Peak performance: Spectacular scenery, beautiful courses highlight golf in the Scottish Highlands



Although most of Scotland is fairly mountainous, the aptly named Highlands region contains the highest peaks and the most spectacular scenery.

Well to the north and west of Glasgow and Edinburgh and away from the east coast, it broadens in the north to cover the whole width of the country. It's the most rugged, natural and sparsely populated area of Scotland and contains some extraordinarily beautiful golf courses.

Boat of Garten Golf Club

Boat of Garten Golf Club lies right in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, 1,000 feet above sea level and about as far from the ocean as you can be in Scotland. The name derives from the ferry that used to cross the mighty River Spey -- arguably Scotland's best salmon river -- that surges past the course. Although its origins are 19th century, the course was expanded and remodeled by the legendary James Braid in the 1930s. Short but still very challenging, it threads through the silver birch, heather and gorse, and it benefits from a spectacular mountain backdrop.

Moray Golf Club

Follow the salmon downstream and eventually you will enter the North Sea a few miles east of Lossiemouth, which is where the Royal Air Force's has its busiest jet base. Right next door is the truly wonderful links course at Moray Golf Club. Designed by Old Tom Morris more than a century ago, the "Old" course is blessed with revetted bunkers, glorious gorse and immaculate greens. Venue for both the Scottish Amateur and Scottish Professional championships, it would be a strong candidate for the British Open were it not for the almost deafening roar of jets taking off and landing. Although rather irritating, the noise is the main reason why the green fee at Moray is the best bargain in Scotland.

Nairn Golf Club

Head east along the coast and you will soon arrive at another outstanding links course, Nairn Golf Club. Both Morris and James Braid have helped design this classic links that goes straight out and back in the time-honored way. The Moray Firth is visible from every hole, and the wind that whips off it is a real factor and stories abound of golfers turning 3 under but finishing 10 over or worse. Both the Walker Cup and Curtis Cup have been staged here.

Castle Stuart Golf Links

Not all the best golf courses in Scotland are ancient, and if you travel a little farther west from Nairn you'll discover a new one that's creating a huge stir and sending mighty ripples right across the Moray Firth. Mountains of praise have been heaped on Castle Stuart Golf Links since it opened its generous fairways in 2009. Built by two Americans -- Mark Parsinen and Gil Hanse -- it has already twice hosted the Scottish Open. The pros loved it and so will you as it's fair, forgiving and, most important, great fun.

Royal Dornoch Golf Club

From a modern masterpiece to an established star as we head north past Inverness, the unofficial capital of the Highlands, and arrive at one of the truly great courses of the world, Royal Dornoch Golf Club. Just 80 miles from the most northerly tip of Scotland, it benefits from long summer days and surprisingly little rainfall. Morris first laid out the course but Royal Dornoch is perhaps better known for having given the golf world one of the greatest course architects of all time, Donald Ross. Indeed, the raised greens at Dornoch will remind some of the fiendishly difficult "upturned saucers" at Pinehurst No. 2. Tom Watson played here twice in one day and remarked afterwards it was the most fun he had ever had on a golf course. Play it and you'll understand what he meant.

Brora Golf Club

Since we've come so far, we must manage another 30 miles north along the coast and enjoy one last piece of golf paradise. Rather quirky with cattle munching the rough and no yardage markers, Brora Golf Club is another classic out-and-back course. Squeezed between a beautiful beach and the purple heather-covered mountains of Ben Bhraggie, this un-spoilt James Braid gem is truly special.

Feb 18, 2014



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Clive Agran

Contributor

Although in his 60s, with a handicap of 15 and lifetime earnings comfortably below $100, Clive Agran nevertheless still believes he can win a major. Arguably England's most gifted golf writer, when not dreaming of glory he's scouring the globe simultaneously searching for lost balls and great golf courses. Follow Clive on Twitter at @cliveagran.


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