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The renowned golf course architect Donald Steele is quoted as saying of Reay, “In a different location, it would enjoy worldwide acclaim.” But it is precisely the location that gives the course at Reay its great distinction. As the most northernly 18 hole course on the British mainland it presents views across the Pentland Firth and to the nearest Orkney Islands that are breathtaking. But more importantly, it takes advantage of wonderful seaside links land set among great sand dunes along Sandside Bay.
The course itself is a wonderfully true example of a links course, as you would expect when James Braid had a hand in its design. Your round will start with long but relatively straight-forward holes but will soon change as difficult elements begin to appear. Great long par-5’s, and par-3’s that are all carry will alternate with holes on which the ball’s roll in the fairway is key and holes that present blind shots to difficult greens. By the end of the round you will have needed every shot in your bag, and you might have developed one you did not know you had.
The greens are typically large, oval in shape and very well maintained. The fairways are composed of wiry links turf that encourages the use of bump and run shots that might be quite useful if the wind is a prominent factor as it often is.
It does take an effort to travel this far north but Reay certainly repays that effort with a classic links golfing experience. It’s hard to do better.
A Reay of Sunshine
Is there anything quite as special as stumbling on a golf course, finding you have it to yourself and then proceeding to be knocked of your feet by the sheer beauty of the place.
Then I have one word for you readers - Reay.
Now go find it!
Ok, here's a clue… you'll need to head to one of the more remote parts of Northern Scotland – so you’ll need a car and plenty of time. Actually I was home in sunny Sydney before I realised it is actually the northern-most course in Scotland
But let me tell you this… make the journey and you won’t be disappointed
A mighty links course with a bit of parkland thrown in and Reay Golf Club could easily be listed as one of the hidden charms of golf in Scotland.
We’d ben on the road for quite some time and were desperate for a break when Reay GoIf CIub suddenly appeared beside us late one July afternoon.
We were heading for Durness (more about that later) but were getting bored with driving and it was beginning to dawn on us that with all the twists and turns we were never going to get to Durness that day.
Then this deserted golf course with just one car in the car park, beckoned us.
Out came the clubs and yes, we rattled their honesty box, before heading out into the twilight to play one of Scotland’s many great links courses.
And this one virtually unknown by anyone from Down Under.
Until now that is.
Admittedly we were desperate for a game of golf
We had left Dornoch that morning and feasted on crab sandwiches on the bay at Lybster and inspected courses at Brora and Wick. Now we wanted some action.
And Reay Golf Club provided it in spades.
This seaside links has a par of 69 and is one of those all-too-rare ‘gems’ that opens with a par three and closes with one.
Rather than tell you about my “two" at the last, I'll explain that Reay golf course will live long in our memories.
It was after 7pm when we finished and with no hope of reaching Durness we made it to the tiny town of Bettyhill where we watched a 10:10pm sunset over the ocean and toasted a great day’s golf – with single malts of course.
Reay had some unique and interesting holes and like so many in Scotland was designed by the great James Braid, who seems to have stopped in every town in this country and left his mark somewhere.
There were two par fives, the fourth (at 581 yards) always a three-shotter and the sixth appropriately named ‘Braid’s Choice’
Apparently Braid laid out the original 12 holes played this hole and came away impressed by it’s quality.
One hole that we will never forget was the 196-yard par three seventh and I’m not embarrassed to say I smacked a driver across the burn to be sure to reach the green.
Anything short and you’re dead.
I was quite relieved to hit it through the green and walk off with a four because there is so much trouble here anything could happen.
We later learned that the club’s leading players had voted the seventh as not only the best hole on the course, but perhaps on of the most testing in the country.
The 16th was another amazing hole: it’s a par-four where you could have a crack for the green, if you knew where to hit it – or land in someone’s backyard if you don’t.
Suffice to say one of us laid up and the other two went via the backyards. Great fun though.
Reay certainly is a stunning links course which renowned golf course architect Donald Steele says would enjoy wide acclaim if it were in a more central location.
You’re kidding Don, it’s the journey that makes the location just that bit more special.
And the final word belongs to the club members, who live the adage: “There are no strangers at Reay Golf Club… only friends you have not yet met.”
Sports Week's golf course detective hits the fairways this week our sleuth's long slog to Caithness uncovered a cracker of a course.
Water, water everywhere and plenty to spare for wayward shots with the Reay Burn criss-crossing the course. Tucked alongside Sandside Bay, the Pentland Firth can be seen from every hole with Beinn Ratha providing a stunning backdrop on this natural links.
I found a watery grave but had a swimmingly good time. Because of its location on the most northern tip of the land, the course rarely closes except in the worst of a highland winter.
Heading for the Tee
There’s so much flora and fauna you wouldn't be surprised to see botanist David Bellamy rumbling around the rough.
Unusually, the links starts and ends with par threes but the unmistakeable stamp of James Braid, who designed the original 12 holes, ensures a classic test. Modern-day architect Donald Steele reckons it is the most natural links he's ever seen and must remain untouched because of its authentic value.
The 235-yard first is a monster par three that sets a stiff standard it proved unreachable into the breeze with a booming drive.
The locals rate the 198-yard seventh the best of all but it would grace any course in the country. You must carry the burn in front of a raised green or you'll drown. Watson was wishing he'd put on his wellies by the time he reached the 581-yard fourth hole called Sahara. A true three-shotter with the green guarded by water.
Your 'tec tried hard but couldn't find one on this superb links.
18 holes, par 69.
Address: Reay GC, Caithness, Scotland, KW14 7RE.
Directions: 11 miles west of Thurso on A836 and seven miles east of Melvich.
Course can be seen from the middle of Reay village.
Contact tel: 01847 811288.
Visitors: welcome at all times.
Green fees: £25 per day (correct at time of review).
An unforgettable experience.
4 out of 5