Seaside Golf

I have a passion for seaside golf, in part explained by this short extract from Golf in the Wild:

Gairloch is pure seaside golf – yes, it is a links course, but it is more than that, it is within sight and sound of a well-used beach. The soundtrack to golf at Gairloch is excitable, shrieking children, the gentle lapping of waves and the barking of frisky dogs taking too much salty air. It is the holidays of my childhood when walks near the beach skirted the local links and very serious ladies and gentlemen in chequered trousers could be seen staring intently at bushes and the long grass as though searching for their lost youth.

There was no playing on the links for us, but there was always the putting green on which to hone my skills, skills I have clearly mislaid since those long-lost summer days. For many years holidays meant Sandbanks on the south coast, west of Bournemouth: familiar territory for my parents raised not so many miles away in Hampshire. In those days Sandbanks was certainly desirable but not the place it has now become – reputedly the fourth most expensive place to live on the planet.

These images are not from Gairloch but Reay on the far north coast of Scotland, taken on a recent ‘research trip’ – the best part about writing travel books on golf.  It is adjacent to the Dounreay atomic energy site, suitably distant from any centres of population and as far as can be imagined from the sands of Bournemouth.  The top half of the original domed reactor is visible from some parts of the course.

The fifth tee ... The 4th green ... The fifth green ... Chimneys ... 9th green ...

In this distant and remote land the beaches are cinerama-wide and post-apocalyptic empty, not a whisper of shrieking children nor barking dogs because something more sinister than ball games is happening on these shores. Reay golf course overlooks Sandside Beach and is visible in all its glory in the last image. Look closely and there are two dots on the sand – the one on the left is a Land Rover, the support vehicle for the one on the right – the Groundhog, scouring the beach for radioactive particles leaked from adjacent Dounreay. Sandside is open to the public, the risk of radioactive contamination being estimated at 1 in 80 million. Having said that, any balls I might have sliced onto the beach would have stayed where they landed – one day they would be perfect for nighttime golf 😉

Gairloch surprise

This week I am on a virtual golfing journey to Gairloch, dragging up notes, memories and stories about the village and its course from a trip in August this year and many others from years before.  It occurs to me that many followers of this blog will have no idea where Gairloch is located.  I recommend keying the postcode IV21 2BE into Google Earth, popping down into Street View and taking a look at ground level – this beautifully positioned course is clearly visible from the A832; the best view on Street View is from the church, opposite the club and beach car park.

Gairloch is one of the few places I have stayed for any length of time in northwest Scotland, most times I have been on road trips, just passing through.  Consequently I know the course and the surrounding area quite well and for once it is more about what to leave out of the book rather than what to include.  During my research I have been assisted by photographs supplied by the Department of Special Collections at University of St Andrews Library who have provided copies of postcards from their James Valentine & Co archive.  This view of the course taken in 1934 has not really changed that much in eighty years; the golfers are still overlooked by the distant church and the elevated tee appears to be following the same line as the current par five 526 yard eighth, Traigh Mor.

Gairloch Golf Course 1934At first glance, I thought I was looking at the scan of a black and white glass positive but then I noticed a hint of blue in the sky.  Imagine my surprise when I pushed up the saturation to +80 in Photoshop:

Gairloch Golf Course 1934Unfortunately I had not seen this 1934 photograph before I last visited Gairloch otherwise I would have tried to replicate the view.  This is the closest I came on a walk along the beach and around the headland to the harbour.  The church is just visible along with the relatively new clubhouse:

Gairloch Golf Course 2012This final picture is perhaps a better representation of the joys of playing golf at Gairloch.  Taken above the sixth par 3 tee box, Westward Ho!, this is a tight tee shot with punishing rough to the left, trees to the right and a glorious distracting view towards the Isles on the horizon.  It is an imaginative layout squeezed into a relatively small acreage.  I must return.

Gairloch Golf Course 2012


I have been wallowing in nostalgia these last few days.  My golfing pilgrimage to the far north, eighteen months in the writing and nowhere near finished, has reached Applecross, a detour on the way to the delights of Gairloch’s nine holes squeezed between mountain and sea.  Thanks to Monty Halls, everyone has now heard of Applecross – I am thinking of printing a T shirt – I was here before Monty.  Long before, in 1973 and many times since.

During the writing of this book I have several times concluded that it is near impossible to convey the majesty of landscape in words, there is simply no substitute for being there; I can only recommend that you go see for yourself.  My passion for this isolated corner of the world can be best explained by the following short facts.  Firstly, it feels like an achievement just getting there, combined with a strong sense of arrival as you coast down into the village.  Secondly, the sun always shines on Applecross, no matter what is happening elsewhere – it was shining when I first went there in 1973 and whenever I return, it is shining still.  Thirdly, it always feels wonderfully removed from the world and I immediately start drawing up plans to relocate.  Finally, the landscape and the light are beyond words – see above.  Just to prove my credentials I dug out this ancient photo of my first drive up and down Bealach na Bà (The Pass of the Cattle) in an 18cwt  Bedford CF, from the days when this was the only route in and out.  What I like most about this picture is something I don’t remember noticing before; rubbed in the dust on the back door is the word Expedition – there is only one door in the picture so the type of expedition remains a mystery.

Pass of the CattleThen I became distracted and started scanning some more.  In an earlier post from Ullapool I referred to this sunset.  Originally taken on 35mm Kodacolor, developed/printed/mashed by Boots the Chemist, stored in the loft for years on end, it has been scanned from the original negative and subjected to Photoshop CS.  The colour may be ‘enhanced’ but that watery light is the genuine article.

Applecross sunsetThese are some more taken on various trips since:

Applecross Highland CattleApplecrossLoch a Mhuilinn - ApplecrossApplecross