Nairn‚??s a Highland gem; a wonderful links on the Moray Firth (rightfully) renowned for the purity of its greens and the friendly welcome you get from the locals. ¬†We‚??d been looking forward to coming here for quite some time ‚?? all the more so because the World-Famous-in-These-Parts Ali Asher had kindly offered to put us up for a night or two. ¬†Ali‚??s family have been in Nairn for generations, having run and grown a very successful bakery business (‚??Ashers‚?Ě - glorious strawberry tarts). ¬†They live (or ‚??stay‚?Ě as they say in these parts) a driver and a wedge away from the clubhouse, which is very handy indeed. ¬†His mum and dad (a former Captain of the club) stay 100 yards away around the corner. ¬†His mate lives a couple of doors down and his brother (also a former Captain) nearby too. ¬†This be golf country and the Ashers (or, at least, the Asher males) be golf people ‚?? not to mention our kinda folk.
The Royal Burgh of Nairn sits on the A96 between Aberdeen and Inverness ‚?? a wee Highland town with more atmosphere than you might expect. ¬†Walking the streets there‚??s no shortage of those lovely old hotels or B&Bs, many of which would‚??ve been packed to the rafters when they had The Walker Cup here in 1999. ¬†Given Nairn‚??s good name and close proximity to Dornoch, I‚??d say a fair few Americans and other travelling golfers would grace their doorsteps every summer too. ¬†And well they should. ¬†There‚??s also another good track in town by the name of Nairn Dunbar, which unfortunately we didn‚??t have time to play (they had a big tournament on anyway) - although we went down for a look one night while they were doing the draw for the next day‚??s matches. ¬†What a buzz ‚?? not the sort of scene you‚??d often find back in NZ or Australia (or the US for that matter): ¬†all shapes and sizes having a pint or two (or a dram), and a keen sense of anticipation about who was going to draw who. ¬†I‚??d say the relationship between the two clubs could be categorised as a friendly rivalry (more friendly than rivalry).
The Nairn Golf Club sits right down on the shores of the Firth. ¬†You can quite easily find yourself on the beach on any of the opening 7 holes (mind you if you find the seaweed on the short par 3 4th hole then something‚??s gone very very wrong indeed). ¬†My first shot of the day was a blocked 2 iron onto the rocks ‚?? just a wee loosener... The 1st as it should be is a straightforward par 4, though it often plays into the wind. ¬†Needless to say wind plays a big part at Nairn, so nothing is as easy as it might look on the card. ¬†Ali appears to have mastered the art of links golf over the years, and should be an example to all of us. ¬†First, he has a low centre of gravity (I know neither he nor any of us can do anything about this ‚?? but I raise it all the same). ¬†Second, he can hit a punch shot with any club in the bag ‚?? even a driver! ¬†High flight target golf shots would rarely do well in these parts.
[The 1st tee]
[Ali's perfect links posture]
2 thru 4 is a fantastic wee stretch. ¬†2 being a long par 4 (again, into the wind); 3 a dogleg left with a disruptive looking mound just short of the middle of the green; and 4 being the short par 3 I mentioned before. ¬†If you haven‚??t sorted our your ball striking by the time you reach the 2nd tee then you‚??re in a bit of hot water ‚?? because it‚??s two good whacks to get on the dance floor. ¬†Oh and there‚??s quite a lot of heather around, and a ditch. ¬†On the 3rd your headwind off the tee starts to become a cross wind as you navigate the dogleg, so bringing your ball down onto the green safely is a deft trick indeed ‚?? particularly when that sod of a mound short of the green (pictured below) is looming large. ¬†On 4 you turn around back towards the Firth, and play to a long green that‚??s no more than 6 paces wide at the narrowest point (not to mention guarded by a tranche of perfectly cut pot bunkers). ¬†Quite a sight. ¬†The tee shot is half blind too, but that didn‚??t seem to bother Mike who knocked it to a couple of feet. ¬†Good to get a few quid for The First Tee early on in the round.
[Looking up the fairway on 2]
[The approach to 3 - see nasty mound]
[The semi-blind short par 3 4th hole]
Over the past week or two we‚??d heard whispers that Nairn‚??s famed greens weren‚??t what they used to be, that the club had let them slip. ¬†If I could set the record straight, having now had the benefit of 1. putting on them; and 2. hearing Ali‚??s account of events. ¬†First, they‚??re absolutely gorgeous now. ¬†Second, the story is that ‚?? because of the particularly harsh winter earlier this year ‚?? they took a little longer to come back to their usual standard, and this was something the club was quite open about (rather than telling people on the day that due to the aforesaid reason the greens aren‚??t what they normally are, so ‚??have a ten quid discount.‚?Ě) ¬†¬†The long and the short: as per usual, they‚??re true and slick. ¬†Ali and son Ryan were rolling putts in from everywhere. ¬†I wasn‚??t. ¬†Because I‚??m inept.
