North Coast 500 Golf Tour
Scotland’s answer to Italy’s Amalfi Drive, Iceland’s Route 1 or America’s Pacific Coast Highway is the NC500. Over the course of 500 miles you can experience a highway like no other, circling the northern tip of Scotland. Amongst the rugged Sutherland and Caithness cliffs, coves, mountains, and beaches are some wild golfing gems. And golfers can forget exorbitant green fees, most of these golf clubs operate the old-fashioned honesty box. This autumn we experienced the route and were treated to some undiscovered links golf.
Reay Golf Club
Reay is the most northerly 18-hole links course in Britain. This James Braid design is part of the Highland Golf Trail along with 6 other courses. Founded in 1893, Reay Golf Club is a fun 18 holes of golf, with views of the Pentland Firth and to the nearest Orkney Islands. Our favourite hole was the par 5 Sahara (4th) which at 581 yards is the longest on the course. This hole is positioned with the green sitting in front of a burn and creates the optical illusion of a sand dune that never seems to get any closer!!!
Durness Golf Club
Durness is regularly voted one of the best 9-hole courses in the world. The course is a 2-hour drive west from Thurso towards Cape Wrath. The highlight of the drive is passing the Kyle of tongue sea loch with the views of Ben Loyal inland and the rocky coastline of Tongue Bay.
Durness Golf Club starts and ends with the magnificent backdrop of the white sands of Balnakeil Beach. The landscape of the course is hilly with pristinely kept greens and some tricky risk/reward shots over rocks and gullies. The 6th Hole wraps around Loch Lanlish and doubles up as the 16th if you choose to play 18. It’s an investment of your time to reach Durness but the experience is magical and nearly unsurpassed in Scotland for the sheer terrain and backdrop.
Wick Golf Club
Wick Golf Club is the oldest golf club on the NC500. It was founded in 1870 and is a traditional 18-hole links that often sneaks into Scotland’s Top 100. The first 8 holes are nothing to write home about, playing straight out towards The River of Wester. But the course comes alive from the 9th as golfers are transported at a right angle to raised tee boxes set into the high dunes, undulating fairways and fine views of Reiss Sands all the way home.
Where to stay
Wick itself offers a good location for some highland sightseeing. Within a 30 minute radius you can visit Duncansby Head Lighthouse, John O’Groats and Dunnet Head.
Thurso town also provides a worthy base. We stayed at the 3-star Pentland Hotel, which is very central with friendly staff and quality homecooked meals. Thurso has several good restaurant options including Y Not Bar & Grill and the excellent Pride of Bengal, the leading Indian restaurant in town.
Forss House Hotel is a 4-star option, boasting an elegant 14-bedroom country house hidden in 20 acres of woodland and the only 2AA Rosette restaurant in Caithness with an exceptional whisky bar to boot.
Golf Concierge Recommends
The NC500 route is busiest in summer so visit off season for a more relaxed experience. We would recommend October or March. Although this is not the typical golf season, the weather tends to still be in your favour (never a guarantee in Scotland.) The route north of course takes you past some of the better known links courses in the towns of Dornoch, Golspie and Brora which are not to be missed if you want to extend your trip and increase your budget. To paraphrase one famous Scottish duo (The Proclaimers): “ I would roll 500 miles and I would roll 500 more” for this wild golfing experience.