On the Trail of Old Tom Morris

There are many claims about where golf started, the Netherlands, France and even China, but it’s generally agreed that the golf, in its current format was first played in Scotland in the 15th Century.

Scotland is recognised worldwide as the Home of Golf and it has 550 courses to choose from.

On WBGD’s first trip to the Highlands of Scotland, we will be playing at courses that have been around for hundreds of years, from 1616 to 1891…

I have lived in Scotland for 61 years but have never played golf as far north as this,  so I am very excited about the courses I am about to play as they are all classic links designed or redesigned by such historical legends as Old Tom Morris and James Braid.

Old Tom Morris designed or redesigned more than 100 courses in the UK in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century with his last course design at Glasgow Killermont in 1904.

Old Tom designed the classic links and Open Championship venues of Prestwick, Muirfield, Carnoustie, Royal Portrush and The Old Course in St.Andrews.

James Braid was even more prolific and is credited with over 250 courses between 1912 and 1950. More on him in the next article.

Old Tom Morris statue next to the first tee

After a 4 1/2 hours drive north up the A9 and through some spectacular Scottish countryside, we arrived at the small town of Tain, population 3,500.

Tain Golf Club, which promotes itself as Old Tom’s Northern Jewel, was formed in 1890 and one of the newer courses on this trip although no doubt golf was played for many years on the land before the formation of the Club.

Who was Old Tom Morris? Read more here

Read more about the history of Tain Golf Club here.

It’s a relatively short links of 6,404 yards from the back tees but it’s a tricky course with holes going in all different directions, not a traditional out and back links.

No need to hit driver all the time as getting it on the fairway is key. I found Tain to be a raw and un-manicured links, in keeping with its history and the way golf used to be. 

That is not a slight by any means, the putting surfaces were very good, just don’t expect great definition and patterned fairways, that’s not what traditional old style links are all about. There are so many undulations on the fairways that I’m not sure how they manage to keep the grass short. They must be a nightmare to mow!!.

On first and eighteenth holes, the fairways have a road running across them, a bit like and Granny Clarks Wynd on the same holes on the Old Course, unlike St. Andrews, the road at Tain has a fence on both sides!!

Approach to the first green, appropriately named “Road”

Both the front nine and back nine are evenly balanced with one par five and two par threes on each nine and are of similar yardages, although on the back nine, those par threes are on the 16th and 17th holes.

The 11th hole, “Alps”

For me, the most interesting hole on the course was the 11th hole as its unlike any other hole on the course. After a decent drive to an undulating fairway, if you get a decent lie you are left with a blind second shot over the mounds in the photos above, to a small green.

The 11th green

I found the front nine to be easier than the back nine although that may have been due to tiredness after our long drive north. Maybe a quick trip to Tain’s local distillery, Glenmorangie would revive my spirits….pun intended!!

To sum up, Tain is a must visit course is you are on a golf trip to the Highlands. The Club Professional, Stuart Morrison was very helpful pre-round and highlighted some of the course’s idiosyncrasies before I went out. These proved very useful as on some of the tees, you are not always sure what way the doglegs go.

Approach to the 18th green and Clubhouse

At a Glance:

  • Traditional links golf designed by Old Tom Morris
  • Small practice range and chipping area 
  • Small functional Clubhouse with great golfer’s fayre
  • One hour from Inverness Airport, three and a half hours from Edinburgh Airport and four hours from Glasgow Airport
  • Plenty of whisky distilleries in the area including Glenmorangie, Balblair and Toulvaddie
  • Several cracking courses can be found within an hour’s drive including Brora, Royal Dornoch, Golspie, Castle Stuart, Nairn, Nairn Dunbar and Fortrose and Rosemarkie making it ideal for a golf trip
  • More information is available on the club’s website