Set within the Cairngorms National Park is one of Scotland’s great inland championship courses – Spey Valley.
Designed by famed course architect Dave Thomas and opened in 2006, this 7,118 yard par 72 course is part of Macdonald’s Aviemore Resort and is home to some of the most majestic scenery and testing holes in the country.
Its championship credentials were there for all to see as it hosted the European Challenge Tour's Scottish Hydro Challenge from 2009 to 2018, with one very notable winner in 2013, but more on that later.
The layout meanders through the pines and heather of the Caledonian Forest, with select holes set along the banks of the River Spey. It is the epitome of picturesque golf courses. At every turn you’ll be pulling your phone out of the bag to snap photos of your stunning surroundings.
Although it is easy on the eyes, it is anything but easy on your game. It will test every one of your skills, not least your approach play.
The fairways are fairly generous throughout, but at over 7,000 yards from the medal tees you can expect a lot of mid to long irons into the expansive greens, even if you are driving the ball well.
Apart from its length, Spey Valley’s greatest defence lies in the decisions it forces you to make. From the tee it isn’t all about pulling driver and giving it a smash.
Thomas has done a phenomenal job of making you consider what the best approach to each hole is through the placement of punishing bunkers, large pine trees at the corners of dog legs and heather that gradually eats into the fairways the further down the hole you hit it.
Each of the four par-3s requires the best of your ball striking ability, while the par-5s deliver clear opportunities to get a birdie down on the card, even the mammoth 635 yard 5th hole.
When you walk off the course, regardless of how well or poorly you have played, you will know that your game has been tested to its limits, yet you’ll be wondering how you managed to have so much fun.
Also, its relatively new clubhouse is a little gem. It is the perfect place for some good grub and cold one after a long day of filling your lungs with fresh Highland air.
Some of you may think that this sprawling 7,000 yarder is not for you. You might bemoan some of the longer walks from green to tee. You may cast it off as too modern before ever stepping foot on it.
Don’t. It is the perfect amalgamation of clever course design and the stunning scenery that makes golf within the Highlands so very special.
I could, and will sing Spey Valley’s praises at every turn.
It’s very hard to pick a clear winner here. You could make a good case for the par-5 third that stretches along the banks of the Spey, or the tree-lined causeway that is the par-4 12th (one of the most challenging holes you’re ever likely to face), and even the par-3 16th with its heathery water hazard.
Ask golfers that have played here and you’re bound to get a different answer almost every single time. There isn’t a weak hole on the course.
When I think back to the occasions that I’ve teed it up at Spey Valley there is one image that stands out above all else and it has to be stepping onto 18. With the Spey flowing to your left, the hole is set to the backdrop of the Cairngorm Mountains, with the bunkers designed to mirror the undulating corries in the distance.
You know you’re coming to the end of a long and challenging round, but with a view like this one to finish you can’t help but wish there was more to come.
Did you know…
Before he started bagging major championships for fun, Brooks Koepka earned automatic promotion to the European Tour after claiming his third Challenge Tour win of the 2013 season in the Scottish Hydro Challenge at Spey Valley.
And another thing
If you find yourself on a family holiday to Aviemore then the Macdonald resort also boasts the 9-hole Dalfaber course. The short yet scenic track weaves its way through the resort and is ideal for beginners.
A round at Spey Valley will set you back anywhere from £30 for twilight times to £60 at peak times. To be able to play a golf course of this calibre for as little as £30 makes it one of the best bargains in all of Scottish golf.