Set alongside the River Spey in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, Boat of Garten is one of Scotland’s most underrated courses.
At less than 6,000 yards, it’s perfectly tempting to dismiss it as ‘holiday golf’. After all, the resort town of Aviemore is just a ten-minute drive away. However, to do so would be to do an enormous disservice to what is, on every conceivable front, a spectacular place to play.
‘The Boat’ dates back to 1898 but it wasn’t until 1930 that it became the triumph that endures to this day. The club commissioned celebrated course architect James Braid to convert its original nine-hole layout into an 18-hole course and there’s a legitimate case to be for this being the Elie man’s finest hour.
The fun begins with a quirky par-3 opener in front of the clubhouse and it doesn’t let up for the next 17 holes.
The track bounds along uneven, undulating ground that calls to mind the country’s best links courses, but does so against a backdrop of imposing pines, whins, heather and birch. It's a really neat juxtaposition of two styles of Scottish golf.
This is no bomber’s paradise either. There are only three or four holes where you might benefit from pulling the headcover off your driver.
Instead, this is all about shot-making, keeping your ball in play, negotiating blind shots, using your imagination and making sure you land your ball in all the right spots. In other words, this is proper golf.
You may well walk off beaten but you won’t be broken.
It’s virtually impossible not to be fall head over heels for ‘The Boat’ . It’s a completely enchanting experience from start to finish. It ticks every single box: location, views, course layout, variety of holes, challenge, a warm welcome... it’s the perfect example of a small, community club that flies way under the radar but which delivers an experience equal to – if not greater than – some of the country’s so-called ‘trophy courses’.
The 15th takes some beating. A short par-4, it measures 300 yards and change from the back tee, so the bigger-hitters amongst you may be tempted to try and drive the green.
That’s the bold strategy. The more conservative option is to hit your stock 150-yard shot off the tee. Sure, that’ll leave you a shot of much the same distance into what is a sloping, punchbowl of a green but it also takes the deep gully, from which the hole takes its name, out of play.
Whichever way you decide to play the hole, make sure you scale the quirky viewing platform next to the tee to take it all in before you play. It may or may not inform your club choice, but it makes for a smashing photo all the same.
Also, an honourable mention for the tenth. Another almost-driveable par-4, it doglegs slightly from right to left, with a steep bank of trees down the left hand side and bunkers either side of the green.
Did you know...
The acclaimed American golf course architect Tom Doak made reference to Boat of Garten in Volume 1 of his “Confidential Guide To Golf Courses” book, describing it as “an idyllic place for golf”. High praise.
And another thing
Time your arrival just right and you might tee off at the same time as the steam locomotive departs from the train station that sits adjacent to the first hole. The unmistakable chug and puff of the train as it sets off down the Strathspey railway adds a really cool, subtle layer of charm to the overall experience.
A round at Boat of Garten will set you back £75 (or £20 for a junior)
, although golf club members get a £15 discount on that price, with an ‘Early Bird / Twilight’ rate of just £45. Better yet, take advantage of the fourball rate which costs just £200 - £50 a head. Brilliant value.