Unusually, the formation of Nairn Golf Club in 1887 was organised mainly by the local Member of Parliament leading a group of gentlemen. This was Edinburgh-born Robert Finlay who later became a Viscount after officiating for three years as Britain’s Lord Chancellor.
Finlay initially arranged for Archie Simpson, the Professional and ‘Keeper of the Green’ at Royal Aberdeen, to design the course. Simpson made full use of the immediacy of the land to the sea and shaped a stretch of links that brought the Moray Firth and the land together at each hole.
Just two years later Tom Morris was asked by Nairn Golf Club to extend the golf course when they acquired land to the west from the Earl of Cawdor. Morris totally revised the course, and his use of strategically placed bunkers for golfers to plot a route increased the challenge.
Twenty years on from Tom’s creative design, the five times Open Champion James Braid was asked to extend the original course. He set about altering tees and bunkers and then designed new greens with subtle borrows to trouble even the most talented golfers.
Braid possibly deserves the credit for Nairn's masterful routing. Little mounds on the fairway will divert the ball in different directions, and winding fairways make their way between large and small bunkers gathering the miss-hit ball. James Braid was the first to break 70 at Nairn with a 69 in 1901.
The historic Bothy, sited between the 9th green and the 10th tee was built in 1877, along with the Icehouse, for the purpose of catching and storing salmon. This fine old building now doubles as the Club’s halfway house, mixing historical artifacts of Nairn’s golfing and social past with well-presented trays of snacks and thermos flasks of stimulating coffee.
The only change to the routing today is where three holes change direction away from the coast and take you into a small tree-lined loop. Further development of the course was minor and the course received some careful lengthening before the famous 1999 Walker Cup Match (detailed below).
Nairn’s Championship links lies on the southern shores of the Moray Firth. It is not far from the city of Inverness. It is close to where the last battle fought on British soil, the bloody slaughter of Culloden took place in 1746. It is also where William Shakespeare set his famous Scottish play “Macbeth.” Cawdor Castle, the scene of several shameful deeds in the play, is just down the road.
6832 yards, Par 71
Nairn is a classic, traditional out-and-back link. The first seven holes at the club closely embrace the coast and need to be taken advantage of if the wind is not blowing, as they actually provide a relatively gentle start compared to the rest of the Nairn course. Other than in a strong westerly, it leads you in gently demanding accurate driving and precision second shots.
Gorse is typically a hazard. This course was created from a Highland wilderness of gorse and heather and tests the skills of professionals and amateurs alike. Each hole on the Championship course has wonderful views of the Moray Firth and the Black Isle beyond. They also have difficult greens complexes and cleverly angled short holes that will challenge the skills of any golfer.
The club has held many major amateur and professional events, including the British Amateur Championship. The Walker Cup has been held at Nairn. It is historically played over only the finest courses, with past venues including Cypress Point, Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, and Portmarnock to give emphasis to this point.
The layout has gorse-lined fairways, elusive greens, and over 100 bunkers. The key to playing the course is accurate ball striking. The routing is set directly on the coast and provides all the typical seaside natural hazards with an abundance of heather, gorse, and burns. The excellent greens are always in prime condition and are known for being fast and true.
Unlike some of the world’s championship links courses, a really remarkable feature at Nairn is that from every hole you can see the sea. The prevailing wind plays left to right here and on the tee take care. It is too easy to drive your ball into the sea on your right and this applies to every one of the first seven holes.
Tees are set right at the marram’s edge, adjacent to the protective boulders which aim to defend this historical course from the elements. As players reach the coastal margin towards the end of the property, most will never have felt the immediacy of the shoreline measured in inches as frequently as they will have on this course.
Single-word names charmingly describe each hole such as Sea, Road, and Burn, taking you back to the simplicity of the game when Old Tom Morris laid out the links.
The routing at Nairn is created so that the challenge gets increasingly more difficult as you advance. The outward nine is testing but it gets tougher to maintain a score on the inward nine. The fast, true and complex greens at Nairn Golf Club are well known for their excellent condition and serve to add to the pleasure of playing at this beautiful Scottish links venue right on the Moray Firth.
The course sits so close to the water’s edge that at high tide, on a windy day, you are at one with nature. Its stunningly simple design, is set across a link that uses its natural subtle hillocks and hollows to great effect. It is as traditional a links experience as you may ever find.
Viscount Whitelaw, Margaret Thatcher’s Deputy Prime Minister was born at Nairn, in north-east Scotland, and learned his golf there. He went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read history and law, and won a blue for golf. Golf remained a passion throughout his life, he was a scratch player and declared that he took more pride in becoming president of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club than in anything he achieved in politics.
The three par fives are all over 530 yards proving a challenge to all players.
