Whether it be parkland, heathland or links it’s usually quite easy to compare one similar type of course to another. Not at Boat of Garten! This is one of the most unique golf courses I have ever played.
Importantly though, not only is it unique and boasts a character all of its own, it is a golf course of an extremely high quality.
Boat of Garten is a great test, despite its modest length of 5,876 yards (par 70), and has more fun and interesting shots within its 18 holes than any other course that I can easily bring to mind.
I guess you could try and categorise it as a heathland-moorland hybrid yet the fairways and green complexes are more reminiscent of a links despite it being 30 miles from the sea.
“The Boat” was established in 1898 and is set alongside the River Spey in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, only 10 minutes from Aviemore, and the location is nothing short of stunning with an awe-inspiring backdrop ever-present. That much was apparent on our recent visit even on the overcast day that we experienced.
Short, quirky and fun would be three words to describe Boat of Garten but it is also much more than that. There is a real sense of quality to many of the holes. The second, sixth and 18th are three that easily come to mind and wouldn’t be out of place at much more famous venues. There is also a whole host of holes that back these up with interesting drives, often from an elevated position, and teasing approaches to plateau greens and other excellently sited putting surfaces.
However, the hole I am going to highlight as the best and my most favourite on the course is one that may go unnoticed by many; the tenth. At 271 yards this short par-four is expertly routed along the top of a hogsback ridge and sweeps slightly from right to left. The green is enticing from the tee but trees, heather and a steep drop-off await a pulled drive and the right-hand-side of the fairway falls away gentle towards tangly rough. Going for the green is certainly an option but so is playing conservatively from the tee and leaving what should be a straightforward pitch into the green. The main danger to the golfer, however, is not committing to either and getting caught in two minds.
And who can leave Boat of Garten without fond memories of the quirkiest hole on the course, the 15th named Gully for the deep depression found some 180-230 yards from the tee; play short of it for a visible approach to the green or attempt to carry it but avoid it all at costs because from down there you have no sight of the green and could find yourself with a very steep downhill or uphill lie in thick rough.
There isn’t a hole on the entire course that I didn’t care for. The first maybe the weakest but serves its purpose in getting you onto the best of the golfing terrain where bumpy fairways are lined by gorse, birch trees and heather and where the turf is excellent, links-like, and a true joy to play from.
Accuracy is important from the tee at Boat of Garten because most of the fairways are quite narrow but shaping the ball, quite often from left-to-right, is also crucial to maximise your position from the tee.
James Braid has designed 18 completely individual holes here and, like he has done at many other courses, has maximised the natural landscape to produce a highly memorable and sporty golf experience.
The course has been dubbed “the Gleneagles of the North” and has won several awards in recent years including Scotland's No.1 Hidden Gem. In 2012 National Club Golfer rated Boat of Garten 4th in the UK for Clubs with a green fee below £50, followed in 2013 by a rating of 34th in the UK for courses below £100! In 2014 Today's Golfer ranked the course in Scotland’s top 35 courses and most recently, at the Scottish Golf Tourism Awards in late 2014, Boat of Garten won the award for the Best Course Under £50. We also include it highly in our best golf courses under 6,000 yards.
Located just a few miles off the A9 road Boat of Garten makes a great stop-off for those on their way to or from the many wonderful links courses in The Highlands. But that is not to do the course justice because it’s worth making a journey here in its own right and must certainly rank within the top half-a-dozen inland courses in Scotland.
Following a 4:00am alarm call we’d already driven for more than six hours and covered over 350 road miles before boarding a ferry at Oban sailing to Lochboisdale.
The Halifax Golf Club, often better known as Ogden, is a course that divides opinion.