Moray Golf Club may be old, but it's timeless in quality
LOSSIEMOUTH, Scotlan - I tend to get queasy when a golfer starts panting about this or that "hidden gem." If a course is hidden there's usually a good reason. Golfers are pretty adept at sniffing out places worth playing, and descending upon them en masse. No matter where. Last I heard there's a rush on South Dakota.
So why was Allan Ferguson talking up a course called Moray?
Ferguson is something of a swami. If there's a pin placement moved at St. Andrews, a blade of grass cut at Machrihanish, or a deal going on at Carnoustie, Allan is tapped in. His book, "Golf in Scotland," is the Bible of travel to the auld sod. He knows of what he speaks.
"Consider Moray," he e-mailed.
I sent him my itinerary, sans Moray.
"You should really think about Moray," he e-mailed back.
We arranged to hook up. Somewhere in northern Scotland.
"See you at Moray," he messaged.
So here I was at Moray Golf Club in the pleasant coastal village of Lossiemouth,wondering what to expect. It looks encouraging. The first thing you notice is that Moray is old. Granite clubhouse old. Sod bunker old. Old Tom Morris old. According to the club's coat of arms, the course was built in 1889. That's old.
But unlike some of Scotland's other classic links, Moray doesn't feel, well, haggard. There's the wild seaside growth that lends the requisite ambience; the gorse, the tall grasses, the heather and the whins. But the fairways fairly glow, hardly a hint of brown in them. And the greens have shine. This relic is well preserved. There's a sense of prosperity to it, as there is to the town, which leans over the links from a ridge.
The layout is vintage Tom Morris. The first hole, a short par-4, heads away from the clubhouse parallel to the beach. There are a few more jukes than usual, more doglegs as well, but the routing stays true to Morris's out-and-back template. It has a splendid rhythm to it, with a rousing crescendo that starts at about the 15th hole, where the course meets the Moray Firth. A Scottish golf historian, David Hamilton, contends that the 18th at Moray, ending as it does at that stately granite clubhouse, is "the noblest finishing hole in all of Scotland."
Not that there's any competition.
You get the gist of Moray pretty quickly. You won't be playing that "power fade" today, and forget about the over-baked draw. Moray's fairways are narrow, made narrower still by a plentitude of pots that squeeze their way in from the edges. The second hole, for example, looks like a birdie from the tee. It's a par-5 of less than 500 yards. But after a trip to the gorse, say, or a visit to one of those bunkers (there are nine on the hole), that birdie's but a memory.
Shelving the driver won't do. Played from the back, Moray goes 6,700 yards, and par is 71. Seven par 4s are longer than 400 yards, including the eighth, which runs a straight line to forever. This is a real course, enough of one to have hosted a slew of competitions, including the Scottish Amateur Championship.
Sound like torture? It's not. Moray is full of fun. The approach to the dogleg par-4 third is a quiet little thrill, about 150 yards to a plateau green with a false front that funnels toward a bunker. The hefty tee-shot to the par-3 fourth was a perfect fit for my old persimmon wood. And the other par 3 going out, the sixth, could have been lifted from Moray's cousin, Royal Dornoch. Moray's glassy greens, huge, rumpled and finely groomed, are practically electric.
By Scotland standards, Moray is a fairly flat and short on stunning scenery. There's a towering lighthouse off to the west, impressive dunes, lots of pretty heather and that subtle northern light.
But in the Scottish tradition of golf-links quirks (sheep, sheep fences, ancient stone walls), Moray has its landing lights. They help guide pilots into the military base that's right across the road. Let's call them "charming," but that's without the fighter planes. Have you seen Tiger flinch when a camera shutter clicks? Have you ever been buzzed by an F-15? The locals say to play on weekends, when the base is usually closed.
As for Moray's finish, it's magnificent, especially in the light of a fading evening sun. The 16th tee sits right on the shore, and the drive into the dogleg sails toward the handsome town. The approach is over the narrow beach road; watch out for baby strollers. The 17th hole, a par-5, bends left with a line of dunes, and two good pokes downwind have a chance of getting you home. At the noble 18th, you might get to play to an audience. You might even earn some applause.
Let's hear it right now for Moray. It's a gem.
December 25, 2005