Nairn doesn’t knock your socks off at first glance, and that’s what I like about it. Charm, flaws, nuance and superb conditioning are all tied together by an enviable location hard against the Firth of Moray.
Of all the courses Soly played during his ‘summer of love’ in ’17, Nairn is the one I understood the least (here’s his writeup). There are two reasons for this: flat courses are tougher to explain, and (somewhat relatedly) charm and nuance are even tougher to explain. Flat courses are typically defined and punctuated by loads of bunkers, and the exercise of navigating the minefield can be rewarding if you’re on your game. Nairn definitely falls in that category as it requires some real decision making, but it also doesn’t kick you in the teeth if you’re a little bit off or the wind is up. That you can make birdies and eagles enhances the experience and adds to the charm. The convivial membership, exquisite views and the club’s keen sense of history create a real mystique.
Pictured clockwise from top: No. 18, No. 17, No. 16 green, No. 2 tee, No. 1
The first seven holes (with the exception of No. 3) run away from the clubhouse along the coast and are most representative of the course. The burns that run across Nos. 2, 3 and 16 provide a buffer from the main clubhouse area. No. 4 is covered at length in the episode and counted among the best par threes of the trip. In the aerials above you’ll notice both the plethora plethora of bunkers (both sand and grass), but make note of the width of the fairways, the wispyness of the rough and how far many of the bunkers are set back from the greens – many are more visually imposing than they are penal.No. 4 is covered at length in the episode and counted among the best par threes of the trip. I felt the real treat of the front nine was No. 8. The hole plays 350 yards to a convex green and is the type of hole you play for the first time and then realize immediately afterward that there was a hell of a lot more going on than you realized standing on the tee. The picture below on the left was taken during our trip in July and shows the fairways, which were more burned out and crusty than any others we played in Scotland. The picture on the right (also of No. 8) was taken on a return trip in October and shows a course that greened up in certain spots and completely died in others. Many of the spots that died were replaced by mud when the rains came in September. The price to be paid for a magical summer.
An important note to keep in mind for the back nine at Nairn: We’re used to 36-hole days, but we’re not used to driving between rounds and staying at a different location each night. Our itinerary yielded incredible variety and truly felt like an adventure, but certainly took its toll. By the time we reached Nairn we were pretty beaten down and tired. This manifested itself on the back nine and we simply didn’t film enough. I wish we had a complete highlight package from Soly’s epic collapse. The next best thing is a look at the scorecard from that day (which also shows how we score Tilt.) Truly spectacular stuff:
The front nine sits between the back nine and the coast, yet the views don’t subside. The routing uses subtle angles to make the most of the treeless landscape and hint at the coast at regular intervals (on nos. 10, 13, 14, 15 & 17.) The inward half also provides more variety than the outward, starting with an easy par five in No. 10, an easy par three (albeit without wind) in No. 11), and a gnarly long par four in No. 12. The course then takes an unexpected turn (literally 90 degrees) up the a hill for No. 13, the aptly named crown. I was conflicted on this hole, as it sticks out like a sore thumb on an otherwise flat course, but it features a cool green and makes possible No. 14, which is a long par three that heads straight back down the hill toward the firth. Two imposing bunkers sit well short of the green and mess with your eye, and a severe slope that runs between two penal bunkers and chocolate drop mounds for anyone offline (see: Soly below). Again, the par threes at Nairn are ridiculous.
You then walk back to the 15th tee to play a 300-yard par four that once again plays directly out toward the firth. Another great hole that yielded an eagle, a birdie, a par and a bogey in our group. The rumpled fairway short of the green makes possible all manner of bounces, and provided for a spectacular juxtaposition between the lusher low points and the burned out ridges:
Nos. 16 through 18 are more standard fare but provide a challenging finish. We were certainly ready for the 19th hole and our tour of the archive room.
Simply put, Nairn is a club in the best sense of the word. Light on the bullshit and the exclusivity, and heavy on the competition and social spirit. In planning the return trip to Scotland with Zac Blair and Guido Dan in October there were courses with better pedigrees to go visit, but I insisted on us including Nairn on the itinerary because it represents the best of Scottish golf. We’d played Boat of Garten that morning and drove up for a late lunch and an ensuing round. We walked into the clubhouse and I was greeted like an old friend by Sharpie, Sean and Findlay. What must’ve been most of the club was present in the bar watching the Ryder Cup on the heels of competing for an inter-club trophy.
THE COURSE IN ONE WORD: sociable
WEIRD COURSE TRIVIA: The 1999 Walker Cup featured a stout cast of characters on both teams and set the stage for Matt Kuchar’s longstanding tradition of getting boat-raced in international competitions. He went 0-3 over the course of the two-day event.
WHAT SHOULD I DO BEFORE PLAYING THIS COURSE?: Block off four hours after the round and make sure you have a designated driver.
CLUBHOUSE/FOOD: Great food, great bar, great hospitality, great members. Any questions?
TEE TIMES: Visit the club’s website.
GREEN FEES: Range from £110 to £160 April through September and then £50.00 November through March.
ACCOMMODATIONS: We stayed in Elgin the night prior but there are some really cool hotels/inns just down the street from the club, namely the Golf View Hotel. Next time I look forward to establishing a home base at Nairn for a couple days.