We live in a very busy world and our time is precious, which is why going out and playing 18 holes of golf isn’t always easy. The solution is simple, make time for nine!
9-hole courses are often regarded by golfers as being a limited challenge, however, as I found out, that is not the case at the scenic Rothes Golf Course in Moray Speyside.
Leaving the A941 (which is a part of the North East 250 tourist route and a road well-travelled on the Malt Whisky Trail). I turned into the driveway of Glenspey distillery to then take a sharp left, up the narrow country track past the ruins of Rothes Castle, continuing until I reach the old farmhouse of Blackhall Farm, which now serves as a tastefully modified and extended clubhouse for Rothes Golf Club.
Commanding its own viewpoint over the town of Rothes with glimpses of the River Spey down through the Spey Valley, yet still under the watchful gaze of Ben Aigen, this location for a golf course away from the coast is difficult to beat.
With virtually no visible neighbours, there is a cleanliness of air, a sense of tranquillity and an assurance that the next couple of hours with my golf clubs are going to be fun.
First impressions tell me that this golf club is not pretending to be a big player, however, rustic charm and honesty are values which are very often lost or at least diluted in the golf world. My anticipation level has just been turned up a notch.
With scorecard in hand, I was ready for the fun to begin.
Not your typical ladies, gents and medal play tee markers here. Instead one set for front 9 and another for back 9, bringing yet another nod of approval and I still haven't played a shot yet.
Playing slightly uphill to a subtle raised green, the first hole turns out to be possibly the longest 380 yards in world golf and scoring a par 4 is a job well done.
The second hole is a short yet tricky par 4, only 300 yards in length yet demands your full attention. A tight drive to a sloping left to right fairway which feeds into the trees. The flatter section of fairway is further back requiring a longer second shot into a very small but excellent green in a beautiful setting. Did I mention the ditch which runs parallel to the left edge of the fairway and out of bounds beyond that? Proof indeed that playability of a golf course cannot be fairly judged by the yardage printed on a scorecard.
Holes 1/10 and 2/11 are similar each time in both yardage and angle, however the difference between 3 and 12 is where this course starts to flex it's muscles. The third plays 380 yards downhill, driving over a ditch at 240 yards out to a green raised on all sides with a right to left slope.
The 12th however, plays from a new tee 100 yards further back. Enter through the gate behind the previous green and take a wander through the trees to arguably the best viewpoint on the course, once you have taken in the breath-taking view, you can then play this hole as a par 5. The echo of a solid strike rings out through the trees as your ball soars off into the sky from this raised starting point. Don’t get complacent at this point, the tree lined fairway demands a good drive to get home in two shots.
Holes 4/13 can play up to 3 clubs different depending on tee box position and strength of wind if any, to a par 3 green set against a solid back drop of mature scots pine trees.
Subtle differences help this golf course find a strong sense of belonging. Although only 10 yards separate the 14th from the 5th, being 30 yards further left, 14 offers a different driving angle and brings the fairway bunker into play, or at least certainly into your vision.
Holes 6/15 are yet again serious muscle flex holes of what this course has to offer in terms of variation. Hole 15 being the original offering is a straightforward 147-yard par 3, playing downhill to an inviting green with excellent views beyond.
Hole 6 on the other hand, from a new tee plays 160 yards across the "dounie", the name given by locals to the glacial melt water channel that has dramatically shaped this landscape. From the tee, nestled atop a small ledge protruding out into the dounie, all that can be seen is the green, with what appears to be no golf course between you and your desired landing spot. There is a very generous bale out area to the right of the hole, and a drop zone, should your efforts to make the shot not come to fruition.
Having negotiated the first six holes it's now birdie time, or at least it should be according to the scorecard. The last three holes are all par 4s shy of 300 yards each. However, tee box angles and new bunker additions have added the need for strategic thinking. 18 of the courses 22 bunkers feature in these last 3 holes, and with out-of-bounds coming into play on the left side of each hole, careful negotiation and precise execution are required, otherwise birdies can very quickly become bogies or worse very easily.
Playing Rothes Golf Clubs 9 holes doesn't take long, or perhaps the pure enjoyment of the course made the time fly by. Which is why I put some more money in the honesty box and went to play them all again, although from different tees this time.