Old Tom Morris, John Sutherland
One of Old Tom Morris's subtle and challenging masterpieces on linksland with gorse.
40 mins north of Inverness. Postcode: IV19 1JE
Magi Vass
01862 892 314
Stuart Morrison
Green Keeper
Iain Macleod
Access Policy:
visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
Welcome under control
Open Meetings:
Mixed Golf Week - August
Fees in 1960s
Fees today


Old Tom Morris, the ‘father of golf’ and a four-time Open Champion, was head greenkeeper and professional to the Old Course, St Andrews from 1865 until 1904 but also remained in great demand as a course architect. He laid out the Tain golf course (at that time called St Duthus) in 1890 across fifteen holes, four years after he had created Dornoch’s original course design.

old tom morris, tain golf club, finest golf courses

Old and young Tom Morris

Tain was reduced to twelve holes for a time but by 1911 with the help of Dornoch’s secretary John Sutherland, had increased to eighteen with eleven of the original green sites still being in use today.

Both the first and eighteenth holes are on low-lying land which are affected by tidal conditions and can be damp and unfortunately create a bad impression of the course when first viewed from the new, single storey, red-roofed, functional clubhouse.

The first hole includes a carry over a road that gives the golfer a difficult approach shot to a well guarded green. The 18th into the prevailing wind plays all of its 430 yards (from the medal tees). However these two holes which are side to side in no way prepare you for the true undulating linksland, sited on the south side of Dornoch Firth which make up the remaining 16 holes most of which are based on Old Tom’s original 15.

Tain golf club, finest golf courses

The short 16th

The main hazards are provided by subtle movement in the land and whins/gorse and broom that border the majority of the holes. A regularly changing of course-direction and the shore winds here also act as major influences on one’s play.

Tain, like Dornoch, enjoys a low rainfall and the tiny fishing village of Portmahomack just a few miles along the coast, vies with Dunbar for being the sunniest spot in Scotland.

This is a dry, running course with bumpy fairways and beautiful, traditional, characterful green complexes.

Proper, natural greenkeeping is exercised and we can appreciate the joy of playing off lovely tight fescue grasses on the majority of fairways. One constantly has to pause and consider exactly what type of running shot we should play when approaching these firm greens, which are cut at 4 mm and can run on a hot summer’s day at as much as 12 on the stimp.

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The 3rd green

The plant ecology is a botanist’s dream with all kinds of indigenous highland and sheep bent fine grasses proliferating among the rough and the heather.

The longish second shot to the third green (“Knowe” – 435 yards) has to be played across a climbing, left-hand dogleg, with a blind gully that shortens the perspective to a green on the skyline, that falls to the right towards its one strategically placed bunker, will really set the pulse racing if achieved.

Tain golf club, finest golf courses

The 4th green

The next hole (“Long” – 542 yards) runs with the prevailing wind and offers a risk/reward for the drive with a bank across the dog-legged fairway at 270 yards which, if carried, and the ball also avoids gorse encroaching from both sides of the fairway, can set up a possible attempt to the green. Nevertheless, most players playing from short of the bank will still have a tricky third-shot approach to a proud green, which is protected on both sides and anything played short will get kicked away left.

The next three holes are tight and will test several different clubs in the bag, before we encounter

Tain golf club, finest golf courses

The beautiful short 8th

the idyllic par 3 eighth (“Short” – 189 yards) which is set in a little valley with greenside bumps and bunkers that demands a sweet hit into the prevailing wind.

The ninth (“Desert” – 355 yards) has been changed over the years and is today a sharp dogleg right with a partly blind, narrow, run-in entrance and bunker behind. In winter the hole is played straight to the nearby alternative, original green and summer visitors can easily get confused if they don’t have their wits about them!

