaces add much interest, as they do throughout the round. The sixth is a fine hole along the edge of the course although the first time round you may not quite know where you are going!
Portmahomack is a lovely, homely seaside village track and so long as you accept courses like Tarbat for what they are you will never fail to be impressed.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
The wee 9-holer at Tarbat was a 90-minute “filler” on my way home from Reay last October and I’m really glad I ventured off the main drag at Tain to play here near the tip of the Tarbat Peninsula. Unfortunately, because of where it’s situated, between the Moray Firth and the Dornoch Firth, it won’t get much by way of passing trade from those heading further north to the bigger names – you really have to make a point of going here to play but if you do you’ll be well rewarded.
Although the course is located around 200 metres from the beach as the crow flies, it’s also set out on cliffs above the shoreline so its links credentials – apart from the wonderful 8th hole, but more about that in a bit – might be in doubt for some. Still, it’s listed in the book True Links while Scotland’s Golf Courses by Robert Price, Reader in Physical Geography at the University of Glasgow, also categorizes it as a links so that’ll do for me in terms of defining what it really is.
It’s actually a lovely little track, playing to a par of 68 for 18 holes, but a standard scratch score of 66 tells you that you’ll not be beaten up playing it. Greens were in great condition, with good-sized runoff surrounds, and nicely-positioned revetted bunkers in place. The best hole by far is the 297-yard 8th, where a herd of elephants might easily be buried just below the surface of the fairway – talk about humps and hollows, these really have to be seen to be believed (pictured to the right)! And it all leads to a terrific plateau green sited right next to the graveyard of the Old Parish Church.
Hopefully, you’ll come away from here thinking you’ve just had a genuine, old school Scottish golf experience, complete with payment via the honesty box if the clubhouse is closed. However, if it’s open, then you should also sample some of the food and drink on offer from the very friendly people who run the café and bar, serving up snacks and meals in a lovely old-fashioned dining area. Spend a wee bit of time here and that will really round off your visit to Tarbet the right way.