Course review: Durness Golf Club
SCOTLAND - Durness is the most northerly golf club on the UK mainland. It can be found in Sutherland in the north of Scotland. Nearby are the attractions of Cape Wrath and Smoo Cave. The area is one of outstanding natural beauty, contrasting the harsh intimidating cliffs up towards Faraid Head to the north and to the south with the smooth white beaches of Balnakeil Bay and Sandwood Bay. By those who compile such rankings, Sandwood Bay is said to be the best beach in the UK. Accessible only by a four-mile hike, but rewarding those who make the trek with over two miles of sands facing out to the Atlantic.
Where the course moves inland you become distracted by distant mountains and nearby enchanting lochs. On the day I played at Durness, I was blessed with blue skies and sunshine, the conditions and the setting made it probably the most beautiful place where I have ever had the good fortune to spend time, let alone play golf.
The course itself is based on the headland that culminates with Cape Wrath; such a location makes the style of the course almost unique amongst those that I have played. It is, to an extent, 'links' influenced, several holes being accessible by chip and run type approach shots encouraged by the blustery conditions common at this seaside location. Describing the course under a single blanket term would however, in my opinion, do it a great injustice. It is unlike any course I have previously encountered. There are just nine holes at Durness but they are set up with two different sets of tees such that some of the holes really do feel quite different when playing them for the second time round.
The first\ tenth hole provides a relatively gentle introduction to the attractions of Durness. It is a short par 4 that hints at the curiosities to follow with an elevated green perched on the top of a steep incline. The bottom half of the flag is largely invisible from the fairway. The next tee, as one of the highest points on the course, provides the first of many opportunities to forget golfing, stand back and admire the surroundings.
The third\ twelfth is, at 408 yards, the longest par 4 on the course. The drive is semi-blind, over a hill; the hole then runs down to a narrow green. The approach shot here is the first of several that will have you in multiple minds as to exactly how to play it. From high on the hill, the green looks far too small a target to invite aerial tactics. The contours of the land also warn against a lower approach.
The fourth\ thirteenth is the first of a trio of holes that vary quite significantly between the first and second nines. The fourth is some 36 yards longer second time round and played from a more awkward tee position lower in the valley. The fifth and fourteenth share the same expansive fairway. The fairway however is split in two by a large hill that complicates the tee shot. The two holes are played from different sides of the hill, meaning that they vary quite significantly.
The sixth was my favourite, and probably the hardest hole on the course. When Ronan Rafferty, European Ryder Cup player and Sky Sports Commentator played the course, I am proud to say he reputedly shared my opinion. The hole is a 443-yard par 5. Whilst short for a par 5, I can testify that it has the necessary defences to punish the scorecard as much as, say, the 465-yard par 5 thirteenth at Augusta. The hole is played around the charming small Loch Lamish. A good drive (like the one I managed to get away), means it is time to decide whether to have a crack at the green in two. (I have to admit to accepting this challenge, failing miserably, meaning that a tidy looking scorecard was irreparably damaged in one foul swoop!).
The eighth\ seventeenth is notable for two reasons. First, it is the only hole I have played on where there are two marker poles in order to guide your approach (so pronounced are the contours of the land). Second, and perhaps of far greater interest, it affords the approaching player a spectacular panorama unsurpassed in my golfing experience. Protected by a selection of cunningly positioned bunkers, the green is found at the foot of a hill, beyond which lies only the wide, blue yonder of the Atlantic Ocean.
Try not to get too distracted however as the ninth\ eighteenth, especially in its lengthier guise as the eighteenth, is a spectacular and challenging par 3 requiring all your nerve and concentration. The hole was featured by Peter Alliss on his television programme 'Travels with Alliss' and was part of an American Millennium golfing calendar. It is probably the most photographed hole on the course featuring a carry over the sea crashing in to the rocks below. The wind can be such that it demands a long iron in order to give a fair chance of a safe result for your ball.
The other main leisure activities in these parts are walking and fishing. In usual circumstances, to be honest, I don't really see the attraction in either such pastime. However, having driven through and experienced the scenery of Sutherland, I can say that any excuse to spend hours surrounded by it is entirely understandable.
Durness is an extremely remote golf course. It took me almost six hours to get there from Edinburgh. The course can be found about 60 miles north-west of Lairg on the narrow and twisting A838. Whilst the trip to Durness is not short, if you have the time, I implore you to go to the trouble. You will not be disappointed.
Durness Golf Club
Secretary: Mrs Lucy Mackay
Tel: 01971 511364
Fax: 01971 511321
Snacks are available in the clubhouse from May to October from approx. 12- 5pm.