From the Bahamas to Brora
Article by Ed Hodge on the continued worldwide appeal of this Highland links
Many of us go to great lengths for a cherished tee time. Think dosing in the early morning queue in the hope of joining a group on the Old Course, St Andrews. Think befriending an oh-so-lucky Augusta National member. Think shelling out to play that Ryder Cup venue and its echoes of drama.
International golf membership is another extraordinary facet of the game. Take Scott Cowper. How does travelling over 4,000 miles sound to tee up at a stretch of land you simply fell in love with? 4,163 miles to be precise. The distance from the Bahamas to Brora. Two locations with so little in common, other than being surrounded by water (of rather different temperatures). It says so much for Brora Golf Club, though, that for a true links explorer like Cowper it is a natural fit.
“I’m very fond of Brora and love going back,” says Cowper, who flies almost nine hours via Nassau-Philadelphia-Edinburgh to savour the Highlands layout on three visits a year. “It’s a great course, a true course. People over here are used to playing American-style courses – flat, water, sand. Brora is a true links course, the way the game should be played – playing your shots above, below or at the side of the ball. It’s a challenge.”
Brora has a growing cult-like status, at affordable prices. Twice placed inside the top 35 in recent rankings of Scotland’s leading 100 courses, visiting fees start at £40 in the off season. Cowper’s international membership is very reasonably priced too. All members and visitors savour a breath-taking venue full of history and charm and one of the UK's iconic links courses. Indeed, a tour of the Highlands of Scotland, where Castle Stuart and Royal Dornoch are well known, is not over without a trip to Brora, complete with its roaming sheep, cattle and electric-fenced greens.
Part of the 'Magnificent Seven' golf clubs that form The James Braid Highland Golf Trail, starting at Boat of Garten in the south to Reay in the far north, Brora is only an hour from Inverness by car. Amid delightful dunes, humps and hollows you are offered a vista to take the breath away. The welcoming clubhouse offers the majestic sea frontage, before the links offers a truly awe inspiring and authentic golf experience.
Last year, a record 6,500 visitors flocked to the stunning links, coming from as far afield as Australia, South Africa, the US, European countries and, yes, the Bahamas. Many visitors stay and eat and drink in the east of Sutherland holiday village, providing significant economic impact to a population of only 1,200 inhabitants. Brora would love to welcome even more.
Remarkably, Cowper is one of eight members from the Bahamas who make regular trips. The ‘Nassau Mashie Society’ first went to Brora in 1993 and they go and play leading venues worldwide every year. Brora remains a firm favourite and, out with the ‘Mashie,’ Cowper sponsors an Open Scramble there every September.
“It’s amusing how the guys eventually get around to telling their wives they are going back to Scotland,” laughs Cowper, who hails from Edinburgh but first set foot in the Bahamas 50 years ago before retiring back there in 1999 after a career in business and banking.
“Once you play Brora, you just fall in love with it. Then there is the manner which they accept you into the club, the harmony within it, it’s first class. It’s a fabulous course, but you tell me another club in the world where you go as a new member and the captain asks if you would like to play the next morning? It happened to me, it’s that sort of experience. The staff look after us so well. With the apartments in the Royal Marine Hotel, it’s an ideal place to play and stay.”
With Brora still accessible by rail, you can almost picture James Braid steaming north to the 194-acre venue in 1923. While the course was founded in 1891, it was the re-design undertaken by the famed Scot that continues to stand the test of time.
For the Fifer from the village of Earlsferry, who honed his game on the Elie Links, he is one of golf's most prolific designers. The five-time Open champion was one of the dominant 'Great Triumvirate' of the sport alongside Harry Vardon and John Henry Taylor, but his fear of flying and motion sickness on ocean travel restricted his work. A train journey north was typical of his lifestyle.
“He travelled by train anywhere,” recalls his granddaughter Marjorie Mackie. “He was also a quick architect. He took the train, walked the ground with his stride – he never measured with a tape measure or anything like that – strode the course out, stored it in his head and organised the course on his return train. It was just like that, quite often.” Fittingly, Brora is also the HQ of the James Braid Golfing Society.
Braid's Brora offers the traditional nine holes out, and nine holes back, measuring 6,211 yards off the white tees and a tamer 5,951 off the yellows. With a par of 70, it was described by another five-time Open winner, Peter Thomson, as “one of the finest natural links courses I have had the pleasure of playing.”
The sadly deceased Thomson, who passed away last June, was an honorary member at Brora. Tom Watson, again maintaining the five Open victories link, is also on the honorary list.
Club president Andy Stewart added: “Brora Golf Club is a very special place and we are attracting record numbers of visitors. Brora is increasingly accessible with new flights into Inverness from the UK and across Europe, as well as improved road and rail connections, and we know visitors love coming here.”
Just ask Cowper and Co.
For more on Brora Golf Club, visit www.broragolfclub.co.uk
Ed is an author, journalist and PR, Media & Comms freelancer, formerly of Scottish Golf. He wrote Jewel in the Glen: Gleneagles, Golf and the Ryder Cup, and co-authored Behind the Ryder Cup. You can follow Ed on Twitter @edhodgesport.
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