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Boat of Garten

Yardage
5876
Par
70
SSS
69
Built
1898
Architect(s)
James Braid
Nature:
A fine grassed, tree lined, beautiful heathland James Braid 'running' design, under the Cairngorms.
Location/Address:
Four miles off the A9, just north of Aviemore. Postcode PH24 3BQ
http://www.boatgolf.com
Secretary
Gordon Hay
Telephone
01479 831 282
Professional
Ross Harrower
Green Keeper
Alan Dobbie
boat of garten, james braid,
boat of garten, james braid,
boat of garten, james braid,
boat of garten, james braid,
boat of garten, james braid,
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Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
No dogs
Open Meetings:
The Sangster Trophy - August
Fees in 1960s
30p per day
Fees today
£47 any day

Review

Having played golf in the Highlands of Scotland every year since 1985, I am amazed that, now having played Boat of Garten, it had not come onto my radar previously.

Perhaps one reason is that I was expecting some soft, annual meadow grass course and at a mere 5876 yards how could it offer a full challenge?!

Well, I was wrong on both counts and ‘The Boat’, as it is colloquially known, is one of the very finest heathland courses in Scotland with hardly a weak hole and it demands imagination and creativity in your play, as well as accuracy, all within the most tremendous scenery. It gives a true ‘Joy-to-be-alive’ feeling.

This Club provides both golf and tennis to the residents of the village of Boat of Garten, nestling under the Cairngorms, as well as to many, many visitors holidaying in the area.

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The ‘Boat Ferry’ of 1898

The village is named after the ferry across the River Spey that bounds one side of the course with the opposite boundary being the restored, steam, Strathspey railway line. This ferry ceased operation in the same year the golf club was founded, 1898 and on the adjacent photo are shown some wonderfully bonneted Victorian Ladies of the time, before the new bridge behind them, replaced the ‘boat ferry’.

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Strathspey train along the fourth fairway

The founding of ‘The Boat’ arose from the grassroots of the village with an original six holes being the creation of local farmers, railwaymen, businessmen, the policeman and of course, the minister. The course was increased to nine holes and some tennis courts were added in 1910.

The clubhouse has been extended and upgraded continuously and in the depressed early 1930s the Club made the far-sighted investment of inviting James Braid, five times Open Champion and the professional at Walton Heath, who had an impressive reputation as a course designer that included Brora and Fortrose & Rosemarkie hereabouts, as well as many fine courses across GB&I, (including that apex of traditional golf, Perranporth in Cornwall) to design eighteen holes.

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James Braid cartoon

From my research it is unclear as to whether Braid added nine extra holes or re-designed all eighteen or did something in between but what we have to this day is a course that feels wholly Braid, with each hole being distinctive, using the natural movement in the land to require strategic thought as to how best to play the hole and offering plenty of playing options. There is a best line to take but this also takes you nearer the trouble.

The fairways are wonderfully bumpy and running and if one’s shot to the green is not quite right, the famous ‘Boat Bounce’ can happen, very often leaving one having to extricate oneself from the bottom of a bank among broom or heather.

The opening par three is called ‘John’s view’ after John Grant, the Club professional after the World War II and at 189 yards is an elusive target.

It is unusual that the course manager has achieved such a high percentage of fine fescues and bents on the greens and fairways, giving a firm surface all year round, despite there being so many trees, predominately pretty silver birches, which encroach around many holes and in the winter quite a few greens will be shaded thereby, encouraging the damp that the weed grass Poa annua so loves.

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The second hole

The 360 yard second hole (‘Urie’) is typical Boat fare. A dogleg right with a carry over broom and heather to a humped fairway where, when trying to avoid the trees on the dogleg, it is easy to pull one’s shot and bounce off beyond the track on the left. The small elevated green sloping from back to front is one of the more inviting greens, and being cut at a sensible height of above 4mm is not so fast as to make putting impossible.

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The par three third hole

The two best short holes, the third (‘Craigard’) and sixteenth (‘Craigowrie’), both some 165 yards and named after nearby mountains, are adjacent to each other but played in different directions. The third is best played with a draw and the sixteenth with a cut, bringing your ball over deep gullies to prominent, finely bunkered greens. They really are brilliantly designed and all within a beautiful heathland setting, with a backdrop of the purple Cairngorms, often with a cap of white snow.

