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Build it and they will come

It seems that the golfing community are looking for that hidden golfing gem. Well I think I may have found a wee diamond right here on my doorstep.

Covesea Links is situated just a 5 minute drive westwards from its more illustrious neighbour Moray Golf Club in Lossiemouth. I have been a member of Moray for 50-plus years, but have neglected this belter of a 9-hole course for far too many of them. With that in mind, I headed west from the town, the road winding its way through the links of Moray’s Old and New courses, past the perimeter fences of RAF Lossiemouth and over to my right the bright, high tower of Lossiemouth’s lighthouse. Turning off the Hopeman road up a single track brought me to the top of a spectacular cove where the stunning views of the Moray Firth greeted me. A slow meander down the track was taking me into a natural golfing amphitheatre.

Its very beginnings are something of a ‘Field of Dreams’ scenario. Two friends, Donald Rattray (art teacher) and landowner Ron Stewart had a dream to create something special around the early 80’s. No course architects required, just a blank canvas of gorse and bent/sea grass. I have a personal connection in that I knew Donald very well, and his son was indeed my best man... twice!! In its original form, Covesea’s 12 holes were hand-built by just cutting down the bent grass over and over. As the other grasses began to flourish the fairways formed, greens were cultivated and tees were built. In 2004, Andy and Angela Burnett bought the land and with Andy’s previous experience in the course layout industry they set about creating the links I am looking at now.

It’s an old school arrival at the car park: a quick change into golf shoes at the car and I head over to the ‘honesty box’ (how refreshing). £10 Adults, £5 Children, no booking, just turn up and play. Heading to the 1st tee and I’m immediately aware of the fresh sea air, the wind (I’ll touch on that later), the yellow gorse and the ‘couthiness’ (cosiness) of the surroundings.

The first three holes are a gentle introduction to typical links golf. Gorse and bent grass outline undulating fairways and my approach shots are all hitting into sloping greens. The 4th, a 382-yd par 4 hole is a test for any golfer. Finding the fairway from the tee is a must, and although there’s no gorse the bent grass on my right hand side, softened by magnificent views of the Moray Firth, certainly makes this a beast of a hole. With today’s wind being an easterly breeze (15-20 mph), or a gale as our American friends would call it, the 4th is a tough hole for any level of golfer and is setting up what I think is the essence of this course.

Golf is supposed to be fun, right? The next three holes certainly provide that: Covesea Links’ version of ‘The Bear Pit’ if you like! I’m looking for the 5th hole, a 90-yard par 3!! It’s a blind tee shot into a narrow, sloping green heading downwards from back to front. No bunkers around, but the green is protected by severe run-off areas. Trust me, a four on this par 3 is going to be a good score here. The big pay-off once finishing the hole though are the views.

There’s the lighthouse, the cream-coloured columnar sea stacks at the water’s edge and high cliffs that surround the course, the crashing waves of the Moray Firth on the beach’s boulders, and the Skerries lying offshore like a long, dark submarine cruising the Firth. I know I live here, but it really is why we play this game. On any given day you might see dolphins, seals, or fishing boats out on the Firth. Sometimes you’ll be given an air display from the nearby RAF Lossiemouth. Right here, I’m on the highest point of the course and it certainly makes you feel alive.

Time to move on... Moving along to the 6th hole, it’s a 221-yd par 3. I’m standing on the tee and all I can see, as far as golf is concerned, is the green ahead. ‘A fair old dunt’ is probably the best way to describe it. The fun continues on the next hole, the 135-yd 7th. A simple hole you may think, with only a huge, gorse-covered sandstone sea stack that is straddling the space between me on the tee and the green. Not a big fan of blind shots, but this is fun. Very similar to Cullen Links (which I would also recommend) but on a smaller scale.

These three holes have been the highlight of the day for me. With a final two gentle-ish holes to finish with, the pureness of these links has really whetted my appetite to return with my golfing pals to have fun on this hidden Morayshire gem.

Andy was keen to point out his new greenkeeper shed to house his equipment. Work is always ongoing to improve what Donald and Ron started some 40 years ago. Andy informed me that, in these strange times, 2020 was one of the busiest years they have ever had. ‘Build it and they shall come’.

With the time constraints of modern life there is growing appeal to playing just 9 holes. For the golfing parties that come up here to the North of Scotland, it’s an ideal place to end the golfing day. Those days of playing 36 holes in a day have long gone for me, replaced with this summer sunset before me, the sound of the waves rhythmically rolling the boulders up and down at the shoreline and the big sky views over the Sutherland hills and Moray Firth... and maybe a wee dram too. You can’t put a price on this hidden gem!

Words - Michael Page

Photography - Ross Cooper

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