The Old is an unheralded classic links designed by Old Tom Morris with deep revetted bunkers, undulating gorse lined fairways and some excellent green complexes. At 6,717 yards to a par of 71 and SSS of 73 it is a superb test of golf but also throws in little bits of quirk to the mix creating a truly engaging experience.
We should perhaps start at the end because the 18th on Moray Old is something else. It’s out-of-this-world good and undoubtedly one of the best finishing holes in golf as well as being the first thing you see as you enter the club grounds. At 413-yards the first two-thirds of the hole are relatively level, although there is plenty of undulations in the fairway, with out of bounds tight to the right and a splattering of bunkers down the left to negotiate. It then climbs up to a raised green sitting right under the impressive clubhouse like a theatre stage with two menacing sand traps – Hells Bunker and Devils Hole – to the left hand side which falls away towards the firth. The intoxicating setting is magnificent but the actual hole is even better and I’m sure much drama has been witnessed here.
There’s a real feel of Cruden Bay and Royal Dornoch to the setting around the clubhouse, the first and eighteenth holes with some magnificent houses looking down on the links from the inland side of the course. Meanwhile, Covesea Lighthouse dominates the horizon at the opposite end of the links.
After a tame opening hole the start to the course is captivating. The punchbowl nature of the par-five second, tight to the road, is wonderful whilst the skyline green at the third is another early delight. The 193-yard fourth also backs onto the road but it is the angle and shape of the green and the mounding surrounding the dancefloor that makes this hole so special. Crossing the road you then have one of the best driving holes on the course with a staggered bunker sequence that simply demands that the further you drive it the more accurate you must be and if these fairway traps (in the true sense of the meaning) are successfully negotiated the semi-blind approach to the falling green requires an equally well judged shot.
Holes six, seven and eight all keep the momentum going nicely but are not standout holes. The dropping par-three sixth is pleasant enough, as is the next and the 474-yard par-four eighth is a real bully of a hole that demands length, precision and nerve as the road once again features on the approach.
The ninth and tenth are both shortish holes, at 310 and 318 yards respectively, that return to more exciting terrain. The latter is the pick of the bunch thanks largely to the angled green that is far better approached from the left. The eleventh has excellent fairway bunkering, a common trait throughout, and makes good use of an angled burn just shy of the green before 12 and 13 contain the championship elements that Moray unquestionably and continually demands; the green setting at the former is true delight.
And now for the big finale as we approach the sea and then play alongside it for the closing stretch that culminates in the grandiose 18th. The 14th is visually breathtaking whilst the next is a fine links par-three. The 16th offers a breather in terms of length but the approach to the tumbling green presents another kind of conundrum to solve. One final birdie opportunity may present itself at the par-five 17th but danger lurks all the way down its 509-yards.
The proximity to the road on a number of holes, the RAF landing lights dotted about the course and the wonderful 18th are all fond memories I will take away from Moray Old as is the quality of fairway bunkering and the many fine green complexes.
Moray Old more than holds its own when compared to other apparently better courses. I had played the famed Nairn course the day before and Moray was certainly a match for this if not its superior, albeit by just a fraction. High praise indeed though for a course that often goes under the radar.
Meanwhile the New course, designed by Henry Cotton and opened in 1979, is the perfect foil for the Old. It doesn’t quite have the volume of exceptionally good holes of its elder sibling but the overall feel is the same and there’s plenty of good golf to be had. The course stretches to just 6,084 yards and has a par of 70 but don’t be fooled by the numbers.
The two courses intertwine and share the same firm and sandy links turf, however, the threat of gorse is more prevalent and there’s an increased premium on accuracy as opposed to length as the links weaves through the blankets of whin. The greens are smaller too and although there is not as much going on around them this is still entertaining golf.
The best holes on the New are the ninth and tenth which are closest to the sea and enjoy the best of the undulating terrain. Before that the fifth and sixth also make very good use of a burn that runs through both courses and the 13th and 14th are another good couple of back-to-back holes.
The entire set-up at Moray is impressive and the Old course in particular far exceeded my expectations - I'd go as far as saying it is one of the most underrated golf courses I know. The combination of strategic interest, spectacular views, the at times sporty nature and excellent golfing ground make for an enjoyable days golf. I played here in a 36 hole open competition that took in both courses and the person on the scoring desk, when I handed my card in, asked if I had enjoyed my day. I said I most certainly had and he encouraged me to "spread the word". I intend to do so.
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.