Last year, we were fortunate to visit the Scottish Highlands to play the courses around Dornoch and Brora. This year we headed up the A9 again to Inverness and this time, instead of heading north over the Kessock Bridge, we turned right and headed east.
We were in the area to experience the three championship courses in the area, Nairn Golf Club, Nairn Dunbar Golf Club and Castle Stuart Golf Links, a relative newcomer to the coastline.
Nairn is a relatively small town with a population of just over 10,000 and is situated around 17 miles along the A96 from Inverness. A seaside town with award-winning beaches, it’s a popular tourist destination in the summer so it’s not that unusual that a town of this size has two golf courses. What is unusual is that both links are of an exceptional standard.
The Nairn Golf Club
Nairn GC Clubhouse
Golf has been played on these links since 1887 when the club was founded. It’s hosted the Amateur Championship twice, in 1994 and 2021 and the Walker Cup in 1999 and the Curtis Cup in 2021.
Initially, Nairn was designed by Royal Aberdeen greenkeeper Andrew Simpson but the club had grander designs in mind when it asked Old Tom Morris to revise the course and extend it westwards. Twenty years after that, James Braid was asked to look at new teeing grounds and bunkers. Even though it’s been lengthened, the course remains the links that Braid envisioned all those years ago.
Nairn has 27 holes, the championship links and the 9-hole Cameron course. The short course is great fun with seven par 3’s ranging from 110 to 196 yards and two short par 4’s.
The championship course had an extensive renovation in 2018 carried out by Architects Mackenzie and Ebert, who were also the architects who renovated the famous Ailsa championship course at Turnberry.
Like a lot of seaside links courses, the front nine holes hug the coastline with trouble and the beach on the right on six of the nine holes. Most of the holes play into the prevailing wind.
The 1st is a comfortable opening hole if you avoid the three fairway bunkers, two on the left and one on the right. A good tee shot will leave a medium to short iron to green. Beware a back pin position as there is a ditch just through the green.
The 2nd however is a challenging par 4 at almost 480 yards from the back tee. There are bunkers in the landing area both left and right which means that you must hit the fairway to have any chance of making a par.
The 4th green
The 4th hole is a short par 3 and is the only hole on the front nine which plays towards the sea which is on your left. It’s usually downwind so don’t go long as the beach is only a few yards from the green.
From the water, the 7th, 8th and 9th holes
The 7th is a monster of a par 5 at 600 yards. Out of bounds and the beach is all the way down the right but that’s not the only hazard. Two bunkers on the left of the narrow fairway are perfectly positioned to catch your drive and if you avoid them then there are two more in the middle of the fairway that you have to avoid with your second shot. Take a five and run to the next tee!! The front nine closes with two short par 4’s which are both birdie opportunities. Just what you need after tackling that 7th hole.
History at the Turn
The Icehouse and Bothy
As you head to the 10th tee, there is a bit of local history with a traditional fisherman’s bothy and an icehouse. Both have been renovated and the fisherman’s bothy is now used as a halfway house for the golfers.
Turning for home, the 10th hole is a 530-yard par 5 which with the prevailing wind behind you is reachable in two, only if you avoid the fairway bunkers and the gorse bushes down the right.
The 11th is a lovely par 3. Four bunkers guard the front of the partially hidden green. With gorse bushes at the back of the green, picking the right club is essential.
The 12th is a difficult hole. At 460 yards, gorse bushes frame the fairway both left and right which means you need an accurate drive. Even then, there are two bunkers in the landing area. Avoid the trouble and you are left with a second shot to a raised green which is difficult to hold. This hole is as tough as they come.
The 13th green
Holes 13 and 14 are the only holes on the back nine which don’t run parallel to the beach. The 13th is the most difficult hole on the course. At 428 yards it plays uphill with trees and bushes on both sides and a large fairway bunker that catches those that favour the left side of the fairway. The approach shot is also tough with trees on the right and two bunkers short of the large undulating green, a par here should make you smile.
The 14th hole
The par 3 14th is probably the signature hole. The tee is at the highest point on the course and the green is 224 yards away. The view is spectacular, down the hole and beyond out to the Moray Firth. It’s a tough green to stay on when you are hitting a long iron or wood.
After playing the difficult stretch from 12 to 14, the 15th is a short par 4 at 303 yards. Avoid the fairway bunkers and give yourself a birdie opportunity.
Approach to the 16th green
Tricky Finishing Stretch
Holes 16 to 18 are tricky with gorse bushes on your right hand side. The 16th is a tough par 4 at 420 yards. Three bunkers guard the front of the green so taking enough club to carry them on your second shot is essential.
The 18th is a strong finishing hole at almost 550 yards. It’s a straight hole with plenty of strategically placed bunkers so accuracy is key to giving you the chance of a closing birdie, although a par 5 is still a good score.
Although not a long course at 6,400 yards, Nairn demands strategy and accuracy off the tee. If that’s not your game then you will need plenty of luck to avoid the bunkers and gorse. Much better to be short off the tee and on the fairway than long and in a bunker or a bush. It’s a wonderful second-shot course so choose your club off the tee wisely.
Nairn GC Fish and Chips
After our golf, we had dinner in the clubhouse. To say it was excellent would be an understatement. The fish and chips were outstanding and we highly recommend eating there if you have the time. The main lounge and dining room have excellent views over the course out over the water.
Next up we move a mile east along the Moray Firth to Nairn Dunbar Golf Club.
At a Glance:
- 27 holes
- Well stocked professionals shop
- Full-sized practice area
- Impressive clubhouse with fantastic views.
- Wonderful food, especially the fish and chips
- Traditional Scottish links
Culloden House Hotel
We stayed at the very grand Culloden House Hotel, which is 13 miles from Nairn on the way back to Inverness. Parts of the house date back to the 16th century.
For the history buffs, Bonnie Prince Charlie made the building his base when planning the fight against the English to win back the throne for the Stuarts. Situated very close to Culloden Moor, which is the site of the final battle in the Jacobite uprising,
Culloden changed more than just the history of Scotland. It has been estimated that there are some 20 million people of Scots descent living in other countries as a result of the huge diaspora in the aftermath of this one battle.
Curiously, a representation of Culloden House is featured in the closing episodes of series two of the hit TV series Outlander. However, the external and internal scenes were filmed at Touch House near Stirling.
The Grand Lounge
Although it didn’t actually star in Outlander, fans of the series would love staying here as it’s a step back in time both in architecture and presentation.
The bedrooms are large and spacious. The furniture is in keeping with the traditional theme although all modern conveniences are all covered. Our ensuite was large with both a bath and shower.
The Scottish Breakfast
The staff at the hotel were excellent, nothing was too much trouble. Breakfast was superb with plenty of choices available. The traditional Scottish breakfast is always an excellent choice to set you up for the day ahead, and the one here was certainly the right choice.
Whisky and Gin
The onsite bar had an incredible range of whiskies and gin available. Far too many to name, much better to show you the photos and for you to see if you can spot your favourite.
Culloden House is a special place and we really enjoyed staying there. While the hotel and surrounds are stunning in a traditional way, it is the staff that makes it special. Thank you to GM Stephen Davies and all his team for a wonderful stay.