Monster golf at Loch Ness: Looking for "Nessie" and birdies in the Highlands
It's a strange package, golf and the Loch Ness monster. But there are several golf courses worth playing around the mythic beast of the lake in the Scottish highlands, including Inverness Golf Club and the revered Royal Dornoch.
Yeah, you know it's fake. But you also know if there is a Loch Ness monster - "Nessie" - it sure would be cool to be one of the first to see it.
The history of the Loch Ness monster dates back to 1933, when the Inverness Courier reported sightings of a "dragon or prehistoric animal" by a London man. A month later, a veterinary student had a similar sighting, and so on.
The reports soon reached the national and international media, and the mania was on. There have been all sorts of scientific inquiries since - both serious and comical - but no definitive evidence has ever been seen.
The most recent claim is from a 55-year-old lab technician who shot video of what he described as a 45-foot-long animal moving through the water. People got excited - again. A marine biologist at the Loch Ness 2000 Center said it was the best video he'd ever seen of Nessie.
Then again, the lab tech, Gordon Holmes, also has a self-published book and DVD claiming fairies exist.
A multi-million-dollar industry has sprung up around the Loch Ness monster, including cruises on "research vessels" that tote tourists around the lake for a hefty price.
But, hey, who are we to say "Nessie" doesn't exist? What could it hurt? And besides, the lake is beautiful in its own right, monster or not. If you want to get in on the fun and combine some golf with settling the great Loch Ness monster controversy once and for all, there are some nearby golf courses: some excellent and some simply close.
Royal Dornoch was designed by Old Tom Morris and tweaked by luminaries the likes of Donald Ross, an ex-pro and greenskeeper.
Nairn Golf Club is 20 miles from Nessie's lair, located on the shores of the Moray Firth, which can be seen from virtually every hole; you can hit the ball into the sea on each of the first seven holes, in fact.
It's a traditional Scottish links layout, with whins and heather and gorse and all that. Founded in 1887, Nairn is considered one of the best in Scotland, demanding precision drives and approaches. There is also a nine-hole family course.
Fortrose Golf Club is 16 miles from Nessie. Founded in the late 1800s, it's a traditional links course designed by James Braid. It was originally six holes but was extended to 18 in 1924. A woman named Isa Ross donated money for a new clubhouse back in the 1950s on the condition that no alcohol be served. The Scots found a way around that, of course.
The layout is on the narrow Chanonry Peninsula. It has small, deceptive greens, dense gorse and strategically placed bunkers. There is a dolphin colony in the adjacent "firth." It's a short course, at less than 6,000 yards.
Aigas Golf Club is 14 miles from the monster. It plays on undulating land in a valley bottom owned by a farming family, with large greens and undulating fairways. This is a nine hole, par-33 layout, with some water features and bunkers added since its founding in 1993.
A practice area is adjacent to the clubhouse, with holiday cottages on the grounds. The clubhouse is open April to October.
The Loch Ness Golf Club at Fairways at Inverness is 12 miles away. It opened in 1996 and advertises itself as being "more a friendly bar with a golf course than a golf course with an unwelcoming clubhouse."
The club has two courses, a par-70 layout under 6,000 yards and a nine-hole family track.
The New course, the longer one, climbs gently above Inverness, and from the 13th you can see the steep hillside that leads into Loch Ness. It's player-friendly, with wide fairways and little heather to worry about.
Inverness Golf Club is also 12 miles away. Founded in 1883, the course is 6,256 yards with a par of 69. It's convenient, being only a mile from the city center and six miles from the airport. It has two bars and a restaurant and is marketed as an alternative to Scotland's links courses, with tree-lined fairways and some moderate elevation.
Be aware: handicap certificates are required, and tee time reservations carry restrictions. The holes have Scottish names like Drakies, Spion Kop and Kelly's Copse.
Torvean Golf Club is so close to Nessie it's scary: only 10 miles. It's actually located on the road to Loch Ness - beware at night you don't run into her - and a cruise boat from Jacobite departs for the famous lake right beside the second tee. Jacobite apparently doesn't buy into the Nessie myth: "The myths and legends of Loch Ness are well known," the company says. "Let Jacobite show you its real and imposing beauty, which is just as magical."
What fun is that?
Founded in 1962 as a nine-holer, the course added nine more in 1981. It is close to the Caledonian Canal.
June 2, 2008