LOSSIEMOUTH, Scotland -- Whether you call them nasty yellow bushes, gorse, or by their Scottish name of whins, they are, despite being very pretty in the early summer, best avoided. However, that isn't very easy on the Old Course at Moray Golf Club as they seemingly lurk alongside pretty well every hole and greedily grab whatever golf ball comes their way.
Keeping it on the straight and narrow isn't terribly easy on this classic links course as the wind invariably whistles in across the adjacent Moray Firth and there are plenty of the usual bumps and hollows ready to deflect your shot where you least want it to go. Compared to the whins, the revetted bunkers look almost appealing despite the fact that they are a lot deeper than your average bunker and, if you want to be sure of escaping those guarding the fairways, a seriously lofted club is required.
Despite all the inevitable grief that you'll encounter along the way, this truly thrilling golf course designed by Old Tom Morris himself more than 100 years ago is absolutely stunning. From the moment you tee off next to Moray's pro shop until you putt out on the elevated final green in front of the clubhouse, you can't fail but fall under the magical spell of what is indisputably one of the world's finest links golf courses that bears comparison with any on the British Open roster.
Green fees make Old Course at Moray one of Scotland's best bargains
Sadly, although they've staged all manner of serious tournaments here including the Scottish Amateur and the Scottish Professional championships, they could never hold the Open Championship here simply because it's so damned noisy that Peter Alliss's golden tones would be drowned out by the deep-throated roar of the Tornado aircraft screaming into the adjacent Lossiemouth air base. The Royal Air Force's largest and busiest fast-jet base is literally 'bang' next door.
Although it would be ridiculous to imagine anyone could ignore the noise, it doesn't put you off putting on the perfectly true greens as much as you might imagine. Apart from making it an appealing venue to play a match against a too talkative opponent, there is a genuine upside to the phenomenal noise and that is the ludicrously low green fees, which are possibly the best bargain in the whole of Scotland.
Both the Old Course at Moray and the almost-as-old clubhouse are rich in history. One particularly controversial episode that they both witnessed was the ejection from the club of the first Labour Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald. Apparently his pacifist beliefs didn't chime with those of the other members and so he left to join Spey Bay Golf Club.
Historically rather more appealing than its vehement anti-pacifism has been the Moray Golf Club's practice of buying five or six hogsheads (one hogshead equals 54 imperial gallons) of whisky, laying them down and bottling them up when they're 10 years old. Since it lies at the geographical heart of Scotland's whisky industry, it's perhaps not surprising that the club boasts a number of distillers among its members and consumes so much of the country's favorite product.
Perhaps sampling a wee dram of the stuff makes it easier to follow the advice of the assistant pro, Andrew Rollo, "To keep the ball away from the yellow bushes." On the other hand, it may not.
The Old Course at Moray Golf Club: The verdict
For fans of links golf, the Old Course at Moray Golf Club is very nearly as good as it gets. Don't let the jets put you off but instead take advantage of one of golf's greatest bargains.
Photos courtesy of David J. Whyte/Linksland.com