Fortrose & Rosemarkie

Words by: James Wilson
Photography by:Harvey Jamison

Mike taps on the glass window of the pro shop and enthusiastically signals for me to come inside. His demeanour suggests we’ve met before, but I’m sure we haven’t.

I walk into Mike’s newly constructed office, shake his hand and immediately understand what’s happened. Mike is one of those people who is your friend before you’ve even met them.

Still in the groove from a week of hosting and socialising at the Scottish Golf Awards (Fortrose and Rosemarkie took home the prize for best course in Scotland under £100) he reaches into his desk drawer and pulls out armfuls of trinkets. Pencils, markers and bag tags spill from his grip as he excitedly hands them to each member of our group. He ushers us out on to the first tee to give us the cliffnotes of the club’s rich history:

“This is the 15th oldest golf club in the world, you’ll see the 6th, 7th and 8th holes as you make your way out, the locals were playing golf on that land in 1793.”

The Americans in the group give a nod of approval, that's 100 years before the first golf club in the USA was even founded.

Since they arrived, our American friends have been baptised in the fires of links golf, fanned by 40 mph Scottish wind and battered by rain. But today the weather is clear. It’s fortunate; because you could hardly conceive of a more exposed piece of land.

The course sits on a narrow peninsula, no more than 400 yards wide and 1800 yards long, that juts out into the Moray Firth. There is room for little else than the access road to the lighthouse and a spectacular golf course. Golfers brave enough to venture onto these links are sitting ducks for the elements that sweep across the water from the West.

The crew limbers up on the first tee when Mike appears again, whisky bottle and shot glasses in hand.

“This might be the best service I’ve received anywhere.” claims our Texan friend. I’m inclined to agree. We throw down our mouthfuls of custom Fortrose labelled Glenmorangie and march into the wilderness.

The course opens in generous fashion, a short par 4 lined with flowering gorse eases you in as you play towards the lighthouse at the far end. The par 3 5th takes you perpendicularly along the head of the peninsula, waves crash behind the tee, wrapping around the rocks to your left and emerging behind the green 160 yards away. Like playing golf on a storm afflicted Pirate Ship.

The remainder of the front 9 hugs the beach to the left before respite is afforded. Short par 4s weave back and forth in the comfort of the inner section of the peninsula, a welcome sight for a group playing our 6th round of golf in 5 days.

We finish up on the long par 3 18th before another shower arrives and we head into the clubhouse to grab lunch before departure. The catering staff are cut from the same cloth as Mike. We settle into the sofas in the lounge as if it was our own living room, sandwiches and soup appear with a side helping of Scottish banter from our delightful host.

5 days of golf on some of the country’s most iconic links (Royal Dornoch, Brora, Nairn) left us tempted to give Fortrose and Rosemarkie a miss and head south to the metropolitan shelter of Glasgow. But that would have been foolish.

If my personal golf course ranking criteria is anything to go by, then this gem must be high on the list. Setting: its likely you’ll never play golf on a piece of land as unique as this. Feeling: it's likely you’ll never be made to feel as welcome as they make you feel at Fortrose and Rosemarkie.

I implore you to add it to your Highland itinerary.