Nets - 383 yards, par 4, index 2
The uniqueness of the traditional links design can still be seen at the 5th tee, right on the water, where you play directly over the par-three fourth green which you have just left. From the tee, you need a straight solid drive. This will leave a short approach to a small elevated green well protected by bunkers and with a bank off to the right.
601 yards, par 5, index 6
Possibly the pick of the outward nine is the par five, seventh. With bushes and heather left and right of the fairway combined with strategically placed bunkers setting a premium on accuracy from tee to green.
Icehouse - 357 yards, par 4, index 12
A tough long drive from the tee is required to avoid the gorse bushes on the left. The green is located to the right of a white cottage which is actually a Salmon Bathy. Observe the remains of the Icehouse covered in thick turf. Salmon was once kept here.
464 yards, par 4, index 5
This is a long par four with a raised green shaped like an upturned saucer.
428 yards, par 4, index 1
The thirteenth is recognised as the most difficult hole with deep trouble lurking on both sides of the fairway in the shape of bushes and out of bounds. Generally playing long due to the prevailing crosswind, the green is situated uphill in an elevated position and boasts plenty of subtle undulations.
224 yards, par 3, index 13
The course moves away from the sea on the back nine, into more of a heathland setting amongst the trees, culminating high on the 14th tee with a glorious downhill par-3 back towards the shore.
It is a Biarritz green well protected by bunkers. The hole is beautifully framed by the bunkers with pine trees and the ocean as a backdrop.
Walker Cup - September 11-12, 1999. The Nairn Golf Club, Nairn, Inverness-shire, Scotland,
Captains: Peter McEvoy (GB&I) and Danny Yates (USA). 6,602 yards, Par 71
England’s Luke Donald was arguably the world’s best amateur when he made his Walker Cup debut at Nairn. GB&I had won the Eisenhower Trophy in 1998 and all four members of the successful team were selected for the Walker Cup. They were Paddy Gribben, Lorne Kelly, and Gary Wolstenholme, and Luke Donald. Add to them Paul Casey soon to be a leading World professional.
This was a tournament where the USA was normally dominant. Could GB&I reverse this trend?
Peter McEvoy had captained the winning GB&I Eisenhower Trophy team and made his Walker Cup debut in this match. His status in the amateur game and obvious confidence in his team’s ability rubbed off on all his players. Matt Kucher, the 1997 US Amateur champion and low amateur at both The Masters and U.S. Open in 1998, featured for the U.S.A. with Bryce Molder their other star.
In every Walker Cup there is a player or two that stand out and can make a difference for their team. Who would it be this year?
Day 1 Foursomes (GB&I players first)
Graham Rankin / Graeme Storm lost to Hunter Haas / “Spider” Miller 1 hole
Paul Casey / Luke Donald beat Jonathan Byrd / Steve Scott 5&3
Paddy Gribben / Lorne Kelly lost to David Gossett / Tim Jackson 3&1
Philip Rowe / Gary Wolstenholme beat Matt Kuchar / Bryce Molder 1 hole
GB&I 2 – USA 2
Day 1 Singles
Graham Rankin lost to Edward Loar 4&3
Luke Donald beat T. McKnight 4&3
Graeme Storm lost to Hunter Haas 4&3
Paul Casey beat Steve Scott 4&3
David Patrick lost to Jonathan Byrd 6&5
Simon Dyson halved with David Gossett
Paddy Gribben halved with Bryce Molder
Lorne Kelly lost to Tim Jackson 3/1
GB&I 3 – USA 5
Day 1: GB&I 5 – USA 7
Day 2 Foursomes
Graham Rankin / Graeme Storm beat Edward Loar / Tom McKnight 4/3
Simon Dyson / Paddy Gribben lost to Hunter Haas / “Spider” Miller 1 hole
Paul Casey / Luke Donald beat David Gossett / Tim Jackson 1 hole
Philip Rowe / Gary Wolstenholme beat M. Kuchar / B. Molder 4/3
GB&I 3 – USA 1
Day 2 Singles
Graham Rankin beat Steve Scott 1hole
Simon Dyson lost to Edward Loar 5&4
Paul Casey beat “Spider” Miller 3&2
Graeme Storm beat Jonathan Byrd 1 hole
Luke Donald beat Bryce Molder 3&2
Philip Rowe beat Matt Kuchar 1 hole
Paddy Gribben beat Hunter Haas 3&2
Gary Wolstenholme beat David Gossett 1 hole
GB&I 7 – USA 1
Match Result: GB&I 15 – USA 9
A great result for GB&I with the team sustained by Luke Donald and Paul Casey who won each of their matches, well supported by Gary Wolstenholme. The American stars Matt Kuchar and Bryce Molder not winning a point.
A great victory but let’s not forget that the USA has won twice as many times as GB&I.