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Golfing the Scottish Highlands from Inverness to Boroa!

Golfing the Scottish Highlands from Inverness to Boroa!

Golfing the Scottish Highlands from Inverness to Boroa!

Golf Chats is a website to encourage discussions on various subjects relating to the game of golf. I am Mel Sole, Director of Instruction of the Mel Sole Golf School and SAPGA Master Professional.  I invite you to enter into a discussion on this or any article on the website.  The input is for the entire subscriber base to learn something new each time!  Please post your comments below.  Keep it clean and tasteful.  We are here to learn from one another!

I absolutely love playing golf in Scotland.  

And after reading Kevin Markham‘s account of golfing the Scottish Highlands, I just have to go!  I escort golfers from the USA to Scotland every three years, and we play more famous courses.  Next time I will extend my visit after my group leaves to take the North Coast 500 and follow Kevin’s steps.  If you would like to participate in one of my trips, go here for more details.

Thanks to Golf Digest for this story!

Golfing the Scottish Highlands from Inverness to Boroa!



“You’re going to the Scottish Highlands to play golf? In November?”

“Yep. For three weeks.”

“That’s crazy.”

Everyone I spoke to thought I was an idiot for going so late in the year.

Expect heavy rain and plummeting temperatures I was told, time and again. I assumed I’d be writing a Survival Guide to Scottish Golf, one that recommends carrying a small coal-fired power station in your pocket for warmth.

There is an air of mystery and romanticism to the Scottish Highlands. As a boy, I always imagined these Highlands were way up high, mist-enshrined mountains with clouds hiding their peaks as far as the eye can see.

It turns out that’s exactly what they are… but there is so much more. The coastline encircling those mountains is laced with beautiful beaches, bays, cliffs and castles…. and dunes.

And the Scots have been playing golf in those dunes for centuries.

Earlier this year, Scotland introduced a 500-mile coastal driving route called the North Coast 500 (NC500). It wraps around the northern Highlands, stretching from the region’s capital, Inverness, up to John O’ Groats, the most northerly point on the British mainland. From there it switches west for 90 miles to the isolated and beautiful Durness, before coasting south through a dramatic and inspiring landscape to the equally remote village of Applecross.

This is Scotland at its wildest, forever battered by the Atlantic Ocean and the elements. Given the landscape and the often-inhospitable conditions, you can understand why the county of Sutherland (roughly the size of the State of Delaware) has an average population of just two people per square mile.

When I first heard about the NC500, I realized that Royal Dornoch was on that route, along with Brora. More research revealed the route possesses 27 golf courses. I sensed an opportunity to do something a bit different: drive those 500 miles and play every course along the way. Perhaps, after 30 years, I would get to determine if my dreams of the Scottish Highlands coincided with reality.

The starting point was Inverness, on the Moray Firth.

There are many golf courses nearby, but the renowned Nairn and Castle Stuart are not on the NC500. Instead, I played the parklands of Inverness and Strathpeffer, and the heathland Muir of Ord.

I also played Torvean, Loch Ness, Invergordon and Alness, and it was these four that emphasized how screwed up my priorities had become in recent years. The courses’ quality was underwhelming but at the sweet parkland of Alness I realized—or remembered—that what makes golf so special isn’t playing highly manicured fairways, perfect greens or some grand design.

The game’s essence, rather, is hitting a ball in the company of friends and switching off for a while. I had forgotten that spirit and it wasn’t for another week, when I played Reay Golf Club on the north coast that it all came back to me. The rough links fairways took me back to when I was a boy, trampling over similar fairways on a beat up nine-hole course in County Cork … and loving every minute of it.

Golfing the Scottish Highlands from Inverness to Boroa!

A rainbow over Ardesleigh


Fortrose and Rosemarkie was the first serious course I played.

A low-lying links laid out by Scotsman James Braid on a small peninsula that slashes into the Moray Firth. Established in 1888, someone recently found proof in their attic that golf has been played here since 1702. It makes it the 15th-oldest golfing site in the world.

After leaving Inverness, my next stop was in Tain, a quaint town and home to an Old Tom Morris links celebrating its 125th anniversary. Tain Golf Club, along with Golspie, tends to be forgotten behind the might of Royal Dornoch and Brora. It is a shame because Tain is old school and charming.

A rainbow over Ardesleigh

The eighth hole at Tain Golf Club

And it was at Tain, squeezing between gorse and broom, that I found out once again the speed at which we should play a round of golf.

Playing on my own, I finished in 2½ hours, never losing the three-ball behind me. These guys were fast. I imagine sponsors and TV stations would be infuriated if the professional game were ever to achieve such speeds, but what a breath of fresh air it would be for the amateur game.

I drove over Dornoch Bridge the following morning to play one of the world’s greatest courses. Royal Dornoch has 400 years of golfing history ingrained in its fairways and, on this particular day, it was kind enough to provide clear blue skies and an empty timesheet. On a course this magnificent it meant I could lap up every inch of the place. My round took four hours.

The eighth hole at Tain Golf Club


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