Looking for top-notch links golf? Nairn Golf Club is your course | Scotland Golf

Nairn Golf Club: Legendary Highland course, mythical aura

NAIRN, Scotland -- "Nairn" -- the name sounds like something from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," some place at the edge of the earth, inhabited by wizards, knights and flesh-eating rabbits.

At least so it sounds to Americans looking to explore Scotland's unrivaled links golf courses. The Championship Course at Nairn Golf Club boasts a history that stretches back to 1887 and includes the likes of Old Tom Morris and James Braid. Today, it still holds up to modern technology and players. Golf World has ranked the Championship Course as the ninth-best course in Scotland and the 23rd-best in all of Great Britain and Ireland, and it's a semi-regular host of major international tournaments, including the 2012 Curtis Cup.

Nairn is a quintessential example of linksland golf. The rumpled, heaving fairways slither through gorse- and heather-carpeted dunes like so many angry snakes. From the tees, the aiming points and landing areas are often obscured from view.

For visitors (like me) who are used to courses with wide, forgiving fairways, some of the tee shots at Nairn look utterly merciless. Add in a strong westerly wind off the Moray Firth -- which is visible from every hole and fully in play on the first seven holes -- and hitting a fairway feels almost as great as holing a birdie putt.

But it's not until you get to the greens that Nairn's teeth are truly bared. Breaks are at the same time wild and inscrutable, and, again, the wind can slap balls offline faster than you can say "three putt." Some 80 years ago, James Braid called Nairn's greens "unrivaled" in quality and texture -- and they've had nearly a century to mature since then.

We asked Pamela Pretswell, a member of the victorious 2012 Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup Team, to explain her affinity for Nairn, other than the fact that the GB&I team whipped a hugely favored U.S. team there.

"Rule No. 1 for first-time players at Nairn is to stay out of the bunkers," says Prestwell, who has since turned pro and is playing on the Ladies European Tour Access Series. "Always give yourself a shot from the fairway to the green. Low punch shots are very helpful, and a tidy short game is needed to get yourself happily around Nairn. And also to bring a camera to help you remember the fabulous views."

Easier said than done (except for the camera part).

How Nairn plays

On my maiden voyage to Nairn Golf Club, I was immediately struck by the way the fairways sort of melted into unforgiving rough and morphed into the rolling greens. It looks like a course that has been there since, well, 1887.

The result is an unmistakable sense of place. I felt not only that the course required a lot of experience and familiarity to play well but also that there was no way for me to grasp it in just one round. After I relinquished the fantasy that I was going to score well and resigned myself to simply enjoying the visceral history and rustic beauty of the place, I actually did hit a few wonderful shots, including driving the green and two-putting for birdie at the 305-yard 15th.

Aside from playing right along the sea through the first seven holes, a few other especially memorable features stand out. Off the green of the 355-yard eighth stand a couple of white-washed, sod-roofed, salmon drying shacks. (Photo-op!)

The green of the 160-yard 11th is practically encircled by deep bunkers, and where there isn't any bunker, there's gorse. The bowl-shaped green will hold most shots, if you can find it, hitting into the prevailing wind.

The 219-yard 14th presents players with the most treacherous green on the links. It's raised, so that balls tend to roll off like raindrops off a duck's back, and there's also a deep burrow running through the center. If you’re on the wrong side from the pin, three- and four-putts are pretty common.

The view out into the firth and beyond to the Black Isle is stunning, but the waves in the green often rival those in the sea.

Nairn Golf Club: The verdict

Now-pro Pretswell sums up her fondness for Nairn as follows: "I just love Nairn. It feels like a second home to me. The golf course is just beautiful. It is such a true test of golf with amazing views, and I love how the course can play completely differently from morning to afternoon."

Prestwell said the greens are renowned as being the best in Scotland -- an opinion she shares.

Visitors to Nairn, especially those who are not experienced at playing links-style golf, should not get caught up in chasing the holy grail of a career round. The U.S. Curtis Cup Team was upset here, and I would wager that there isn't a player among them who wouldn’t admit to being vexed at times by the vagaries that seem to be inherent in classic links layouts -- Nairn being a prototypical example.

