Across the Firth from Royal Dornoch is the course billed as 'Old Tom Morris' Northern Jewel' - Tain GC.
Old Tom visited the Royal Burgh of Tain in 1890, where he laid out a links originally called 'St Duthus' - named for the patron saint of the town. Originally there were only 15 holes, as many good green sites as the grand old man of golf could find. Funds were tight in those early years, and the routing was reduced to 12. However, in 1894, the club acquired more land and the finances to extend the course from 12 to 18.
1911 saw the development of the clubhouse and the adoption of the name Tain Golf Club. 11 of the original green sites have been retained, and interestingly, these remain the better holes on the course.
The First makes a slightly damp start - but once on the other side of the bisecting road - the course enters into classic linksland.
The first few continue in this vain, relatively straight with the occasional burn crossing the links.
Four is one of the early holes of real note. A near 90 degree dogleg right, a long driver is likely too much off the tee - and an iron is all that is needed to find the landing point of the dogleg. It may feel a little contrived with modern technology, but it does ensure it plays as three shots.
The par 3s were particularly memorable. Below is the Fifth, well bunkered and reminiscent of Dornoch in miniature. A tightly mown run off to the rear, well bunkered to the front.
The course changed character slightly towards the middle of the round. The terrain becoming slightly less links like - as the course meanders through gorse, under the shadow of tall pine trees. The dogleg Nine another where too much distance off the tee would work against you. Only 350 yards, but anything further than 180 off the tee could find a prickly end in the whins.
The highlight of the course is the trip to the banks of the Dornoch Firth. The Eleventh, 'Alps', is the most memorable hole on the course. There is only one bunker, just short of a group of tall, rounded dunes - obscuring the green from the fairway.
Pitching blindly over it, there is an anxious walk over these hillocks to see if your ball found the green. More likely, you'll be distracted by the glorious view of the Dornoch Firth that reveals itself.
The Twelth tee, from which the above photograph of the Eleventh green was taken, has another elevated view of the Firth. The Glenmorangie Distillery is only a short way away, in perfect view. They sponsor the hole, and the barrel showing the distances to the 5 Open Championship venues prior to its installation is an interesting novelty. The more local towns (and courses) around the perimeter in red reminds you again of the quality of golf in this area.
After Twelve, the course works its way back from the Firth towards the clubhouse. Gorse continues to be the defining challenge of these closing holes.
Seventeen is a great par 3, the highlight of the closing stretch. Back again across the road, the 18th fairway - adjacent to the first - is lower lying. Undoubtedly softer underfoot than those holes in the middle of the round, it was good to be back to the clubhouse.
For that was another of Tain's highlights. In 1895, a write up of the 'St Duthus' club said "the stranger may rest assured that the members of St. Duthus Club will be always ready to extend to him a hearty Highland welcome”. 125 years later, the welcome we received from Gus Gurney - the club's Captain - was as hearty as his predecessors'.
An unassuming, friendly club - Tain is often overlooked in favour of its better known neighbours. With Royal Dornoch and Castle Stuart short drives away, it is hardly surprising. But I hope more will stop off here - a quick round over interesting linksland, a great way to spend a summer's evening in the Highlands.
Some other Journal entries:
👉 Skibo Castle 👈
👉 Royal Dornoch 👈
👉 Durness 👈
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