It's inevitable that among Scotland's wealth of golf courses, there are a good number of top class layouts that manage to escape the attention of many visitors. They exist all around the country, often overshadowed by more famous neighbors, the so-called Trophy Courses that have hosted The British Open or some other major tournament. These are the layouts every visiting golfer wants to be able to boast they have conquered. It simply seems to make good cocktail talk to explain to friends at home, how you played the Road Hole at St. Andrews, Royal Troon's Postage Stamp hole, or completed Carnoustie's infamous 18th, without finding the water.
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But there are only a handful of such Trophy Courses in the country -- perhaps no more than a dozen in all, leaving some 580 other layouts as total strangers to visitors. Void of visitors, these unsung heroes of the game are often equally as good as their famous neighbors and in many ways, they are the heart and soul of Scotland's golf, providing the genuine Scottish experience we all seek.
Often inaccurately classified as Hidden Gems, most are not hidden at all, though many are indeed gems and have been sitting in plain view for all to see and play for a century or more. True, they may call for a minor detour, away from the well-trodden path followed by most visitors, but for those who make the detour of perhaps only a few miles, the rewards will be priceless. Nowhere is this more true than in the Scottish Highlands
There's good reason to include the Highlands on any golf trip to the home of the game. No part of Scotland is as dramatically beautiful and the fabled links at Royal Dornoch, and Nairn, now joined by Castle Stuart, rank among the best in the world. Any journey to discover this lesser known part of Scotland, would be more than worthwhile, even if these were the only three layouts around. But the Highlands is home to an intriguing array of excellent courses, many with unfamiliar names, all but guaranteed to take your breath away.
Brora, Tain, Golspie, Fortrose & Rosemarkie and Nairn-Dunbar are just the beginning of the unfamiliar names to be found within a short drive of either Dornoch, Castle Stuart or Nairn.
Travel barely 30-minutes east along the coast from Nairn and discover a pair of the very best, making their home in the seaside community of Lossiemouth at Moray Golf Club. If you need any additional incentive, Lossiemouth is also gateway to the Speyside whisky region, with a selection of over 40 of Scotland's most famous distilleries close-by including, Glenfiddich, The Macallan, Glen Grant and Glenlivet.
Before becoming distracted away from golf however, focus on Moray Golf Club and the two outstanding links courses it offers, The Old Course, a classic designed by Old Tom Morris in 1889 and the second, a totally different kind of challenge, created by the late Sir Henry Cotton in 1979.
The Old Course is without doubt, one of Scotland's finest traditional links, starting and ending in town and following a relatively straightforward, out and back path. The first seven holes trace the coastline of the Moray Firth to the far reaches of the property, then a few holes play up, down, over and around the sand dunes, before turning for home and once again tracking along the shore and back into town. But it's what happens along the way that gives Old Moray the intriguing, old-fashioned charm that infatuates all who play here.
The generous, undulating fairways are lined with prickly gorse, the shrewdly placed bunkers are deep, revetted and fearsome, including a healthy helping of good old fashioned cross bunkers. The greens are as good as any in Scotland, often seeming to be quite flat, but always filled with subtle contours, slopes and rolls. Seldom can it be said that a course has no bad holes, but that is the case here. Old Moray is always fair and what you see, is what you get. There are no blind holes, no craftily placed, half hidden bunkers -- all the troubles and potential troubles are in full view.
But no links should ever be completely predictable and Old Moray shares this unpredictability with links courses everywhere -- it comes in the form of the wind. Calm days are few and far between and when you least expect it, the wind will suddenly pick up from nowhere and come whistling in from the North Sea, changing direction and velocity on a whim. Old Moray's real test has just begun and what a test it is, with seven par-4's all measuring over 400 yards.
Nowhere is Old Moray's feistiness as much in evidence as on the closing hole, some say the best in all of Scotland, and reminiscent of the 18th at St. Andrews Old, though a tad tougher. The green is more elevated and the bunkering far more severe, but it's a home hole that will live in your memory for many years to come.
Then its on to the 19th and one of the most welcoming clubhouses you are likely to find anywhere. Linger here for a while and take in the rich atmosphere of more than a hundred years of golf. Sample a single malt or two at the bar and remembering you are in whisky country, don't be afraid to ask for recommendations from the very well informed bartender. Refreshed and revitalized, it's time to tackle The New Course.
Opened as a 9-hole relief course in 1906, the great, Sir Henry Cotton was responsible for re-vamping the layout and extending it to a full 18 holes in 1979, a task the 3-time British Open Champion accomplished with aplomb and a great deal of style. Be wary, the modest 6,004 yards, is rather misleading and doesn't adequately reflect the severity of the test presented. This is Henry Cotton's design and graphically illustrates his penchant for precision golf. Tighter than The Old with decidedly smaller greens, it demands careful thought and accuracy from start to finish, sharply penalizing those who do not comply.
There's no doubt the star attraction at Moray is The Old Course, but don't ignore its younger brother, the two are totally contrasting layouts, each with its own appeal. The opportunity to play both an Old Tom Morris and a Henry Cotton design in the same day doesn't come around very often, so grab it while you can.
For more ideas on how to include the delights of Moray Golf Club with other golf treasures of whisky country, contact the Scottish Highland experts at Golf International by calling, toll free 1 (800) 833-1389 or, click here.