I discovered golf on the magnificent links of Moray Golf Club at the age of fourteen. Long before Henry Cotton had turned my wee 9-hole course into an appropriate 18-hole sister course to the original Morris Old Course, we’d dash home from school and meet out at its 1st tee, sharing clubs between less bags than we numbered and showing what tips we had learned by watching Jack or Lee or Gary, as described by Peter Allis and his BBC coverage. It was here I discovered the sheer pleasure of watching a borrowed 5-iron fly my ball through the air and land it in the hole for a two. My parents decided to buy me a half-set from the classified ads of the Evening Express. The rest is history and I am eternally grateful for their decision.
Is it possible to feel that level of excitement again? Definitely… even now, when I get near the Clubhouse some forty-five years later, it’s still there. Returning to where you learned your golf brings back so many memories. How fortunate I was, never appreciating it at the time, to have learned on one of the best links courses in the UK.
Through the small white gate and onto the Clubhouse terrace overlooking the spectacular opening and closing holes of Moray Old, it’s hard not to stop and ponder. The small white Pro Shop, sat just behind the first tee. The rising dunes leading your gaze round the glistening stretch of beach to your right, drawing your eye to the standout lighthouse at Covesea near the end of the New Course. It wasn’t always white… the town remembers a recently-promoted Group Captain arriving at RAF Lossiemouth during the Cold War who quietly painted the lighthouse olive green so that the enemy wouldn’t be able to use it as a visual reference. Neither could the local fishermen. Back to white.
Walking down the steep incline to the first tee you can see the perfect palette of a Morris design. Old dunes, excellent turf, hidden greens, judicious bunkers, gorse and burns. Today’s golfer has a card of 18 holes that will test them at every turn over its 6,572 yards. To your left, the Victorian villas of Stotfield Terrace and the amphitheatre of the 18th green, a plateau protected by deep, deep bunkers. To your right… the sea. The smell of the ozone. That first tee shot, a decision of playing it safe into a prevailing wind or going for a narrowing gap on this 323-yard par-4. High dunes and marram await on your right, or a standalone dune between the 1st and 18th fairways can catch you on your left. Navigating the gap is never a given.
Favourite holes greet me again as we head out over our old playground, bringing a smile at every tee. The 2nd, a sweeping par-5 dogleg left with a punchbowl green. The 3rd, a 382-yard dogleg right to a raised green that narrows away from you: a favourite hole of mine as my ball flight was always left to right. The 6th, a beautiful par-3 at the RAF Lossiemouth runway threshold. You might choose to wait playing your tee shot to watch a Typhoon or Poseidon land right over the green. The sound of them taking off from just behind the gorse is awesome.
Crossing the main road, the course leads me back and forth over burns, humps and hollows to the sea once more. The 446-yard 14th is tough. The wind wants to push me right. Deep grassy hollows gather the ball off the fairway. Reaching the hole, perched on top of the coastal margin, the swales of these magnificent, generally large, greens are also a challenge: it’s too easy to be 30ft away and watch a par or bogey sail on by.
The views are pure links. The hidden green of the par-3 15th, just a fluttering flag to guide you. The satisfying sweep of my drive down the old machair fairway from the high 16th tee at the landing lights. The town and beach stretching out in front of me, the waves breaking on the shore behind me. There’s a feel of St Andrews and North Berwick as the course leads me home to the town. The par-5 17th, curving in a long dogleg left to a tight, narrow green tucked under a dune. And then, my favourite hole: Home.
The 18th of Moray Old is, for me, one of the best finishing holes in links golf. The crack of the tee shot echoing off the high cliffs to your right, the ball sailing through the gap between dune and rock to the fairway. Hit too far, and you roll beyond the plateau and down into a jumble of small hills, hollows and uneven stances. Too short and you have to carry everything to the green. The Clubhouse and the green rise up to defy you, the bunkers bright and in your line. Don’t thin it. Walking off the green and climbing the banking, I turn and stand at the old sundial and look out across the lengthening shadows over the course. First drive to last putt, it’s heaven on earth. Another jet climbs skyward towards the setting sun. If I only had one course to play for the rest of my life, I would happily settle for this one.
Words - Murray Bothwell
Photography - Ross Cooper