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.
My visit to Spey Valley was viewed beforehand with some trepidation as I’ve played two Dave Thomas designed courses in recent times (both in the Borders) and had very mixed feelings about them - Cardrona was a wonderful course but the much vaunted Roxburghe was a big let down. Thomas’ mounding and expansive bunkering designs can sometimes verge on the wrong side of ruthless but here, the routing of the holes, the spectacular scenery and the wonderful putting surfaces all combine to make this a truly memorable golfing experience.
It may not yet have a clubhouse but it has everything else required of a top golfing venue; from a marvellous practice area (with adjoining helipad!) through to well spaced out holes which wind their way along the Spey river valley. The people at the MacDonald Hotel chain have built big and it must have cost a small fortune to shape the land for the fairways and construct such massive greens.
This course is clearly made for tournament play as it can be stretched by over a thousand yards from the red tees to 7118 yards off the back tees. It has to compete against other top courses in the area but I’m sure discerning golfers will want to add this track to their golfing CV as it is bound to become one of the top inland courses in the country, simple as that. Buggies are mandatory, which is a pity, but if you had to walk from the temporary clubhouse out and back you would double the yardage of the course so it makes sense to ride and play.