There are just over 200 links golf courses in the UK.
Of those, the most northerly 18-holer on the British mainland is the James Braid-designed Reay Golf Course near Thurso – and it is, quite frankly, a stunner.
Founded in 1893, Reay operated until 1940, when a dwindling membership – caused, in no small part, by a large exodus of people from the area – forced it to close.
This was seven years after five-time Open champion Braid had visited the course and recommended ways to extend the original nine-hole layout to 18 holes.
By this point in his career, Braid had seen and designed countless courses. However, the links by Sandside Bay made a significant impression on him. In a letter to the club following his visit, he described the course as “very interesting” and “full of variety”.
In 1962, with the local area experiencing something of a repopulation due to the development of fast reactor technology at Dounreay, the club was reconstituted and the course restored to its former glory. A new licensed clubhouse followed in 1963, with Sunday golf also allowed for the first time with the blessing of the local minister.
Since its Phoenix-like resurrection, Reay has flourished. In 2017, a year before it celebrated its 125th anniversary, the club purchased the land occupied by its course after a long period of fundraising, helping to secure its long-term future.
The course itself is a fine example of the old idiom that the best things in life come in small packages. From the tips, it measures under 6,000 yards but what it lacks in length, it more than makes up for in character, charm and challenge. Indeed, the great course architect Donald Steel once remarked: “In a different location, it would enjoy worldwide acclaim.”
It’s true. But in another location, Reay wouldn’t be Reay. It offers spectacular panoramic views of the Pentland Firth and North Atlantic towards the Orkney Islands from every hole on the course. The fast fairways and firm greens are arguably as true as you will find on any links in the country, whilst the sixth, the so-called ‘Braid’s Choice’, is quite possibly the pick of the holes.
As the club’s website explains, it’s a dogleg par-5 that’s reachable in two for those who want to take the risk with the Reay Burn surrounding the green.
From the raised tee high up in the dunes there are numerous dangers awaiting the unwary, not least the large expanse of out of bounds that has to be carried with your drive.
Also worth a mention are the par-3 seventh – the hardest hole on the course – and the two-tiered 18th.
Of course, part of Reay’s charm comes from the fact that it is so remote. It’s a two-and-a-half hour drive from its nearest city, Inverness, and a good five-and-a-half hours from both Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Sure, it’s a long trek to get there. But it’s worth it. More than, in fact.
And at only £40 for a day ticket from April to September - and a bargain £20 per day from October to March - it is quite possibly the best value links golf you'll ever play.
To find out more, click here.
Playing golf in Scotland
For more information on Reay or any of the other courses in Scotland, log-on to visitscotland.com/golf or click here to read a digital copy of the Official Guide To Golf In Scotland, a comprehensive guide to playing in the cradle in the game.