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  • Neil White

Castle Stuart

The Covid pandemic has been a misery for everyone but offered us one tiny slither of solace because we were able to postpone our golf trek to Scotland from April until July at no extra cost.

We had signed up for a special deal through Castle Stuart Golf Club, entitling us to golf there, Royal Dornoch and Nairn and two nights’ accommodation at the excellent Culloden House Hotel near Inverness.

The clubs and hotel are hugely down on reservations because American tourists are not allowed in the country and that meant we had two of the top courses in the world almost to ourselves.

So, after the delights at Royal Dornoch and the toughness of Nairn, we completed the trilogy at the magnificent links of Castle Stuart where Mrs W literally had the best round of her life.

Everything about this former Scottish Open venue is top-notch from the moment players arrive at its ship-shaped clubhouse.

As first-time visitors, we were given a welcome bag on our arrival and directed to the superb warm-up facilities where there are literally barrels of balls.

Then on to the ginormous practice green with slopes so steep that countless times the ball ended up at my feet after being struck upwards.

Finally, we were instructed to take the path between two bushes and, on turning the corner, our breath was taken away.

The views over the Moray Firth from almost every hole are stunning. I don’t believe it can be seen from the 4th but, hey, its backdrop is the castle itself.

A chap at our hotel had promised us we would not lose balls at Castle Stuart but that seemed a tad rash when standing on the first with the gorse to our left and water to our right.

Nevertheless, it was negotiated successfully and the hits kept on coming – from both the players and this superb track.

The premium memories may be the views but the condition of the course should come a very close second.

I haven’t played top-quality American links but imagine them to be similar to this – manicured tee boxes, intricately mown fairways and green complexes which have plenty of curves but can be read.

Every hole has nuances which can trap the errant but give players a chance.

We were later told that Castle Stuart prides itself on being ‘women friendly’ and certainly Mrs W took every opportunity it offered, growing in confidence as she did.

This included the second, a terrific par five with an island of rough in the middle of a fairway which winds down to a sloping green in front of water.

The fifth was a favourite too. A bending par four which we nailed in unison and I ought to give a shout out to the ninth – another curving hole back towards the clubhouse where the green entrance is narrow and accurate decision-making and execution are required.

I confess there was one lost ball on the remarkable tenth – a short par four from an elevated tee with a green protected by bunkers in front of the firth. I sliced my shot into the bushes to the right and it was never seen again.

The course then has an uphill section with a testing par five before a very steep walk to the 13th, probably the highest point.

The final two holes were among the strongest in my view – the 17th is a long par-par three with a slither of fairway to a huge green and the 18th is a superb par five whose approach requires a delicate weave around a cavernous dune to the right.

To be honest, my description cannot do Castle Stuart justice. The place is a golfing heaven and the people were very friendly (including the green staff who were unfailingly polite and interesting).

We might just have to sign up for that deal again if it exists in the future.

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