Elgin Golf Club has come a long way
In the north of Scotland the names of Dornoch, Lossiemouth and Nairn resonate amongst the world's golfers. These famous links are steeped in the history of the game and their only missing accolade is an Open championship. Accordingly, other less famous tracks in this region fail to get the attention they deserve. Such is the fate of places like Elgin, but those who have battled day after day with little reward against the ferocious coastal winds are likely to revel in a days golf at Elgin.
While the author is a passionate fan of links golf and consequently applauds anyone who tries to challenge themselves by the coast, I would also wholeheartedly endorse Elgin as an enjoyable, well maintained inland course whose reputation is perpetually growing.
It combines spectacular scenery with a decent layout and the result is a truly demanding test of golf. Indeed, this has to rank as one of the hardest courses in the land to break par. At 6,401 yards, the course cannot be described as long by modern standards but with par standing at sixty nine, the demands presented by this course are obvious.
If these figures were not sufficient to drive home the point that length is at a premium here, the first at Elgin unremittingly sets out the courses stall. It stands at an intimidating 459-yards and therefore places significant demands on the golfer from the outset. The tee-shot is played from a raised plateau to a fairly generous sized fairway. Miss this opening target and par will be but a distant dream, for there are dense trees lining the right hand side of this hole and out of bounds bordering the fairways left flank.
Even a well struck opening drive will leave a daunting second. For the approach will be played with a long iron at best and the entrance to this green is far from generous. Anyone finding the putting surface in regulation has hit two great shots and fully deserves their par. Others should content themselves with five for there will be far worse scores chalked up here.
The second can also prove tricky with its blind tee shot. The hole encompasses a slight dogleg left and there is the additional obstacle of a steep embankment protruding on the fairways left side. This should not be flirted with, for the approach shot here is far from easy at the best of times, far less if the ball is well below your feet.
Thankfully the third and fourth provide some respite before you confront the courses solitary par five. Only the very longest hitters will have any chance of getting up in two. The rest of us mere mortals will have to be content with playing this hole as a three shot par five. The fifth green is raised some thirty yards above the level of the fairway and runs off steeply an all sides. Add a two tiered green to the equation and you have the perfect recipe for a nerve jangling chip shot. Be bold and brave and the reward will be tangible, but the slightest sign of nerves will be heavily punished.
Overcome this challenge and similar demands are required at the sixth; a long 222-yard par three with a small target. Those who do have length in their repertoire should be extremely cautious here for beyond this green is an absolute no-go zone for anyone.
The start of the back nine commences with a wonderful par four, which encompasses numerous features. The tee shot is to a sloping fairway which encourages everything towards the out of bounds. On the right there is a slight crater made by a Wellington HE451 aircraft which crashed here on a training exercise in 1944. When approaching the green, the golfer enjoys a wonderful panoramic view of the cathedral city of Elgin. It is a tremendous sight with numerous prominent landmarks from the Gordon Monument, to the spire of Elgin's High Church. But keep concentration as the second here is demanding. The best advice to offer is to take one more club than your initial thoughts suggest.
The eleventh tee shot is the most demanding on the course as it requires supreme accuracy. The hole is a sharp ninety degree dogleg left and the tee shot needs to be played over some intimidating trees. However, go too far and a deep quarry lies in wait from where excavation is your only hope. If you find the fairway, a four should be easily enough placed on the card.
The twelfth and thirteenth are somewhat easier providing a real opportunity for birdies. The twelfth especially is a real chance standing at only 278 yards and therefore being in reach for the longer hitters. These opportunities need to be grasped before playing the long fourteenth, known as the spectacles, after two grassy bunkers nestling together on the right hand side of the fairway.
This is yet another of the eight holes in excess of four hundred yards and again demands both length and precision. This green is bigger than most and accordingly finding the surface is easier than in some other instances but it also means that the hard work is not complete until the ball is resting in the hole. Three putts are common here so if possible try and keep below the hole and give yourself a chance of making four.
The last is again in excess of four hundred yards and is rated by the retiring club professional Ian Rodger, as the best hole on the course. From the medal tees it lies at 445 yards and has a hint of a dogleg right. The green lies at an awkward angle to the fairway and is raised some four or five feet from the level of the fairway. That makes it very difficult to hold the green in two and anyone missing the green will be left with an awkward pitch shot.
The backdrop to the eighteenth green is a wonderful new clubhouse which was opened in 1995 replacing a building that had begun life as the city's smallpox sanatorium. Enjoy a sandwich or a drink in the clubhouse from where you can watch others wrestle with Elgin's tough finish.
While not in the same league as Dornoch, Nairn, or Lossiemouth, Elgin has come a long way since its inauspicious opening as a nine hole layout designed by an Inverness policeman in 1907. Indeed in 1966, 1978, and 1997, the Northern Open was contested here by distinguished fields. In 1978, for example, both Sam Torrance and Ian Woosnam were amongst the challengers for the title.
With such notaries having played this course, and with Peter Allis describing Elgin as 'the finest inland course in the north', this place is one you may wish to visit. Certainly, it provides a refreshing change from links golf and the welcome here is as friendly as you may meet.
Elgin Golf Club
Professional: 01343 542 884
Secretary: 01343 542 338