Instead, visitors can revel in the history and aura of the course, tracing the footfalls of Old Tom Morris as they go and savoring the occasional magical shot. Just be glad there are no killer bunnies.

Stay and play in Nairn

The town of Nairn and Nairn Golf Club are located just north up the coast from Inverness. While in the area, schedule a round at Castle Stuart Golf Links in Inverness, a 3-year-old links layout that is home to the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.

You can stay where the pros stay during the Aberdeen Scottish Open at Kingsmills Hotel and Kingsclub and Spa; the former is more traditional, and the latter is more modern, and they're just across the parking lot from one another. If you want to know where most business in Inverness has been conducted for decades and is still being done, grab a pint and settle into a chair at the Kingsmills bar. The hotel is back under local management and is being dramatically upgraded. The restaurant at Kingsmills features local ingredients, such as lobster from the Moray Firth and farm-sourced cheeses and ice cream.

For a dinner out on the town, try Rocpool Restaurant. Standing on the shore of the River Ness in downtown Inverness, Rocpool mixes and matches unexpected ingredients in exquisitely balanced dishes. The king scallops absolutely melt in your mouth.

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.

Related Links

Nairn Golf Club is a quintessential example of links golf. For first-time visitors, some of the tee shots at Nairn look utterly merciless. Add in a strong westerly wind off the Moray Firth, and hitting a fairway feels almost as great as holing a birdie putt.
12 Images
Golfers the world over know St. Andrews is where the game began, but golfing in Scotland does not end with St. Andrews. Clive Agran continues his series of "Scotland Beyond St. Andrews" with a look at some of the best golf courses in the Scottish Highlands, including Castle Stuart Golf Links and Royal Dornoch Golf Club.
4 Min Read
Bringing the Barclays Scottish Open back to a links course seemed like a no-brainer. Moving the event to the remote Highlands on a brand new golf course was the gamble. But those who make the trek to Inverness and set foot on the new Castle Stuart Golf Links in Inverness will soon realize this is a place that's hard to say no to, Brandon Tucker writes.
4 Min Read
More from the author
3 Min Read
May 1, 2017
Cobra and Arccos Golf have teamed up to create the COBRA CONNECT feature that is an ultra light-weight sensor to track distance and accuracy. Kiel Christianson reviews it.
2 Min Read
April 28, 2017
Tour Edge Exotics touts the company's "material advantage" in promoting its clubs. Case in point: The new Exotics EX10 Driver features a TSP 910 Beta Ti faceplate. Read the full review here.
2 Min Read
April 27, 2017
Kiel Christianson has some of our favorite golf clothing options for men and women, for the 2017 season.
4 Min Read
April 26, 2017
For a comprehensive club-fitting experience, Kiel Christianson tried out the Club Champion method, which has grown to many major U.S. markets.
2 Min Read
April 19, 2017
Last year, European golf trolley leader BIG MAX introduced a remarkable fold-flat technology in its three-wheeled Autofold FF model. Kiel Christianson reviews the latest model.
4 Min Read
April 11, 2017
Located just outside of Charleston, South Carolina, Wild Dunes Resort features 36 holes beside the Atlantic Ocean designed by Tom Fazio and Mike Strantz.
6 Min Read
August 9, 2022
GolfNow Compete, developed with input from Rory McIlroy, offers GPS yardages, hole maps, multiple games to play and a place to fire up your friendly, competitive juices.
5 Min Read
August 1, 2022
Tips to enjoying special golf trips to Scotland, Ireland and Pinehurst highlight this month's Secrets column.
3 Min Read
July 18, 2022
Record scoring shouldn't detract from another magical major at the Home of Golf.
2 Min Read
July 24, 2022
Ties to USGA and a location at the crossroads of American golf make perfect sense.
Load More
Now Reading
Nairn Golf Club: Legendary Highland course, mythical aura