MORAYSHIRE, Scotland -- Grantown-on-Spey Golf Club is little more than a short walk from the centre of the picturesque Scottish highland town from which it gets its name. Renowned for the warm welcome it affords it visitors, it is proud of its history which goes all the way back to 1890 when the owner of the Grant Arms Hotel allowed the club to use some pasture for the purposes of golf for one shilling (seven cents) a year. Clearly not given to extravagance, the club then paid Mr. A.C. Brown, a professional golfer, a fee of four pounds and 10 shillings (about seven dollars) to design the course. From these humble beginnings, a delightful and challenging golf course has developed.
Undoubtedly the most famous golfer to have learned to play the game at Grantown-on-Spey Golf Club is Bobby Cruikshank. Born in 1894, he was 4 when he first hit a ball and a young man when he turned pro in 1921 and left for the United States with his great rival, Tommy Armour. Cruikshank never won a major but came closest in 1923 when he birdied the last hole at Inwood Country Club to tie Bobby Jones in the U.S. Open. The tables were turned in the play-off, however, when Jones won with a birdie at the last. Cruikshank was runner-up again in the U.S. Open in 1932 and twice reached the semi-finals of the PGA Championship in 1922 and 1923. A winner of 17 U.S. tour events, he regularly returned to Grantown-on-Spey Golf Club before he died in Delray Beach, Florida in 1975. A photo of him has pride of place in the recently expanded and refurbished clubhouse. There is also a picture of Arnold Palmer, who was made an honorary member in 1989.
Grantown-on-Spey Golf Club by the numbers
With wonderful views of the glorious Cairngorm mountains, the golf course naturally splits into three equal sections. The first six holes are fairly flat and open parkland in character and provide a gentle introduction. The golf course tightens considerably over the second six which pass through fairly hilly woodland. Although the trees have been aggressively thinned in recent times and the firewood sold to members at a substantial discount to the prevailing market price, they pose a very serious threat.
The undoubted star at Grantown-on-Spey Golf Club and undisputed signature hole comes in the middle of this stretch. No. 9, "Murdie's View," is a 275-yard, downhill, par 4 that is blessed with a spectacular backdrop of pine trees and the beautiful Cromdale Hills.
Coming off the 12th green, you emerge blinking from the woodland and onto undulating parkland for a particularly pleasing closing stretch which, though comparatively benign, still contains considerable danger.
"The course isn't particularly tricky, particularly the first half-a-dozen holes" said Paul McKay, the club secretary. "Hitting the ball straight certainly helps, especially during the middle section through the woods."
Partly because the golf course only measures 5,710 yards, it is a wee bit vulnerable and the course record is held by a 4 handicapper who shot a gross 60, net 56 against a par of 70 and standard scratch score of 68. Even that remarkable performance pales in comparison, however, with the achievement of present member, Kenny Winslow who, after putting in three cards and receiving a handicap of 27, shot a gross 78, net 49! His handicap promptly plummeted to 16 and he did the best he could to maintain as low a profile at the club for several months afterward.
Grantown-on-Spey Golf Club: The verdict
Although perhaps not providing the most thorough of examinations, Grantown-on-Spey Golf Club is a hugely enjoyable course that will help restore morale if you've been beaten up elsewhere. But even if you start and finish well, you may find yourself looking for balls in the middle section.
There are only four buggies which, in my opinion, is a good thing. But if you need one, you would be advised to let the course know in advance. The superb food in the clubhouse restaurant is simply the best I've ever tasted in a Scottish golf club.
Photos courtesy of David J. Whyte/Linksland.com