For the discerning golfer, the Highlands of Scotland offers a magnetic pull. An area rich in golfing history with the likes of Royal Dornoch and Brora in the far north to a modern classic in Castle Stuart, a four-time Scottish Open venue, further south.
Heading east along the A96, Nairn, Nairn Dunbar and Moray also offer challenges and scenic beauty in equal measure. With growing airport links into Inverness, the region is certainly firmly on the golfing map. Yet, while the six previously noted courses all have something in common – namely links venues of notable repute – no visit to the Highlands is complete without tackling some of the area’s fine inland venues. One such course is growing in reputation with its distinct own identity.
Indeed, there is a growing smile on the face of Elgin Golf Club. Nestled in the heart of Moray and Speyside, some 30 minutes east of Nairn, the course is worth sampling just as much as a dram from the local distilleries.
Like the unsung football midfielder quietly going about their business, Elgin is playing to its strengths. With assets all of its own, a superb inland 18-hole heathland layout offering wonderful panoramas and a newly-refurbished clubhouse, change on the course and off is pushing Elgin up the Scottish golfing ladder.
Recent rankings illustrate the point. Two leading golf publications have recently placed Elgin inside their Top 100 of Scottish courses for 2019, with one saying it had ‘overlooked (the course) for far too long’ as it handed the club a new entry.
Bucking trends to announce a membership growth last year as well as refreshingly appointing a first-ever female captain, Elgin is on the up. Behind-the-scenes changes have brought a new vibrancy to the club and in turn attracted a younger and more diverse membership.
“The town is coming to us now, we were on the outskirts of Elgin before, but they are coming to us now,” notes Barbara-Anne Rumbles of a club founded in 1906 and one now certainly moving with the modern times. “It needs to be more inclusive to the environment we are in.”
Having invested wisely, Elgin have created an environment where people of all ages should enjoy going. It’s a lesson for any golf club, seeking to tap into new markets and meet the needs of the modern consumer, to heed.
“We haven’t totally renovated the clubhouse, but it was tired and needed freshening, so we decided to adapt the clubhouse to our current membership,” explains Rumbles, the club manager. “We used to have a junior lounge, but we now see it that the juniors shouldn’t be in a room – they should be part of the club like anybody else. They are now free to go wherever they like. We utilise that room now as a sports bar, with the main lounge as a function area for the likes of comedy nights, or gin & tapas nights.
“We have more flexibility in the clubhouse for the membership. We are targeting families, so it’s changing the mindset that golf clubs are not seen as a friendly place to be unless you are a golfer.”
Measuring 6,458 yards with a par of 69 and a standard scratch of 71, the challenging but fair course is a true test of low and high handicap players alike.
The course is kept in immaculate condition by the greenkeeping team and boasts stunning views over the town, the Moray coast to the north and the hills stretching to the distant Cairngorm Mountains to the south.
“Elgin is not just a great test of golf, but it is also a wonderfully friendly club in a beautiful part of Scotland,” says head pro Michael McAllan, who has held his role since 2013 and played his part in the club’s growth. “It’s not just the club but the lifestyle and the people in the area. It is also 10 minutes away from amazing beaches, with lots of sunshine hours to enjoy in the summer time due to our great local microclimate.
“Visit casually or as part of a group or even take advantage of our great selection of Open Competitions if you fancy some competitive play.”
Colin McGregor, brother of Scots movie star Ewan, also helped drive Elgin on in his role as captain, with Marian Evans now taking up the reins in her historic role.
The club now has 1,222 members on its books, an increase of 95 on 2017. Of that number 581 are full members, but the biggest rise has been in junior membership, up by 52 to 142, with youth membership also up by 13.
Get into Golf coaching has boosted women’s numbers too. “The ladies totally love the environment in the club and the social aspect as well. That is huge for women these days.”
Rumbles, who is looking forward to Elgin further boosting its profile when it hosts the Scottish Girls’ Under 16 & 14s Open Championship in August, is pleased with progress. “We have a great team spirit. It doesn’t matter what I do on a day to day basis, without the team we wouldn’t achieve what we want to.” Escape to the Highlands, just don’t forget Elgin.