STUNNING SCENERY is seldom in short supply when visiting the Scottish Highlands but, for golfers, nowhere in the region could be described as more beautiful than the Boat of Garten course, named after an ancient ferry on the river Spey.
Set in the Cairngorms national park, just under eight miles from Grantown, this short, James Braid designed course is a must play, yet strangely gets few visitors from overseas so, apart from on competition and match-days, is rarely busy which simply adds to its charms.
With pines, birch trees and heather lining narrow fairways and soaring mountains as a back drop it has to be said that the first time visitor when teeing off at ‘The Boat’ as it is affectionately known might be forgiven for asking what all the fuss is about as the opening 189 par three is not exactly dramatic.
It is only when one walks off the green that the full panorama opens up in front of you (see photograph above) and from there on in the highest compliment one can pay is that the golf course is every bit as impressive as the scenery.
And what makes The Boat so special as a course is the switchback fairways that roll and twist towards raised greens, often with fiendish roll offs into the heathery jungle, which is why a good score remains a stiff challenge even with a length of only 5,876 yards off the back tees.
Shots into the greens are invariably tough not just because of the elevations and slopes of the target but because Braid added an additional defence by narrowing already tight fairways the closer one gets to the flag. Both par fives are short, the one on the back nine a mere 473 yards but because it is a double dogleg, first right and then angling left, anything but a pinpoint second shot will end in disaster.
But rather than fret about what can, and almost invariably will, go wrong we should simply enjoy the wonders of springy highland turf and majestic surroundings and plot our way around.
Braid has given us lots of options, none more so than at 15, named ‘Gully’. Here we have three options: at 279 yards we can attempt to drive the green into what is usually a prevailing breeze and carry the deep eponymous gully which is an extremely high risk strategy; or we can play into it and face a blind wedge shot into the green. And finally we can take a mid iron and simply lay up which leaves us a longish second but sight of the putting surface. Braid once again proves that a hole does not have to be long to be tough and, since he designed the course in 1932, the lowest score remains a three under par 67.
And as we climb the slope up to the small 18th green and prepare to go into a most welcoming clubhouse we can always console ourselves if we have had a bad day, that not only has the scenery been a joy but also that we are in the heart of Speyside- single malt whisky country, with a host of warming and delicious tinctures to revive us as soon as we reach the 19th. With Inverness airport a mere 45 minutes there is no excuse for not visiting this most friendly and beautiful of highland courses.