Nairn - 16 POINTS
The far north of Scotland is enjoying something of a renaissance of late in Scottish golf. Castle Stuart has brought a new attraction to the area, Royal Dornoch continues to ride high in the world rankings and there is talk of a new course in the Dornoch area which could be one of the most exciting new developments seen in the UK for a generation.
With all of that it is easy to forget about Nairn but it would be a worthy addition to a tour in this area. It is a fair challenge, in a great setting, usually in wonderful condition.
Locals will immediately tell you about the great condition that the course at Nairn enjoys and this is totally justified. When we visited in April the greens were running very well and the general course upkeep fantastic - I have never read anything but a positive review of the condition here. Furthermore, the setting is a really great one. It is just along the coast from Castle Stuart and enjoys similar fantastic views over the Moray Firth and over to the Black Isle.
So, we've got the condition, the setting - what about the golf course. Well, it's a very nice course - a good classic links test which falls just short of a really top tier track but nonetheless one which you'll have great fun at. The course has had many of the greats involved in its development - James Braid, Old Tom Morris jnr and Ben Sayers all had a hand at some stage. Braid is said to have had the most influence over the bunkering and it would be fair to say that both from the tee and then into greens you need to be respectful of the bunkers as they can be real hazards. The course itself has a good amount of gorse on it but once again if you keep it straight you will predominantly stay out of trouble.
The first 7 holes run along the water which makes for a lovely start but it is at the 4th that the course really gets going. I've copied the hole in from Nairn's site which has a great course guide in. What you don't see here is that the sea is just to the left of the green, it really is a fantastic hole and one that will stay with you for a long time.
The 5th is a great fun driving hole with the water hard on your left with some more great views before the course turns inland at the driveable par 4 8th. There are some really nice holes on the way in but if truth be told the course finds it hard to live up to the splendour of those early holes. The 12th, 13th and 14th measure 401, 412 and 195 yards from the yellow tees and run through a slighlty out of keeping fir tree and bushy area of the course. They are tough, tough holes for sure.
It would be hard to come away from Nairn and not enjoy it, just go into it knowing that you aren't getting another Dornoch, or even Castle Stuart, but you are getting something a lovely track which while it might not quite hit the highs of its illustrious neighbours will entertain.
BOOKING THE COURSE
You can play 7 days a week at Nairn and the club is one of the most welcome I have come across. You can book online here.
Green fees range from £50 in the winter to £120 in the summer but look out for the twilight green fee of £80 for play after 3pm or 7 day repeat option which is £180 for 2 rounds. You will need to call the club directly for these.
There are deals in place where it is possible to play, for example, Castle Stuart, Nairn and Royal Dornoch in April or October for £365 which includes 2 nights accommodation. That's a really fantastic offer. If you were to book those separately, including accommodation at the Royal Dornoch Golf Hotel, it would come in at £610. So if you plan your trip well you can get some really impressive discounts.
It may seem remote but actually this area of the world isn't as hard to get to as you may think. Inverness is less than 20 minutes from Nairn golf course and a good place to base yourself. It takes less than 2 hours to fly into Inverness from London and there is a huge amount of golf in the area. If you do try to combine with somewhere further south it is about a three hour drive to Inverness from Edinburgh or St Andrews, a little further from Glasgow.
When we did the trip we stayed in Inverness. It's not a bad place to base yourself for a few days with good restaurants on offer. We had a great meal in Rocpool and there are plenty of accommodation options. It would be criminal to leave without a trip to Johnny Foxes which caters for an eclectic audience and there are plenty of clubs but beware the midnight curfew to be in a club..
On our trip we played at Royal Dornoch, Castle Stuart, Nairn and Fortrose and Rosemarkie. This was a fantastic quartet of courses which it would be hard to better anywhere. The weather is often surprising benign (there will be much local talk of microclimates on a pleasant day) and the nights in the summer are unfeasibly long - you can happily come off the golf course at 11pm. A little further afield there are options further north like Golspie and Brora and south like Boat of Garten.
So, as you can see there are a huge number of options and the summer light means that you can play 36 holes a day here with ease. If you are a fan of links golf in its purest form a trip here needs to be on your list.