Strathpeffer lies under the watchful guard of Ben Wyvis – meaning 'big green slope' in Gaelic due to its moss covered slopes. A busy Spa centre toward the end of the 19th century, the popularity of Strathpeffer declined sharply over the years but the legacy of those earlier times is a wonderful selection of elegant buildings still standing in the village which are a joy to behold.
The golf club was founded in 1888 and its official title is still Strathpeffer Spa Golf Club. The course on which the members play is located on hills in the Cromartie Estate, just outside the centre of the village. The original course was a nine-hole affair but Tom Morris extended the layout in 1896 to 18 holes. The inward half of the course underwent further changes a few years later but the routing has remained virtually unaltered for over a hundred years.
In 1907, the newly crowned (and first overseas) Open Champion, Arnaud Massy played Alex Herd (the 1902 Open winner) in two challenge matches on the new course. Herd beat Massy in both games by a margin of 5&4 and 4&2. Massy was gracious enough to write to the Strathpeffer secretary from his golf club in Versailles, saying “je certifie que la course est magnifique.”
At only 5,001 yards long with a par of 67, the Strathpeffer course is by no means the longest in Scotland. Additionally, four of the seven par threes are played in sequence from the 3rd to the 6th so this is eccentric golf from the same mould as the Shiskine Golf Club on Arran.
There is water in play at some holes. There are blind tee shots or approach shots to be played at other holes. Pot bunkers are sprinkled around the course and some greens are two-tiered. All in all, Strathpeffer Spa is a charming upland course with only one hole, the 151-yard, par three, 14th called “Target” played on flat ground – you have to be reasonably fit to get up and down the hills here.
One further claim to fame at Strathpeffer is that the opening hole “Castle Leod” – a modest par four of 333 yards – has an elevation change from tee to green that represents one of the deepest drops on any course in Scotland.
I listened to the recommendation of another reviewer and hired a buggy for my round at Strathpeffer Spa – that’s one of the best bits of advice I’ve received in a while as this is mountain golf at its most extreme and walking is almost out of the question.
The sequence of four consecutive par threes early in the round are an absolute joy, as are the three short holes between the 10th and 14th. Uneven stances predominate, there are blind shots aplenty and many of the greens are lie of the land affairs; all of which contributes to a very enjoyable, elemental golf experience.
And Strathpeffer Spa has certainly whetted my appetite for a wee return visit to Oban’s Glencruitten as I remember playing that very hilly course on the other side of the country with a similar fondness.
It’ll be interesting to compare and contrast both layouts within the same year. For the time being, this quirky layout holds sway as offering the most fun you can legally have on a golf course (Shiskine included).