• Alistair Tait

Fantastic Fortrose & Rosemarkie

Somewhere on Fortrose & Rosemarkie’s back nine I felt like slapping myself around the head. How I had been travelling to the Inverness region for so long and somehow missed one of the most delightful links you’ll find in all of Scotland?

I’ve played Dornoch and Nairn numerous times. Love them both. Been to Brora and even played Skibo. I’ve climbed nearby Ben Wyvis and even sped past the Black Isle on my way to climb Beinn Alligin. Yet for some reason I somehow missed Fortrose. I mean it’s a James Braid design for goodness sake!

What’s that saying about the best things being right in front of you if only you’d open your eyes and look for them.

I’m a huge fan of golf courses on small plots of land. Stand looking out at Western Gailes and you wonder how on earth there are 18 holes on the property. You get the same feeling at Fortrose & Rosemarkie. It sits on a tiny spit of land, Chanonry Point, that juts magnificently out into the Moray Firth.

They say good weather and good golf helps us appreciate a golf course more. Not in this case. I played Fortrose on a dreich night in July with borrowed clubs and my usual mediocre golf and loved every second of it. I don’t even remember who won the match between the golf writers and members that evening. I don’t care. It was just a joy to play this lovely links.

Fortrose is the world’s 15th oldest course dating back to the first members’ club in 1793. It measures just 6,085 yards when fully stretched. It only has one par-5, the 6th. This links proves yet again that size isn’t everything when it comes to golf.

Golf had been taking place on Chanonry Point for 140 years before Braid turned up in 1932 to advise on a new layout. As David Hamilton notes in his excellent book, Golf: Scotland’s Game, golf has been played here for a long time. The local Fortrose Parish records carried this note in 1702:

“Canonry Nefs projects a good way into the fea and forms a fine curve which makes it a beautiful object. It terminates in the Links of Fortrofe, about an Englifh mile in length, and fmooth as a carpet. This is fine ground for golf, which is often played here by the gentlemen of the town and country.”

The reference to smooth as a carpet is spot on. The links turf is brilliant. I’m also with fine curve and beautiful object.

There is no record of whether Braid felt guilty charging the members £12.10 for his services. He’s done a brilliant job with land he was given to work with, but the five-time Open champion was probably like the proverbial pig in S at being given such a canvas on which to weave his magic.

A lighthouse punctuates the end of the property like a large, white full stop. Whether it’s there to warn passing sea craft about the promontory or to warn the Moray Firth dolphins to beware of flying golf balls is a moot point.

Like many golf clubs, Fortrose has been hit hard by the coronavirus. The club was in the midst of building a new pro shop, swing studio, office and meeting room in what will be a fantastic addition for its 900+ members. Visitor projections for this year were up by 32% on 2019.

The club is doing its best to re-schedule many bookings made for 2020, with the same rate applying up to the end of October 2022. It’s also offering attractive membership packages, including a country or overseas membership for just £300. Hopefully anyone who had booked a round for 2020 will head to Fortrose in 2021 and beyond.

This lockdown has given me the time to write out my bucket list of golf courses to play. Fortrose sits prominently on it. I can’t wait to get back to the Black Isle and this delightful wee links gem.

I normally include my favourite holes with every course review, along with what I judge to be the course’s Amen Corner, the best three holes in succession. Since I’ve only played Fortrose once, I don’t feel qualified to opine on that at this time. Rest assured I will after my next round.

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