[A bonnie lone bunker in the middle of the par 5 7th]
Out across the Firth your eyes are drawn to big red oil tankers and the Black Isle beyond. ¬†Being inquisitive souls we asked Ali why it‚??s called the Black Isle. ¬†Apparently there are various explanations ‚?? the most compelling of which I found to be that, when you gaze across, it looks black. ¬†(N.B. The Black Isle is not an island but a peninsula sitting between the Moray and Cromarty Firths). ¬†
The 8th hole is a tremendously simple but perilously difficult short par 4, if you know what I mean. ¬†Down wind you can get on with a 3 wood or even an iron, but keeping it on the up turned saucer green is another story altogether. ¬†If you miss the fairway from the tee you‚??ll likely find heather. ¬†Stopping your approach on the green from the heather ‚?? particularly if the omnipresent wind is about ‚?? is like throwing a snooker ball down a marble staircase and trying to stop it on the 16th stair. ¬†Dam near impossible. ¬†Actually just impossible.
By the 9th green is an old fishing bothy that‚??s actually owned by the club. ¬†Adjacent to it is an old cool store where the fishermen used to hoard their catch. ¬†Both buildings blend beautifully into the landscape, and wouldn‚??t look out of place in the most remote of the Outer Hebrides. ¬†The roof of the cool store (pictured below) looks a nice place to perch with a picnic on a fine day, doesn‚??t it? ¬†
[9 green / old bothy]
[short par 3 11th hole - tightly guarded by pot bunkers]
When you turn down wind things get a bit easier, although you can‚??t afford to relax. ¬†Especially, that is, when you arrive at the stroke 1 hole ‚?? which is 2 good blows up a great big hill to a tricky green. ¬†Some moany sods complain that Nairn can never be a truly great links because the 13th, 14th and 15th are of a slightly different (somewhat more heathland) character. ¬†But what a lot of balls. ¬†They‚??re great holes! ¬†There‚??s no pleasing some people...
[Ali, JP, Ryan - spot the non-Asher...]
Speaking of which. ¬†On the 14th ‚?? a 219 yard par 3 from a raised tee, playing back towards the Firth ‚?? I blocked my 3 iron some 40 yards, over a few trees, onto the 15th tee. ¬†As it turned out a stroppy old South African woman ‚?? one of the 3 ball in front who‚??d been holding us up ‚?? had been careless enough to stand on the tee at that time, and nearly get in the way of my ball. ¬†Although we couldn‚??t see whether they were in danger, we shouted Fore, as one should. ¬†Nonetheless I got an earful from said wifey in the bar about the episode ‚?? and she didn‚??t respond well to my light hearted jokes on the subject. ¬†Though she complained (obviously falsely) that the ball hit her on the head, I volunteered that she was looking very well considering. ¬†Still she wasn‚??t amused. ¬†Some people have no sense of humour...
[15 green and 3 green behind]
[Mike bashing it on 16]
Ali & I were comprehensively demolished by the formidable duo of Mike & Ryan, who seemed to dovetail nicely. ¬†Up the last ‚?? a short par 5 that you can reach with driver / 8 iron down wind ‚?? Ali was making far fetched claims that he‚??d make an eagle, which I quickly dismissed and told him he was dreaming. ¬†The lad stuck it to me and rolled in his putt from the front of the green in what was a very classy moment. ¬†We all thoroughly enjoyed it. ¬†Mike then proceeded to leave his eagle putt right in the jaws, not for the first time in Scotland. ¬†Another 27 quid gone begging. ¬†I made a second ball eagle after hitting my first drive OB. ¬†And Ryan rounded off the day with another fine birdie. ¬†Lovely.
[Ali and his strong forearms dominating on 17]
After a quick refresher or two Ali then took us to his local curry house, a quality joint on the main street in Nairn. ¬†The four of us demolished a mountain of very spicy stuff before poor Ryan had to go to work on the night shift (he‚??s working at the bakery until he‚??s off to Bakery Management School in London in a few weeks). ¬†Barely able to stand up, we stumbled down the road to Nairn Dunbar for a bit of craic and to meet up with some of Ali‚??s pals. ¬†One of the most interesting punters we met was the Master Distiller of Oban Single Malt whisky ‚?? Brenden, a square go Weegie (someone from Glasgow) ‚?? who we‚??re going to go and visit en route to Machrihanish in a couple of weeks‚?? time. ¬†A good day had by all.
Thanks to Ali & family for being phenomenal hosts ‚?? what a cracking couple of days in Nairn to remember. ¬†And thanks to The Nairn Golf Club for allowing us the pleasure of experiencing your great championship course.
P.S. A big thank you also to Ryan, who‚??s kindly given me his spare pencil bag as a replacement for my entirely decrepit excuse for a golf bag that‚??s now in the bin. ¬†It‚??ll take 2 shots off my game... ¬† ¬†
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