Montrose, recognised as the fifth oldest course in the world, epitomises everything that is great and superior about links golf.
It’s a golf course that has every ingredient required to create a classic true links experience.
This is a layout that will test every department of your game and one you will never tire of playing.
With records dating back to 1562 it is a course that has stood the test of time and was deemed worthy of staging Final Qualifying for the Open Championship, when held at nearby Carnoustie, in both 1999 and 2007.
Two golf clubs - Royal Montrose Mercantile and Montrose Caledonia - play over two courses which are managed by a limited company, Montrose Golf Links, who re-invest any profits back into the course.
This historically important venue owes much to the marvellous terrain that it is laid out over, pure natural linksland with high quality turf that initially takes you towards, and then along, the rugged coastline before leading you through more sheltered gorseland eventually climbing back to higher ground before culminating in one more descent from a high tee at the 18th as you complete a satisfying journey through the sandhills and whins of Montrose.
The course lays down a strong marker at the very first hole, one that requires a straight drive between fairway bunkers before you play to a raised green at the summit of the gradually rising hill. It’s an imposing hole and one that certainly doesn’t allow you to ease your way into the round, especially when an East wind is whipping in off the North Sea.
The next five holes are exhilarating links golf at its best. Played close to the coast the second hole dog-legs left to right with a drive required along the edge of the ever receding dunes. The third is an old-fashioned style par three played away from the water’s edge to a shallow but wide table-top green located at the summit of a huge dune which falls away on all sides. The drive at the fourth is from an elevated tee to a lovely rippling fairway before you play to a green fronted by impressive bunkering. The bank of gorse that runs the length of the hole down the right hand side is merely a taster for what is to come later in the round. Meanwhile, the hillocky short par four fifth is played uphill and returns to the shore before you play two classic holes along the coastline. The former is a par five with a terrific drive whilst the next is a medium-length par four that arches right-to-left and requires a similar ball flight from the tee.
The walk from the seventh green to the eighth tee through illuminating yellow whins (we played late May) almost transports you to another world as the character of the course changes dramatically. You are now sheltered from the buffeting wind from the North Sea, however, the threat of gorse is now omnipresent.
Holes eight and nine are played along the hillside with danger to the left before you turn 90 degrees and play directly away from the coast for four holes before making an abrupt turn and heading straight back for the next two.
A small gully short and to the left of the 10th dictates an approach from the right is preferred whilst the drive at the 11th is over seemingly never ending acres of gorse and is a real highlight of the round. Hole 12 is a fine par three with imposing bunkers ringing the front of the green before the 13th takes you to the farthest point on your travels away from the sea.
The next four holes are not only demanding but they are of the highest quality too. The 14th oozes class and wouldn’t look out of place on any Open course; it requires a long and precise drive before you play to arguably the best green complex on the course, one that slopes towards you with bunkers on either side which will gather any ball not flying straight and true to the heart of the green.
The 15th is a risk-reward par five in so much that a large and deep bunker is cut into a ridge that must be hurdled some 80 yards short of the green. The bunker needs to be either carried or flirted with in order to reach the green. It is also located at a point where the fairway tightens and the gorse nips in to heighten the challenge.
The next two holes run along the more sheltered part of the course. The 16th is a mighty par three with an amazing green complex. Out of character with the rest of the putting surfaces it may be but it is one you could spend hours just chipping and putting around. The 17th is also a formidable hole with not only a bank of gorse running its full length down the left and out-of-bounds close to the right but it has a magnificent green cut into the hillside that is difficult to find. The only improvement that could possibly be made to this superb hole would be the shaving of the longer grass we found on the banks around the green as this would give the golfer, who will almost inevitably miss to the right, more options for their recovery shot.
If you have successfully covered the last four holes to your handicap then you deserve the birdie chance that the last perhaps allows. The elevated tee shot is a delight but the hole is not without teeth either as there are a number of bunkers to avoid with either your drive or pitch to the green. This hole concludes a very rewarding golf experience, one that I would urge anyone to sample.
There is a second course at Montrose, the Broomfield, which is played over similar ground to the holes on the lower part of the Medal course. Many of the drives require accuracy as you are faced with a barrage of holes lined with gorse on both sides. It is only 4,825 yards in length but many of the holes play longer than the yardage suggests and the small, flattish greens are not always easy to find. If you’re playing both courses I would suggest you play this first as a warm-up to the real thing in the afternoon.
Sadly, the well documented coastal erosion problems that the main course has suffered over recent decades does not appear to be relenting and whilst golf has been played at Montrose for over 450 years it is unlikely some of the holes will see the Quincentenary.
Montrose will undoubtedly adapt and change over the coming years but if you want to experience the current course and layout then the erosion gives you a perfect excuse to visit in the near future! Something I would wholeheartedly suggest you do.
Eyemouth is an easy-going, golf course with many different sections but mostly plays along the clifftops of the beautiful coastline close to the England-Scotland border.
There is something about Elie that puts you under a spell. It is a truly magical links that, after just one round, has won a place in my heart and mind forever.