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nairn dunbar golf club

The spectacular transformation of Nairn Dunbar – and just in time for the Amateur

Was it links or a parkland? At parts of Nairn Dunbar it was hard to tell. So course chiefs decided it was time to bring the sand back – with incredible results
 

It was difficult to say you were on the sea as you reached the turn at Nairn Dunbar. Though the course runs close to the Moray Firth, you’d have been forgiven for thinking you were 30 miles inland as you surveyed the scene.

Cherry trees, apple, birch, larch, gorse and broom, they were all in there – partly the product of planting grants when the 9th, 10th and 11th were all constructed 25 years ago at the north Scotland club.

What was hidden was what was supposed to be there: dunes and sand.

  • Where does Nairn Dunbar feature in our Top 100 in Scotland list? Find out here

“It was on my mind ever since I was promoted to golf course manager,” said Richard Johnstone, who has been at Nairn Dunbar for nearly two decades and has been in charge of the greenkeeping team for three years.

“It was ‘let’s try and restore as much of the links as we can, try and get firm and fast linksland back’.”

He found support in the club and, over the last two years, their desire to restore has brought some spectacular results.

Not least in the huge sandscrape that now separates the club’s 10th and 11th holes.

It was heavy work, requiring a 360-degree excavator to get rid not only of the gorse and trees but the roots that had been bedded in for a quarter of a century.

“It was so unnatural and that was the closest bit of land to the sea,” added Johnstone. “Parts of the fairway had been hidden and we opened up that up and really unveiled the natural features and opened it up to the elements and the wind.

nairn dunbar golf club

“That’s allowed the wispy grasses to come back, where it was once overgrown. There’s now a 200-yard sandscrape. It was previously 200-yards of trees.”

But it won’t just look nicer on the eye of the golfer. The regeneration of fescue and the planting of marram in the new sand environment will provide a new habitat for species of birds, bees, wasps and beetles.

It will get its big coming out party next year, when Nairn Dunbar co-hosts the Amateur Championship with neighbours Nairn.

Some of the world’s emerging talents will put their skills to the test round the revamped area over two days.

So what can they expect?

Johnstone explains: “It will be more of a links test. At the new 10th tee, they are looking straight out over the Moray Firth and, when the tide’s in, right over the linksland and the sea.

“The Amateur has been hosted for many years on links courses and we are trying to provide them with that test.”

What do you think of the changes at Nairn Dunbar Golf Club? Have your say in the comments, or tweet me.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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