The first week in April marks the start of the golf season in Scotland. Some friends and I earmark this week to cram in as many rounds over as many different golf courses and sample as many different varieties of strong ale and malt whisky as time and consciousness allows.
This year we decided to head to the far north of Scotland and make Inverness our base camp, on the way we decided to stop off at the Boat of Garten.
Boat of Garten is well known the Highlands as the 'jewel in the crown' of golf in the Scottish Highlands. Yet, more often than not, visiting golfers to Scotland are unaware of 'The Boat', as it is affectingly known by the locals and many returning visitors.
Established in 1898, the Boat was designed by one of the grand masters of golf course architecture in Scotland - James Braid. It is a demanding test of golf with tight holes cut through the silver birch forest. One of the reasons it stands out more than most that the course is situated in the most magnificent setting. The view from the clubhouse, over the 1st and 2nd fairways and beyond to the Cairngorm Mountains is second to none, certainly within the realms of Scottish golf.
There had been some snow that day that settled on the highest peaks and, typical for this time of year, the sun made the odd appearance between heavy downpours of hail and sleet. When the sun did break through the true beauty of this unique landscape becomes apparent. Scotland in spring and fall has a wonderful array of colours from purple snow capped mountains to the lush green of the fairways to the blue of my playing partners faces (it is very cold here in the first week if April).
The Boat gets off to a seemingly easy start with a 169-yard par three that plays away from the clubhouse. The only real trouble is the extreme right where the steam railway track runs along side the hole. In theory this should not be in play, in saying that I decided to knock a ball over there to take a closer look and ended up OB.
The character of the course becomes apparent very quickly. There is nothing daunting in the opening holes as long as you hit it straight - a skill that, incidentally none of seemed to master. From the yellow tees only the 18th stretches to over 400 yards of any of the par-fours, the remainer are reachable with a good drive and pitch or short iron. However, be very wary as there are some exceptional tight holes and you will be well advised to play conservatively from the tee with an iron to keep it in the short grass as there is severe trouble waiting if you don't.
There are two par-fives, both around the 500-yard mark. The ninth being the feature hole of the course, it is a par five that runs up the hill and twists sharply to the left with a blind approach. Anything big runs down the hill into trees at the back anything short will take the contours and finish either in rough or trees leaving a tricky approach.
Even in early April the greens, tees and fairways were pruned to perfection. There are hilly parts to the course, although nothing too strenuous.
Something that was consistent throughout our week in the Highlands was the friendliness of the locals. Literally everyone was accommodating and welcoming - although it has to be said that the welcome we received at the Boat was outstanding even for the standards in the Highlands. The clubhouse offers a high standard of catering. On top of this there are two quality tennis courts, which are available and can be enjoyed by family members not inclined to golf.
All in all Boat of Garten is a course worth a visit, we are certain to make a return journey in the summer months when the air is warmer and golf swings a little less rusty.
Steve Fenton, 8 handicap
|| 24 - APRIL 2004