The Speyside Golf Whisky Trail has been created to promote two of this part of the Scottish Highlands’ most famous products.
Both aspects come together neatly at Moray Golf Club – the club bottles its own whisky. Moray GC in Lossiemouth was founded in 1889 with a membership containing several distillers who started the practice of purchasing some hogsheads (54 gallon containers) of whisky to lay down. This continues to this day with the club buying half a dozen hogsheads each year and bottling the whisky when it reaches 10 years of age.
Moray has two out-and-back links layouts of contrasting character on the southern shore of the Moray Firth. The Old course was laid out by Old Tom Morris and has more than 100 bunkers; the New has seven. The New also has much smaller greens than its cohabitee.
The New course came into to play in 1979 and is credited as the work Sir Henry Cotton. In fact only a three-hole loop of his design was implemented, the members rejecting much of his plans, in part because he had proposed doing away with the Old course’s iconic 18th green to site the 1st tee of his course there.
The other well-known course in the Speyside region is the Boat of Garten, a highly attractive heathland course not far from Aviemore. It which favours accuracy over length. Set within the Cairngorms national park, good views abound. Elgin is another scenic course, a tree-lined parkland one, but the opposite in terms of demands on its golfers. Whereas the second longest par 4 at the Boat is 403 yards, Elgin has five par 4s over 450 yards, and nine over 400 yards.
The typical hole at Elgin is long and straight – there are only two doglegs – so if you are long and straight you should score well. A big ‘if’ this admittedly, especially the ‘long’ bit. However the fairways are reasonably wide, and the greens are true and rarely have obstructions in front of them so bogey should be reasonably achievable.
The 3rd hole at Forres has one of the widest fairways I have ever encountered. I was playing with the head greenkeeper and he reckoned it was about 80 yards across at its most expansive – and he should know as he has to mow it.
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This 323-yard par 4 is stroke index 14. Stroke index 13 is a 248-yard par 3 which I swear has a dogleg, and certainly has a fairway bunker. There is plenty of variety in the style of the holes at this very hilly parkland course where an enjoyable round can be had.
The opening hole at Grantown-on-Spey rivals Forres’ 3rd for width. A 287-yard par 4 is a gloriously gentle introduction to the round, how could I not start off with a par? By taking a calamitous five to get on the green as it turned out. This is a course that almost matches Forres for variation, but whereas Forres’ varieties are haphazardly scattered through the round, Grantown’s are distinctly organised.
The first third of the holes are played over land so flat as to make a pancake look like a relief map of the Alps. The middle third is the best, laid out through wooded hillside, and the final third is played on parkland around the clubhouse.
The most memorable hole at Grantown-on-Spey is the 9th, Murdies View a heather-fringed 275-yard par 4 tumbling away down the hillside to the green, a large mountain looming behind the green. It can claim to be the most scenic hole on Speyside, an area not lacking for golfing beauty.
Five miles from Boat of Garten is Carrbridge, an attractive, well-kept nine-holer of mainly short par 4s, two of which are particularly memorable. The green on the 262-yard 7th is perched on top of a short, steep hill, as is the tee – although the slope is more gradual at this end of the hole. Between the two is a flat valley. The 269-yard 9th is played from the top of a hill over heather to a doglegged fairway.
For those who fancy a different type of 19th hole, take a tour of the Benromach Distillery on the outskirts of Forres which lays claim to be the smallest malt whisky distillery in Speyside. It is owned by Gordon & McPhail which has a shop in Elgin which sells 1,040 different types of whisky.
ScotRail (scotrail.co.uk) runs a sleeper train six nights a week (not on Saturday nights). The journey from London Euston to Aviemore is about 11 hours.
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