Tain golf club, finest golf courses

The ‘Alps’ on the 11th hole

The tenth (“Garden” – 403 yards) has a classic bumpy fairway between whins and then we come to Tain’s most characteristic hole (“Alps” – 380 yards) where one’s medium iron is played blind from a wildly rolling fairway over ‘The Alps’ themselves (which have been called ruder things!) that frame the view across the Dornoch Firth. In the far distance at this point we can see Skibo Castle, once home to Andrew Carnegie, famous as the one-time world’s richest man, the result of control of the giant U. S. Steel Company. He spent his dotage giving it all away on umpteen huge, philanthropic causes and is widely known as the patron of free libraries.

Tain golf club, finest golf courses

Dexter on the 14th tee

Holes twelve and thirteen, set out across an open, flatish field, allow an opening of the shoulders before we dive back into the whins and encounter more fairway movement again for the fourteenth (“Well” – 438 yards) and fifteenth (“Braehead” – 346 yards) of which the latter is played to a small quirky green.

It is unusual, like Saunton West, to face two short holes in the last three but old Tom Morris chose his green sites well. The sixteenth (“Kelag” – 147 yards) and the seventeenth (Black Bridge – 215 yards) are bordered by the meandering river we first encountered in front of the second green. One plays from a high tee down to the dell of Kelag and this hole should offer us a birdie chance. Not so Black Bridge, however, where one crosses the river twice before hopefully running your metal shot into a flat green. The side wind here makes this hole one of the few that brings my 1 iron out of the bag and what fun it is to get one’s three.

Tain golf club, finest golf courses

The clubhouse behind the 17th

Amazingly Tain is not even mentioned in the ‘World Atlas of Golf’ or in Donald Steel’s (a member of FineGolf’s Advisory Panel) ‘Classic Golf Links’, nor Frank Pennink’sGolfer’s companion‘ books that very much set the scene for fine courses.

The quality of the links golf in The Highlands is so high that Tain, which is also the home of the Glenmorangie distillery (that sweetest of all single malts but now, with the ‘Valley of Tranquility’, no longer independently owned), has been somewhat overshadowed in this age of big marketing budgets, though Championship events are played at Tain.

This is a course the locals have kept to themselves(!) with its wonderful history that includes the hosting of ‘The Columbo Cup’ since 1897 and the ‘Baden Powell Shield’, which was introduced to celebrate the relief of Mafeking in 1900 during the Boer War.

King George VI, when Duke of York and visiting the Home Fleet at Invergordon, played the course a number of times but his play was described sadly as a ‘dead loss’, unlike other visitors here such as Prime Minister Asquith or Henry Longhurst, the finest of radio and television commentators, as well as George Duncan and Abe Mitchell who had a famous match at Tain. Just to keep the television commentary connection going, Peter Aliss is an honorary member here too.

The Club’s biggest membership was achieved when oil-rig manufacture was booming at Nigg around 1980 and the clubhouse facilities have been kept up to date since then.

Tain golf club, finest golf courses

Clubhouse with town behind

I found a poem “O grey and wrinkled town, set between the mountain and the foam” in a 1902 handbook of Tain and can do no better than offer another quote to compel you to visit and fall in love with one of Old Tom Morris’s subtle and challenging masterpieces.

“It may be stated for the benefit of those who are in search of delightful scenery as well as golf that the views are highly picturesque and extensive. Nothing can exceed the beauty of the view looking up the Firth, framed in a border of grand mountains and, while moving from point to point on the course, the mountain outline seen five miles across the bay is ever changing and always attractive. The vistas opening out beyond the nearer hills disclose the higher peaks of Armine and Craigmore , in Sutherland, and Morven, in Caithness. Ben Rinnes, in Banffshire, is also seen to the south-east.

There can be no doubt that there are few more attractive spots, take it either for its views or its links, than Tain Golf Course.”



Reader Comments

On August 22nd, 2013 Jenna said:

The 11th hole looks like a beauty. Would love to play a round of golf here at Tain as part of a team building exercise.

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