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The drive up the A9 and into the Scottish Highlands gives you more than enough warning that you’re going somewhere pretty special.

After you pass signposts for Killiecrankie, the scenery changes. You’re now staring at huge mountainous glens and a vast expanse of scenery that the A9 winds its way through as if it were a movie set.

My experiences of golf in this corner of Scotland are too few and far between. I can probably count on both hands the number of courses I have played in the Highlands, which brings shame upon my family. This trip earned me a little more respect.

Macdonald Hotels opened this championship length – no joke, it’s 7,118 yards from the tips, but more on that later – heathland course back in 2007.

• Golf course review: Grantown-on-Spey

When it opened, the late Dave Thomas, principal designer on the project, proclaimed it was “on a par with Gleneagles”. Debating aside, there is absolutely no doubt this is one of the best ‘new’ inland championship courses to be constructed in Britain, let alone Scotland.

Its location in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park gives it something truly special, and you are reminded of that on just about every hole, especially on the back nine.

Having not played it for about ten years, I couldn’t wait to get back.

Spey Valley

Verdict

Let’s just get the inevitable soundbites out of the way. Tell anyone you’re playing Spey Valley and they’ll say: “Oh, it’s long!” Yes, it’s long… if you want it to be.

It’s a modern championship golf course and requires the extra length to test the best players in the world (Brooks Koepka is the course record holder round here, in case you didn’t know).

But sensible golfers make sensible decisions, which is why we didn’t play it from second back but third back, from the yellows. That’s 6,653 yards, to be precise.

On the front nine, that equates to five holes playing under 360 yards. The back nine is slightly longer.

If you want it even easier on the legs, the green pegs get you playing the sub-6,000 yard course, which I imagine would be a lot of fun.

• Golf in the Scottish Highlands: A visitors guide

Things get really good at the par-3 fourth, a slightly uphill short hole, before you play the monstrous par-5 fifth. Actually, its reputation is worse than its bite. Our yardage was 608 and I piped a driver and flushed an award-winning 4-iron to the back of the green. From there, I was disgracefully down in three.

If you catch your drive, you’ll hit a downslope, and it’s actually downhill all the way to the green, usually with the wind at your back. Making this hole even easier to swallow is that it’s sandwiched by two par-3s.

The back nine is where the serious views kick in, and where some of the best holes are. Our group took forever to play 11, 12 and 13, probably because they’re not easy holes, featuring lots of slopes, plateau greens and quirky tee shots.

The par-5 13 is a brilliant hole, playing into a green sunk into heather and tall pines.

The penultimate hole is another driving hole, where the green plays tricks on you from the fairway.

The closing hole requires a quite stringent right-to-left shape off the tee to play into the green from the fairway.

Spey Valley

Standout hole

I like tough par-4s and the 393-yard 15th stood out for me.

You’ve got to play a pretty much pinpoint yardage over the corner of a bunker – or right by it – to give yourself a shot into the green.

Hit it to too far and you’re in a pond. Hit it short and you’re blind into the green. Hit it left and you’re either in thick heather and a huge bunker. Leak it right and you’re staring at bogey because you’ve likely given yourself too much to chew on.

Did you know

Brooks Koepka, then aged 22, set a course record 62 here in 2013 in a Challenge Tour event. Ten years later, the Floridian has five majors and now plies his trade on the LIV Golf tour as part of Smash GC.

And another thing

People will tell you about the walk from the first green to the second tee, but that’s the only long walk between holes on the course (until 17 to 18). So, don’t feel like you need to take a buggy. If you play off sensible tees, this course is easily walkable. And you’ll love the walk, too.

Spey Valley

Green fees

Take advantage of The 62 Package that celebrates Koepka’s course record in 2013. That gets you tea, coffee and bacon rolls on arrival, range balls, 18 holes and lunch. That’s on offer to groups of 12 or more. Otherwise, green fees are from £50. If you love it that much, you can even try a five-month trial membership from £225, which is frankly outrageous value.

Find out more

T: 01479 812920
W: macdonaldhotels.co.uk/aviemore


author headshot

Bryce Ritchie is the Editor of bunkered and, in addition to leading on content and strategy, oversees all aspects of the brand. The first full-time journalist employed by bunkered, he joined the company in 2001 and has been editor since 2009. A member of Balfron Golfing Society, he currently plays off nine and once got a lesson from Justin Thomas’ dad.

Editor of bunkered

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