Golf Course Review of Nairn Golf Club
Nairn Golf Course
Reviewed by Ed Battye -
Quick Summary: A classic and traditional links hugging the Moray Firth
Our 5 Star Rating: 4.5
Expectations were high as we arrived on the first tee at The Nairn Golf Club, a stalwart of golf in the Highlands and a darling of all the Top 100 Great Britain & Ireland course rankings.
The love for Nairn, a traditional championship links founded in 1887, quickly becomes apparent as the opening seven holes flow gracefully along the southern edge of the Moray Firth embracing the sea lapping gently on the beach a matter of feet away. Drinking in the smell, sound and sight of the firth as you walk down the first fairway, along with the backdrop of the Black Isle, really opens up your senses to appreciate the best of links golf.
There’s a real innocence to the opening stretch at Nairn which, after a gentle start, enjoys of a run of holes between the third and eighth of outstandingly high quality. Nothing feels forced or manipulated as the holes glide over the low-profile terrain effortlessly. Green complexes at three, four, five and six are breathtakingly good whilst the heroic drive towards the water on seven is heavenly. My personal pick of this excellent sequence is the short fourth, played semi-blind to a fascinating green angled between dunes and the sea.
The rhythm of these opening holes is quick but not rushed. Like at St. Andrews you leave a green and you are only ever a few paces away from the next teeing ground. The round moves effortlessly and before you know it you have all too soon left the water’s edge and turned to play the eighth, a fairly none-descript driving hole but with an approach and green to die for; the best on the course and cunningly difficult to play towards thanks to all the undulations short of the putting surface which itself falls from left-to-right and front-to-back.
Over these first eight holes the proximity to the sea, the natural movement in the land and sheer quality of green sites will have most golfers drooling. I certainly was.
From here on in Nairn is good and at times very good but there’s no denying that the magic dissipates. Although the aura of the sea is still in the subconscious the course naturally takes on a more inland feel with narrow fairways, gorse, heather and at times trees an ever increasing threat. The holes, particularly on and around the greens, still offer plenty of interest and intelligent play is required but you don’t have to use your imagination as much on the inward half and whilst the closing stretch demands good golf it doesn’t have the big finale that the very top courses nearly always conjure.
Essentially the course is out and back on a narrow slither of land, however, it does shimmy away from the coast for a few of holes from the 13th. The highlight of the second half is one of these - the dropping par-three 14th, which is just a glorious hole, but the supporting act on the back-nine doesn’t quite do enough for me on a course that was recently voted by Golf World Magazine as the 32nd best in GB&I.
Par for the course is 72 playing off the very back markers, one more than from the regular and competition tees, because the second hole somewhat unusually plays as a five from the tips. The maximum yardage is 6,774 which is modest at best by modern championship standards and thanks to the fantastic firm ground conditions the course does seem to play quite short with seven two-shotters under the 400-yard mark from the white tees. Regardless of this SSS is two strokes over par so don’t be duped into thinking Nairn is a pushover as it will not suffer fools gladly.
The staging of the British Amateur in 1994 and the Walker Cup five years later thrust Nairn into the media spotlight and whilst I’m unsure if the introduction of nearby Castle Stuart to the golfing landscape in this part of the country has helped or hindered Nairn it is a venue which is always discussed favourably amongst esteemed company. Archie Simpson and Old Tom Morris had an early influence in the course, as did Ben Sayers, but it is James Braid we can mostly thank for the layout we play today.
I would thoroughly recommend playing Nairn although at £120 per round I’d suggest there are courses of at least equal quality in the Highlands (Brora and Moray Old to name two) that offer better value whilst you could probably add the loose change in your pocket to purchase a green-fee at Dornoch. That said Nairn is a special treat, has a fine pedigree and is just about an essential play if golfing in the Highlands for any reasonable length of time. The welcome we received from both the pro-shop and starter was especially warm and welcoming.