Of Scotland's extensive and varied golfing terrain, Fortrose and Rosemarkie GC might just occupy one of the most unique sites. A peninsula of land juts into the Moray Firth between the adjacent villages of Fortrose and Rosemarkie - known as 'Chanonry Ness'. The tip is given over almost entirely to golf.
Golf has been played here since 1793, although there are some records which suggest it may have been as early as 1703. Golf here increased in popularity over the 19th Century - especially driven by a desire for summer golf. Merchants and industrialists would escape to the beauty of the Highlands and the Firth - and the club was officially formed in 1888.
The course navigated the turn of the century and First War, before inviting James Braid to extend the links to 18 holes. More land had been acquired on the peninsula, and the course Braid laid out is largely the same as the one played today.
The Second War saw the links requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence - it had been identified as an ideal location to prepare for D-Day landings. A grant from the War Department allowed the course to be restored in 1946 - having suffered extensive damage. Since that point, the main changes to the club have been when the membership outgrew the clubhouse, and it was variously redeveloped.
From the back tees, F&R stretches to around 6000 yards and a par 70. The members will typically play a par 68 of closer to 5500 yards, but don't be fooled into thinking it's straightforward.
The first four holes play from the clubhouse towards the tip of the peninsula - 'Chanonry Point'. With the Firth in play down the left side of these holes, you must also navigate the gorse which is generally to be found down the right hand flank.
Four is a particularly strong hole. A short par 5 - the hole plays over gloriously crumpled links land. After a risk/reward drive, there is a deep crater that must be navigated before the green. A hole full of decisions to be made.
The Fifth is as close to Chanonry Point as we play, a gorgeous par 3 across the peninsula. Despite being only 130 yards, there is little protection from a strong wind howling up the Moray Firth. On the day I played, there was hardly a zephyr. With the ruin of the old Ice House as Out of Bounds right, and the beach just long, it didn't make the club selection that much easier...!
The economical routing then took us back along the opposite bank of the peninsula. The land was slightly flatter, and the gorse a little sparser. There are a few chances to open your shoulders with the driver and let fly. Assuming the ball doesn't venture on an unplanned trip to the beach - there are plenty of holes where a birdie can be found.
Six is a short par 5, and seven a par 4 of around 300 yards. Nine is a long par 3, from a tee on the water's edge to a green playing towards the centre of the course. With dolphins often to be seen playing in the water surrounding Chanonry Ness, it is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular settings for golf.
The back 9 largely plays on the 'inside' of the peninsula, and does feel a little cramped at times. There are a few successive par 4s of c. 300 yards, and the road to Chanonry Point is an unavoidable feature of this section of the course.
F&R isn't a 'championship' course, nor does it ever pretend to be. It's a short, supremely fun course on one of the most interesting spits of golfing land. Even the holes up the peninsula's spine on the back 9 are interesting, varied and with an outlook other courses dream of.
However, those holes on the front 9 do slightly spoil you. Hole after hole of waterside golf - the stunning Moray Firth in play at any time.
Oh to be there on a summer's eve, with the dolphins diving in the electric blue water. I can't imagine all to many people stop at F&R on their way from Castle Stuart to Dornoch - but maybe that's only because they don't know what they're missing.
Some other Journal entries:
👉 Skibo Castle 👈
👉 Royal Dornoch 👈
👉 Durness 👈
📆 While you're here...! If you're looking for a Christmas gift for a golfer, may I humbly suggest a 2021 Links Calendar? 12 of my favourite courses to visit when the world is back open for business, and more importantly, golf. Thanks for following, Sam.
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