Top 5 Hidden Gems in the Scottish Highlands and Aberdeenshire
The region's best lesser known golf courses!
You are unlikely to discover many genuine “hidden gems” in Fife, Angus or Ayrshire. Even the less-heralded courses have long been experienced by many. However, somewhat off the beaten track, in the Highlands and Aberdeenshire, there are undoubtedly courses befitting that overused tag. Lesser-known layouts that are just waiting to be discovered. They are often better than their revered cousins.
1. Fraserburgh Golf Club
Right at the north-east summit of Aberdeenshire, the fishing town of Fraserburgh comes into view. Golf has been played in the area since the early 17th century, with the present club having been founded way back in 1777, which ranks it as the seventh oldest in the world. There is an ancient and natural quality to the Corbie Links, making it one of the purest and most stimulating seaside golf experiences in Scotland.
James Braid redesigned the original course in 1922, and it bears many of his trademarks. Clever short par 4s and tricky par 3s are scattered throughout. Though not as punitive as the likes of nearby Murcar or Royal Aberdeen, Fraserburgh can very testing off the back tees in a wind, which can come from two directions, originating from either the North Sea or Moray Firth.
Visually, the course is certainly delightful. Meandering through large sand dunes in a more natural fashion than Trump International, it is a beautiful place to play. Very photogenic and stirring on a sunny evening.
Truth be told, Fraserburgh is very unfortunate not to be ranked in the top ten courses in the region. It deserves to be there, as most who have made the journey can attest to. It is spectacularly good.
2. Golspie Golf Club
Sandwiched between Royal Dornoch and Brora is Golspie, (yet) another James Braid layout that probably doesn’t receive the credit it deserves. The course is strategic, and, while it’s not long by anyone’s standards on the scorecard, its low altitude at sea-level does ensure that it plays to its full yardage.
The course exudes variety. The very traditional links holes (complete with some blind shots) at the start soon develop into heathland at the end of the front nine, before the course rotates back towards the coast at the closing stretch. Perhaps surprisingly, the inland holes may actually be superior, with the brilliant 9th hole being of such quality that it wouldn’t look out of place on an English classic like Sunningdale.
It falls short of the timeless majesty of Dornoch and thrilling delight of Brora, but a visit to Sutherland without a stop at Golspie is an incomplete excursion. It completes a stunning treble of courses.
3. Old Course, Peterhead Golf Club
In a similar mold to Fraserburgh, the Old Course at Peterhead is a very natural looking links, weaving through sandy undulations, with stunning views from most holes. There are few standout holes in the spectacular sense, but it is thoroughly satisfying and solid test of seaside golf.
The legendary coach, Butch Harmon declared himself a fan of the course after visiting in 2005, which is valued praise for a layout that is so lacking in recognition due to the fame of its neighbors in Aberdeenshire. Though it may not quite match the undoubted quality of Royal Aberdeen or Cruden Bay, Peterhead is certainly no slouch, and its excellent pricing structure ensures for a good-value experience.
It is perhaps the least well-known of the classic north-east links courses. In that sense, it is truly a hidden gem.
4. Tain Golf Club
As you drive up the A9 towards Royal Dornoch, you will pass another fine course that is on the other side of the firth from the legendary links. It would be a shame not to pay Tain Golf Club a visit on the way back south, as its Old Tom Morris design is a hugely enjoyable and varied course.
Similar to nearby Golspie, Tain has a shared characteristic of links and heathland, with the holes varying in nature, ensuring an exciting test of golf. An ominous burn is an obstacle to be overcome on a number of the holes, resulting in the course often being punishing to any under-hit or misplaced shots.
Visually, Tain is stunning. The Dornoch Firth rests on the one side of the course, with an impressive mountainous landscape in the background. Ultimately, Tain is an understated and pleasant course. Just what you come to expect in Scotland. It’s a fine complement to any of the more revered venues nearby.
5. Fortrose and Rosemarkie
A course that is largely overlooked by many people – even within Scotland – Fortrose and Rosemarkie Golf Club boasts a setting that has an extremely unique feel. The 18-holes (designed by James Braid) are squeezed into a narrow peninsula that juts out into the Moray Firth, just north of Inverness. The course itself is dissected through the center by a road that leads to a beautiful lighthouse, which dominates the skyline. Intriguing.
If nearby Brora offers cows and sheep, then the fairways of Fortrose are ideal for spotting dolphins. Just another attraction to what is an interesting layout. Gorse bushes frame many of the holes, with smallish greens placing a premium on accurate approach play. Many of the holes also feature the sea itself as a stunning, though potentially card-destroying, hazard.
Changes have been made to the course in recent years, with added length and new bunkers steadily increasing the challenge to reflect the modern game, which fortunately does not detract from what was already in place. In breezy conditions, it is certainly a stout test. Though always an enjoyable one.
Fortrose and Rosemarkie is a gem in the crown of Highland golf. Don’t make it a hidden one. Discover it for yourself.
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