ENJOYING HIGHLANDS GOLF AT NAIRN
Afamily wedding in the United Kingdom in July, plus a visit to a Cape Town friend who has moved to the Highlands of Scotland, prompted me to improvise a di erent kind of gol ng itinerary from what I’m used to at this time of year.
Readers may be familiar with my longrunning passion for Scottish links golf, which began almost 40 years ago when I attended my rst Open at Muir eld, and thereafter got to play some of the fabled courses I had only previously read about. I travelled to remote Dornoch on that occasion, and this time I found myself playing another favourite Highlands links, Nairn Golf Club. The opening seven holes are memorable for
anking the shoreline of the Moray Firth, and at low tide the beach is in play for those of us who occasionally slice. Sun bathers and walkers had no idea what a cry of Fore! meant. Fortunately, no harm came their way.
Nairn and Dornoch are too far north in Scotland to ever have aspirations about hosting the Open, yet they are challenging links which have both hosted the British Amateur and, in Nairn’s case, the Walker Cup match between the UK/Ireland and USA. They are wonderful tests of a golfer’s shotmaking skills.
Normally my travels in Scotland entail visiting di erent courses on a day-to-day basis, but recently I’ve experienced the joy of staying in one place for a while, familiarising myself with the same terrain. A cleverly designed links, with rm fairways and contoured greens, takes time to understand and appreciate, and capriciously never plays the same from day to day. One round at a course often tended to leave me feeling as if there was un nished business, mysteries that still needed unravelling.
A little known fact about Highlands golf in the middle of a UK summer is that there is a way of playing some wonderful courses for much less than the advertised rate. Nairn’s green fee is a steep £150 (R2 700) for 18 holes, but for another R200 I was able to play there for ve straight days, Monday to Friday. The secret to this access lay in entering the Nairn Open, this year being played for the 111th time.
Many of the older clubs in Scotland have four- or ve-day open weeks, supported right through the handicap range by golfers from +3 to 18. The entry fee at Nairn included a Monday practice round, then two medal qualifying rounds. With a eld of 150, playing in threeballs, and a one-tee start, this gave me a feeling of what it must be like to tee up in the Open. A starter in jacket and tie called each player on to the
rst tee, and we played from the white medal tees. My rst round starting time was 3.10pm, which meant nishing around 8pm. This was no hardship though, with the long summer evenings in Scotland often the best time of day.
These opens follow a similar format, brilliant in its simple inclusiveness. At Nairn the top 48 competitors quali ed for three matchplay trophies. The other 102 players didn’t pack their bags, but continued to play in consolation Stableford events the last two days. The top 16 gross quali ers played for one trophy, and the 32 best nett quali ers were split into two groups, based on handicaps, the 16 lowest and 16 highest, for the other two trophies.
Par at Nairn is 71, and a 36-hole nett total of 152 quali ed. That’s honest golf considering the ne weather we enjoyed. While thanks for that was due to a welcome absence of “ringers,” these higher scores also owed much to the presence of 107 cleverly placed bunkers, many with sheer walls that preclude easy escape. Often the only way out is sideways or backwards. Avoiding a bunker for 18 holes at Nairn was nigh impossible, as they are guardians of the greens, and balls tend to bounce their way like guided missiles on the rm turf. The long par-3 sixth is fronted by a bevy of such endish bunkers, and not once in ve days did I par this hole.