It is worth every last mile of the long trip north to Nairn just to experience the quality of the greens. Faster, slicker, more treacherous surfaces can doubtless be found elsewhere but it’s hard to imagine another course in the world where putts run so smoothly and truly as they do here. You can almost hear the sound of the ball as it brushes along the tightly cropped links turf, never seeming to lose contact with the ground for a second.
Strike a putt from distance, stand back and admire its journey as it rolls and rolls in a perfect, gentle curve to what seems to be the only place it could ever have stopped. From 15 feet and under you can tell if a putt is on its way to the hole from the moment you hit it.
Unfortunately, due to the subtle nuances and imperceptible little slopes choosing the correct line is easier said than done. But even if you struggle at first, fear not because the appeal of Nairn goes far beyond the greens.
This charming small town just 20 minutes’ drive from Inverness has both history and golf seeping out of its every pore. It can also boast one of the driest climates anywhere in Britain, sheltered as it is on three sides by hills and mountains, while temperatures are surprisingly mild all-year round.
Even in deepest winter the course rarely closes and every season has its particular appeal. As the book published for the club’s centenary in 1987 states:
“Through the fresh green and gold of spring, high summer’s flattering burnished fairways, autumn’s purple patches and winter’s crisp challenge, the attraction endures.”
Nonetheless, for most golfers Nairn is at its very best in early summer when the sun barely sets and it is possible to play until midnight on a clear day. In these seemingly never-ending evenings, when the sun takes literally hours to fall behind the hills beyond Inverness, it is a privileged place to be.
Shadows exaggerate the pitted, rumpled topography of the fairways, while the ever-changing shade and foreboding silence of the Black Isle, just across the Moray Firth to the north, brings to mind a land from another age. At such times, Nairn acquires almost magical properties.
It was certainly to the liking of GB&I’s star-studded 1999 Walker Cup team, when major-league golf belatedly arrived in this part of the world. The likes of Paul Casey, Luke Donald and Simon Dyson were part of a line-up that enjoyed a famous victory.
No matter how long it takes to get there, Nairn is one of those courses that any self-respecting golfer should aim to play at least once.
Prior to that its northern location, much like that of Dornoch, little more than an hour’s drive away, had undoubtedly counted against it when it came to blue-ribbon events. But if Nairn was once considered remote it certainly shouldn’t be now because Inverness Airport is within 15 miles and the much-improved road network means travelling here by road from Edinburgh takes little more than three hours.
And no matter how long it takes to get here, Nairn is one of those courses that any self-respecting golfer should aim to play at least once. From the opening seven holes that all – save the gorgeous short 4th – run within a wild slice of the beach to a couple of inland holes in the middle of the back nine that have a flavour of Ganton, or even Sunningdale, this is an experience to treasure.
As with all seaside courses, wind direction and strength is everything, although it is generally the case that the opening nine that takes you progressively further away from the recently rebuilt clubhouse plays the easier of the two. More subtle than plain intimidating, Nairn’s holes tend to pay great attention to detail.
Since Old Tom Morris, James Braid (twice) and Ben Sayers have all had their influence in its design since Andrew Simpson’s original layout was created in 1887 – none of which survives today – that is hardly surprising.
Even with the judicious lengthening carried out before the Walker Cup, Nairn is not a long course by modern standards. Stretching to 6,700 yards from the blue tees and little more than 6,100 from the yellows, brute force is not a prerequisite to good scoring.
Avoiding the many bunkers – some of which are obvious and others concealed from a distance – certainly is. So too is staying away from the gorse that threatens to envelop certain holes around the turn, creating an almost claustrophobic effect. Elsewhere burns and mature trees are the main hazards and this rich variety is one of Nairn’s most charming features.
The quartet of short holes is also particularly distinguished. From the 231-yard 14th with an elevated tee that gives full vantage of Nairn’s most undulating green to the cute 6th where the green is set diagonally across the line of the hole, they are a test of cunning as much as skill.
Above all, Nairn is wonderfully presented. So much so that some locals believe the links is even over-manicured. They would prefer to see a more traditional style, where the course’s condition is dictated purely by the weather. As a visitor, to complain that the course was too good would be churlish indeed.
Having played here once you’ll probably want to stay for more and with a wealth of accommodation and restaurants – not to mention another championship-standard course – Nairn has much to offer the travelling golfer. But at the top of a long list must be those greens.
It would be tempting to hatch a plot ‘to roll them up and take them with you’. Why not go one one better… retirement in Nairn, anyone?