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The par three sixteenth hole

Can it go on like this? Well it does, with one of only two par fives that has a wonderful undulating fast running fairway with a new green extended in 1995 beyond the original Braid site and now snuggling up closer to the railway embankment.

The fifth (‘Lochiel’) at 301 yards is played to a rising fairway and green and then comes (‘Avenue’) with a testing drive, tight between trees to the corner of the right hand dogleg and at 403 yards is one of only two par fours over 400 yards. The other is the eighteenth (Road) at 437 yards and between them I suppose they vie for the honour of being the most iconic Boat hole.

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The drive at the sixth hole

I am biased in my choice as I hit two of my best running shots to the elevated sloping eighteenth green and slotted the putt to finish on a complete high!

The seventh (‘Bell’) gives the first blind Braid approach over a hill with the eighth (‘Plateau’) similar to the fifth but 50 yards longer.

We then play three holes on top of the ridge, all of them interesting with a risk/reward 271 yard tenth (‘Ridge’) and the eleventh (‘Braeriach’) is justifiably stroke index three with a sweeping right-hand dogleg, where it is easy to run-out on the drive.

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James Braid’s twelth hole

James Braid commented that “The twelfth hole (‘Craigellachie’) is in a superb setting, the birch woods and the mountains beyond; I don’t think there is any equals it”. And he was a well travelled man.

At the time when the Club managed to acquire the freehold of the course in the early 1990s, the thirteenth (‘Tulloch’) green was resited to give forty extra yards while taking the sting out of the ‘thrombosis slope’. It nevertheless still has the quirkiness of a Braid design and is stroke index one.

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JP Macpherson on the fourteenth tee

The fourteenth (‘Spey’), yet another delightful short par four, has a new back tee giving a view of the famous River Spey. My cousin JP Macpherson, a double seniors captain at Nairn, is seen here on the fourteenth tee, catching his breath!

The fifteenth (‘Gully’), although only 307 yards, poses all the questions a short par four should. Denis Thatcher apparently considered it was one his favourite holes anywhere.

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The fifteenth gully hole

Can one go for the bowl green by carrying the gully, or take a short blind pitch from its depths or perhaps a longer iron after laying up for a view of the pin? Whichever route you take the green’s subtleties may still defeat you!

I have already mentioned the classic sixteenth and then we enjoy a long downhill drive to a green chosen for the front cover of the Club’s small centenary history book showing the typical natural undulations around the back of the green.

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The back of the seventeenth green

Royal Dornoch, just up the road, may now be viewed by the American Golf Digest as the fifth best course in the world but it is only 6600 yards off the back tees. Here at The Boat we have the most exciting design and though only 5876 yards in length, every shot has to be hit with precision and confidence because the firm turf takes no prisoners. If this course was overwatered and fertilised creating soft annual meadow grass (poa annua) surfaces, one could easily destroy the card, hitting up to the pins and stopping dead with ‘target-golf’.

As it is Alan Dobbie, the well respected course manager who has been here for twenty-five years and took over from Alick Mackay (who was trained at Dornoch and moved on to grow in the Donald Steel/Tom Mackenzie Carnegie Club course at Skibo) has given thoughtful leadership to his small team and resisted the siren calls of the chemical fertiliser brigade.

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The clubhouse

This lively sporting village club is achieving renown across the UK as ever more golfing tourists visit the Highlands, enjoying the most spectacular of locations and true running-golf at so many of the region’s courses.

Sir William Beveridge, it is said, wrote his report that founded the philosophy of the Welfare State while visiting Boat of Garten in the early 1940s. He stayed at the Craigard Hotel and played the course in the afternoons after long mornings of writing.

The Sangster Trophy, started in 1937, is one of the premier open golf tournaments in the Highlands and though attracting competitors from far and wide, it is said in the 1998 centenary book that there are seldom rounds that better the standard scratch of 69 and few early tee shots finish on the first green!

 

Read “A hundred years at the Boat” by John Kerr.

Reviewed by Lorne Smith 2016

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