Scottish golf may be blessed with an abundance of fine links courses but, apart from a handful of venues such as Loch Lomond, Gleneagles and Blairgowrie, it suffers from a distinct lack of really top class inland venues.
We can now add the Macdonald Aviemore Spey Valley moorland course, which opened in the summer of 2006, to the relatively small list of quality inland Scottish courses. Bearing the hallmark design traits of architect Dave Thomas – who also built the Macdonald Cardrona course in Peebles a few years ago – this 7,118-yard course, is set to become a premier golfing attraction, completing a Highland Championship triangle with Royal Dornoch and Nairn.
Spey Valley has an old fashioned out and back routing and water comes into play along the way on several occasions. Holes are generally very open, though heather and gorse line many fairways and strategically placed trees are cunningly located on more than one fairway dogleg. Elevated tees are used at most holes and trademark Dave Thomas bunkering threatens at just about every conceivable opportunity off the tee and around the green.
Fairways were surprisingly firm when we played the course three months into its first season and the subtle undulations of the enormous greens were obviously designed to tax even the finest of putters.
The surrounding Cairngorm scenery is nothing short of sensational, adding greatly to the visual impact on most of the holes. With nearby courses like Newtonmore and Kingussie to the south plus Boat of Garten and Grantown-on-Spey to the north, Spey Valley is located in prime Highland golfing territory and will do more than hold its own in such illustrious company, even with green fees a little pricier than those other pay-and-play tracks. You know the saying “you only get what you pay for”? Well it holds true for Spey Valley and it’s well worth paying that bit extra to sample its many golfing delights.
The only downside for the traditionalist is that (in a similar vein to the Gleneagles PGA layout) there are many rather lengthy green to next tee hikes. Set aside your aversion to this and you are guaranteed a helluva Highland golfing experience.
I suspect many fools dash past Spey Valley, located at the foot of Cairngorm Mountains near Aviemore, as they bomb up the A9 towards Inverness and beyond.
‘Tis true, they may be heading for better and brighter things on the coast at Nairn, Castle Stuart, Skibo or Dornoch but neglecting this championship venue, owned by Macdonald Hotels, should not be done lightly.
On a family holiday to this popular destination (more so for skiers than golfers) in the Scottish Highlands I managed to sneak out one evening for a quick loop of this modern resort layout and was hugely impressed with what it delivered. Undoubtedly one of the best inland courses Scotland has to offer. Scenic, challenging and inspiring are just a few words that spring to mind.
Admittedly the course doesn’t get off to the best of starts. The opener is a pleasant enough two-shotter but doesn’t set the pulse racing. However, and I suspect I’m not the first person to do this, but I actually teed the ball up on what I thought was the next teeing ground, located adjacent to the first green, only to realise just in time that it was the 18th hole!
As it transpires the first and last holes are played on a separate parcel of land to the rest of the course – parkland in nature compared to moorland/heathland for the majority – and the signage is so poor that I bet many a first time visitor has returned to the clubhouse much sooner than intended!
You actually have to walk what feels like a mile, alongside the River Spey, to the second tee but it is worth it because the next 16 holes produce some terrific golf in a truly wonderful setting. It’s difficult to do justice to just how sprawlingly spectacular the terrain of the Cairngorm National Park is with some majestic holes crafted through dense heather and mature trees. Mountains and pine forest act as the ever-present backdrop.
Wide fairways, some lovely changes in elevation, modern bunkering and engaging green complexes ensure Spey Valley has your full attention for the duration. Hole-after-hole it continues to deliver stirring golf.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Lovely views,and nice layout. Great potential,but generally looked a bit rundown. Very poor signage around the course ..from hole to hole we were often wondering where next. And no distance markers nor indicators where to go on some blind holes.Many bunkers had not been raked and on some the hessian under the sand was visible.
Clubhouse prices far too dear ,so head into Aviemore where there is a good selection of eateries.
Played on a glorious summer's day in July at the reduced rate of £40 as it was after 3 o'clock. This is excellent value when you compare it to the cost of courses of a similar stature. The first thing I noticed, however, is that the modest cost does not seem to attract as many visitors as you would think - I virtually had the course to myself on a lovely sunny Saturday afternoon (not that I was complaining)!
The views are simply stunning and the green fee is almost worth that alone, however the course itself is certainly up there with the best inland layouts in the country. The fairways and greens were in great condition and the stretch of holes around the turn as well as 15 and 16 around the water are terrific.
A couple of criticisms have prevented me giving it the top rating - firstly, the 1st and 18th holes seem so detached from the rest of the course (about a 400 yard walk between 1 & 2, and the same between 17 & 18). I understand this is because they need to run back to the clubhouse and car park but surely this should have been considered during the design phase. Second criticism would be the condition of the bunkers - a lot of them were fine but a good number were GUR and looked as though they needed a lot of work. This wouldn't be a criticism had I played during the autumn or winter but the fact it was peak season in mid-July makes you wonder why the bunkers were not in the best condition.
These criticisms do not take away from what was a thoroughly enjoyable day on a wonderful golf course and I will certainly be back again in future.
Almost five years to the day, I returned to play this epic layout yesterday with three of my golfing chums. Apart from Loch Lomond, I really do believe Spey Valley can hold its own against ANY of the top inland tracks in the country, giving the Duke’s at St Andrews, the two courses at Blairgowrie and the three layouts at Gleneagles a run for their money. The size of the property is massive, with holes built on a similar scale so (as I’ve written elsewhere before) it’s golf for big boys that’s played here.
What really surprised me this time was the quality of the fairways. If you’ve read before about other courses classed as an “inland links” and (like me) inwardly laughed, then think again as the bone-dry fairways at Spey Valley played as links-like as I’ve ever come across on a layout lying many miles from the coast.
With that in mind, I’d imagine the course to be very playable during the winter when other places in the area might be a tad damp so maybe that’s a marketing opportunity waiting to be exploited by the MacDonald hotel group who operate the course?
Our group took almost five hours to complete our round, but that’s only because we chose to walk the course and not ride buggies. We were all sorry to have missed sampling the facilities in the new clubhouse, which opens in a few days, but I’m sure we’ll be back sometime soon as Spey Valley is a modern golfing experience worth repeating from time to time.