Only the most determined and discerning golfers make it to the Highlands and even of those only a fraction find their way to Tain. Yet those who do get to experience some of Scotland’s most naturally appealing courses, and ones that tend to come without a shred of pretension. A shining example is Tain, currently celebrating its 120th anniversary since Old Tom Morris laid out 15 holes through the gorse and broom that separates the town from the sea.
Of those, 11 survive in the 18 played today, and for that we can thank the far-sightedness of a Dornoch and Tain member, John Sutherland. The shadow of Dornoch, just across the water, looms large over Tain, and not just because they share a designer.
Those who visit this part of the world invariably have Royal Dornoch in their sights, and rightly so, yet miss the opportunity to play at likes of Tain, Brora and Golspie while you are here and your golfing education will be so much the poorer. Tain is a course that is hard to categorise. In part links, elsewhere it has a distinctly inland feel, especially at the beginning and end.
Those who visit this part of the world invariably have Royal Dornoch in their sights, and rightly so, yet miss the opportunity to play at likes of Tain, Brora and Golspie while you are here and your golfing education will be so much the poorer.
Generally speaking, the fairways are lined by whins, a sea of yellow in the late spring, and this can lend a claustrophobic feel to driving. Yet there is invariably more room than you realise, and gaps between the bushes mean that a ball thought lost can often be found, if not easily played.
The first of Old Tom’s holes, the 2nd, is one of the best par 4s, doglegging to the left down an uneven fairway, crossing a stream, then rising slightly to a large green. We move inland, towards a wooded area, with the 9th, inevitably another example of Old Tom’s work, perhaps the finest hole on the course.
Only 350 yards or so, it doglegs to the right at little over 200 yards, the fairway pinched in by a bunker, trees and bushes to prevent any thought of bringing the green within easy reach. Should you have a clear shot to the green, you will not be able to see the bottom of the flag that sits in a sunken green, nor for that matter a bunker that eats into the left of the putting surface.
The hole that most will remember best is the 11th, Alps, which was added later. There are shades of The Machrie here, with a relatively straightforward drive setting up an entirely different approach played over a marker post atop two gigantic sandhills to a bowl-shaped green beyond in front of the sea. Romantic stuff.
On the way home, Tain is more honest, mixing in tough long holes like the 14th, the most demanding, with consecutive par 3s at the 16th and 17th. That is about all this pair have in common though, with the former a short iron over a stream and the latter some 75 yards longer and a hole where few would be unhappy with a four.
A par 4 back to the homely and friendly clubhouse – the food here comes highly recommended – concludes the entertainment but for most it will not be their last experience of Tain, an engaging layout in a special part of the world.