Nairn Golf Club in the Highlands: Good things come to those who wait
NAIRN, Scotland -- Described as the Riviera of the North, Nairn is a wonderful northern town situated 16 miles east of Inverness. There are two championship courses here, juxtaposed at either end of the town. Both have acquired reputations as demanding links, and their facilities have been enhanced in the past decade by the addition of new clubhouses.
Of the two, Nairn Golf Club is recognised as the better test and has shot to prominence since hosting the British Amateur Championship in 1994.
Prior to that, this idyllic spot had nestled unassumingly on the shores of the Moray Firth and had contented itself with modest local acclaim. However, with the building of the new clubhouse, and the provision of facilities to match the quality of the layout, Nairn's ambitions have risen to an appropriate level.
These ambitions were realised last year as Nairn played host to the 1999 Walker Cup, where the GB & I team's final day singles display gave them an emphatic victory over their more favoured American counterparts.
For the coming of the Walker Cup, the finishing touches were put to a set up which has to be the envy of most clubs. A new pro-shop was added and the practice tee, previously on a fairly steep slope, was tiered to provide a tremendous area for honing your swing. With these additions, along with the large practice putting green situated in front of the clubhouse, Nairn really is a golfer's paradise!
However, do not be deceived, Nairn is no place for the faint hearted. Many have tried before you to conquer these great links, but few have achieved their goal. Nairn is a true classic, designed to challenge at every juncture. The carries are often demanding, the fairways usually hard and fast, and the greens quick and true.
Nairn seems to relish the fact that it unashamedly throws down a challenge that few can meet. But being outfoxed by this course is common, and there is more than sufficient consolation offered by the amazing scenery and the sheer quality of the architecture.
Of the holes on the front nine, the par 5 second stands out as a real gem. If the wind is behind, don't use a driver for the fairways here are hard and dry, hence a well struck tee shot will gather momentum on landing and is likely to end up in the burn. Not the ideal reward for a good drive.
The opening to this green is wide and the putting surface offers a large target, but like all real championship courses, the green is full of subtle borrows. Accordingly, concentration must be at a premium to ensure that you either escape with five or capitalise on the fact that you have made it to the green in two.
For those not too confident off the tee, the third will be a daunting experience. There is a decent carry to the fairway, and even if that is overcome, there are bunkers encroaching on the left and gorse on the right. The approach shot is hit to a green which is very difficult to hold. Anything short is stopped by the banking in front of the green while most shots carrying the ridge will kick forward and left.
The easier recovery shot is from beyond or left of the green, so make sure you have enough club to carry the ridge.
If you're lucky you may catch a glimpse of the members' cat basking in the sun by the right of the third green. This is a wild cat which has been a loyal friend of the Nairn members. In return, many of the locals religiously carry offerings for the cat every round they play.
The seventh at Nairn is a classic links hole which demands length and accuracy. At 494 yards and a par five, it does present a birdie opportunity, but any imperfections can be brutally punished here. The championship tee is some fifty yards further back from the normal tee and puts a premium on length. The carry from the very back tee is over two hundred yards, a formidable challenge at any time, but if there is a strong wind in your face, even the longest hitters will struggle to reach the fairway. However, and this is what makes Nairn such a phenomenal course, if the wind is from behind, there are still challenges to be overcome.
For this hole incorporates a slight dogleg left and the further you hit the drive, the narrower the landing area becomes. There is a treacherous bunker on the left, and even more dangerous is the thick gorse on the right. The entrance to the green is very narrow and well protected by three bunkers. Accordingly, any second which takes on the green needs to be hit with deadly precision to reap full reward.
If you cannot get home in two, be sure to miss the fairway bunker eighty-seven yards short of the green, for any shot which ends in there means that par is the very best you can do. In the late summer, the heather running down the left of this fairway is in full bloom, providing a very wholesome and stunning sight.
The back nine at Nairn Golf Club
Turning for home, the middle section of the back nine is without doubt the toughest stretch on the course. The 12th stands at an intimidating 445 yards and has dangers ready and willing to punish. The hole is lined with gorse and the green is slightly raised. The bank at the front of the green must be carried, but the ball must also stop swiftly if it is to avoid the grassy bunkers at the back.
The 13th will be well known to television viewers of the Walker Cup, for this hole was an editor's dream. Not only does the hole come at a pivotal point in a match-play situation, it also provides the most stunning views from behind the green. Add to this the fact that the 13th is the hardest hole on the course ,and one has the perfect recipe for sporting drama.
The tee shot needs to be long and straight for like the 12th hole, the fairway is well guarded by gorse on both sides. Moreover, there is a nasty little bunker just shy of the 300 yard mark which waits to gather anything landing on the left side of the fairway. The second shot is arguably harder than the drive, for the green is raised some forty feet from where approaches are hit.
Long irons approach the putting surface on such a flat plane that they have a propensity to run through the green into the long grass beyond. However, even those who hold the putting surface cannot relax for this green is two tiered and slopes viciously from back right to front left.
The views from the 14th tee are breathtaking, but the hole's most famous feature is its viciously undulating green. The eccentricity of this green cannot be fully conveyed on paper, but I shall endeavour to provide an idea of what this green is like. The surface is divided broadly into four strips that run across the green.
More distinctly, each part of the putting green is at a different height from its immediate neighbour. Accordingly, find the wrong part of this green and three putts become a distinct possibility.
The closing hole at Nairn presents the most demanding challenge of all the tee shots. For the tee is set back in a tree lined avenue whose focal point is undoubtedly the two large pines at the avenue's exit. From the tee itself the pines appear to leave the smallest gap through which to squeeze your tee shot.
Help yourself to overcome the fears and nerves associated with the tee shot by concentrating on the fact that you are about to enjoy the finest closing hole in the North. Not only is the tee shot genuinely demanding but also the fairway is peppered with well placed bunkers, accordingly accuracy as well as length gains a handsome reward.
It will take two mean hits to reach this par five in two, but down wind the longer hitters will fancy their chances. The entrance to the green itself is fairly generous, meaning that it is possible to run the ball up, but anything deviating from its line will find a sandy resting place.
The 18th green is wonderfully big and overlooked by the beautiful new lounge where food and drinks are served. The Newton Club sandwich comes heartily recommended by the author. Alternatively the club do a great Sunday carvery which is incredibly popular with the members. Take time to sample some of the highland hospitality for the people here are tremendously friendly and will make all feel incredibly welcome.
Courtesy of the acclaimed amateur events held here in recent times, the clubhouse is full of photos commemorating Nairn's most celebrated occasions. Take time to view these as I am sure they will be of interest to any keen golfer.
But whether you have a swing worthy of the Walker Cup or your greatest challenge is merely finding the first fairway, any golfer will enjoy Nairn. Its condition is a credit to the green keeping staff and the course itself is a great exhibit for the craftsmanship of Old Tom Morris who designed the initial layout. James Braid, five times Open Champion, made some subsequent alterations between 1910 and 1926, all of which sit harmoniously with the original design.
With such great names associated with its construction, one wonders why it took so long for Nairn Golf Club to gain the international recognition it unquestionably deserves. But good things come to those who wait and Nairn's growing reputation is richly deserved.
May 16, 2000