If you happened to catch The 3 Irish Open last week, that’s exactly what the courses we played looked like. It was great seeing the pros trying to make some of the same shots we had and, under the same conditions.
We started with Royal Dornoch. The highlight was playing in the wind and rain. Yes, you heard me right. If you go to Scotland and don’t play in the wind and rain ONCE, then you’ll feel gypped.
You won’t be able to say you really experienced the game as it’s often played there. And you don’t really appreciate how difficult the courses can be unless you have wind.
As much as pot bunkers are part of most holes, the hole I remember the most from Dornoch was number 14 with no bunkers but one of the most interesting layouts in golf. The long narrow green is set to the right of the fairway and behind a row of 5 berms that stretch for 50 yards. This green is incredibly hard to hit and hold.
Morey Old will always be remembered for the RAF jets that take off and land over the 4 holes that are adjacent to the runway. On number 7 the jets clear the fairway by no more than 100 feet. The sound of the engines is so loud you have to stop play and cover your ears, but it’s so spectacular you don’t mind.
The most memorable hole for me was 18. It’s only 408 from the whites, but has a number of challenging features. Directly to the right of the tee box about 30 yards out is a wall of granite about 25 feet high that definitely plays with your mind.The rest of the hole is all uphill to a green that is ringed by the clubhouse and parts of the town which help to make it look like a fortress impossible to gain. I’m really at a loss for words to convey how it feels. Let’s just say you won’t ever forget it.
I loved the front nine at Nairn. I don’t think there’s a better front side anywhere. Unfortunately the greens weren’t up to their high standards having had a water system failure and a couple of hard frosts during the winter. I’m sure they’ll be great again by mid June. The front nine run right along the beach and fit the lay of the land as well as any holes I’ve ever played. It’s the kind of course you could belong to and enjoy playing every day. With changing conditions and tee boxes I’ll bet it rarely ever feels the same.
If I could go back to Scotland and play just one course, it would be hard not to choose Cruden Bay. It combines everything; challenge, beauty, views, and layout. If you get to this part of Scotland and don’t play it, you’ll never forgive yourself. I have to mention the starter, who could have stepped out of Bagger Vance.
They also have a terrific practice facility that’s very handy to the clubhouse and first hole. Cruden Bay has too many memorable holes to pick only one as a favorite. I do have to mention 14. It’s a 389 par 4, uphill, running along the beach on a high dune. It gets narrower and hillier the closer you get to the green – and what a green. It’s sunken and one of the most unusual you’ll ever find. This is an incredibly unique hole.
If you’re a typical working guy who enjoys your weekday after-work golf league where you dress in the parking lot and tee off without a warm-up, then you’d enjoy the atmosphere and camaraderie of Fraserburgh and Peterhead. They don’t have the maintenance staff of the other clubs, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy. They have all the pot bunkers, wind, undulating greens and gorse that any of the better known courses have. If the wind blows, as it did when we played both these courses, you’ll find bogey is an agreeable score on many holes. Peterhead has a stretch of holes from 7 through 10 that are as good as any on a links course.
Royal Aberdeen is the complete golf experience from it’s pictured tradition, to the club house (and great soup), to the friendliness of the staff and members, to the beauty and challenge of the course. If Royal Dornoch is Ben Hogan and Cruden Bay is Jack Nicklaus, then Royal Aberdeen is Payne Stewart. It’s very even from 1 through 18, meaning there are no weak stretches or throwaway holes. The views are breathtaking. The course has elevation changes, gorse, heather, pot bunkers, sloping greens and nary a flat spot anywhere. If this was the only course you could play for the rest of your life, you’d do just fine.
I still can’t put my finger on what I didn’t like about Montrose. I guess it’s just that there was nothing that I really loved. The course is a bit flat and the holes start to look the same. It doesn’t have the undulations of Dornoch, Aberdeen or Cruden Bay. Even though it runs along the ocean, there are no real ocean views. I’m sure there’s more to the course than I saw and maybe I’d feel different if I played it again. It’s a good course to play at the start of your trip.
I’ve played Monifieth before and it’s a good solid course, having served as a British Open Qualifier on more than one occassion. It’s generally flat with lots of trouble and even some trees to add to the challenge. There’s less of a dunes/seaside feel to this course than any of the others. Nothing outstanding here, but a good course to consider while playing other courses in the area.
Lastly, there’s Panmure. I really loved this course. If courses have male/female characteristics then this one is definitely a lady, starting with a beautiful white clubhouse. She’s never in your face or gawdy, but lose focus and you’ll pay dearly. The famous Hogan hole, number 6, is one of the great par 4’s in Scotland. The hole is relatively flat, but you never really see a landing spot for your drive or approach. I’d guess you’d call it a dogleg, but in reality it just slants left. The green is as protected as any you’ll find anywhere, being elevated, hidden behind mounds and guarded on the right front by the famous Hogan trap. This is a must-play course.