"A magnificent stretch of marvellous natural ground which depicts how the game was born." - Ben Crenshaw
Such exhaulted praise from one of the games most notable historians helps to illustrate what a wonderful delight Montrose links is to play. Overshadowed in recent years by its more illustrious neighbour, Carnoustie, Montrose has not received the attention it unquestionably deserves.
For Montrose is a traditional links of the finest quality which has hosted some memorable events such as the Scottish Professional Championship and the British Boys. More illustrious though was Montrose's selection as a final qualifying venue for the Open at Carnoustie.
This selection coincided with the introduction of a fairway watering system which has only enhanced the condition of a course whose design was influenced by the likes of Willie Park Jnr and Old Tom Morris.
The first seven holes proceed along the coastline, producing some memorable holes, the most picturesque of which is unquestionably the par three third. With the tee perched precariously on the top of the dunes, the golfer is faced with a 150 yard carry across a deep gully. The green itself is a generous size but that offers little comfort to the golfer when the realisation strikes that all sides slope steeply away from the putting surface.
Miss the green and the next shot will be a lot harder than the first. Whatever happens, better to be short rather than long, for the thick rough beyond the green means the prospects for an up-and-down from the back rough are incredibly slim.
Despite the tough third, the best chances for birdies undoubtedly come in the first few holes of the course. The fifth is a short 292-yard par four which offers the longer hitter a chance to get up from the tee and leaves even higher handicappers with only a short approach shot.
The subsequent hole is a great 492-yard par five which rewards the courageous golfer, but brutally punishes any sloppy shot making. The tee shot demands a long carry to a narrow fairway, leaving the golfer with the tricky decision of whether to go for the green in two or lay up short.
A cracking three wood will probably see you home, but any indiscrepancy will be punished by a well placed but nasty pot bunker situated fifteen yards short of the putting surface. If in doubt lay up, because a sand save from the bunker is likely to require not only tremendous ability but a lot of luck as well.
The middle section of the course turns inland providing great views of the town's skyline which is dominated by an impressive 17th century steeple. The steeple bells were used during the war years to mark the ten o'clock curfew, and to this day the bells still ring every evening at precisely ten o'clock.
However, golfers should not allow themselves to be distracted by the surrounding scenery, for Montrose's middle stretch throws up some interesting demands with two tough par fours at numbers nine and eleven. The low handicapper will be delighted to escape with par here while others should be content with a five as the green will probably be out of reach in two.
The twelfth and thirteenth holes offer some welcome respite before you confront Montrose's demanding finish. Nevertheless, both greens are well protected at the front with deep bunkers and consequently can have a nasty sting in the tail for those who get their club selection wrong. After the thirteenth, Montrose heads back toward the seaside for a truly memorable finish.
The fifteenth is the second par five on the course and at 524 yards a real beast. Furthermore, a large ridge sixty yards short of the green abruptly halts any approach shot which is not well enough struck. That said, the average golfer should have a chance of getting up in regulation and the large green is a treat to putt on. Try and make par for the next two holes are amongst the toughest on the course. The par three sixteenth at 235 yards demands a well struck tee shot and even should you make the putting surface, the job is not done.
The sixteenth green undulates viciously, find yourself on the wrong side of one of these borrows and a two putt will be more of a wistful hope than a realistic expectation.
The penultimate hole at Montrose is one of the best holes in the whole of Angus. The tee shot will strike fear into those who are occasionally errant with the driver as the right hand side of the fairway is guarded by out of bounds while the left is dominated by gorse bushes which will gather even the slightest pull. A good drive will leave a long second to a raised green tucked away tightly next to the gorse bushes.
There are no bunkers at the seventeenth, but in 1998 when the Scottish Professional Golf Association analysed the returns from a three-day professional tournament, the seventeenth was by far the hardest hole. It offers an immense challenge to the low handicapper, who should be justifiably proud if they can make par. My advice for the higher handicapper is to concentrate off the tee and lay up with your second, preferably on the right hand side of the fairway.
That makes your third a lot easier and at least gives you the chance of a one putt par. The eighteenth is a lot gentler than the previous two holes and provides a nice finish to a wonderful golf course.
Montrose at 6,443 yards off the back tees is long enough to be a good test of golf for the quality golfer and yet is not too taxing for those less gifted. The ladies card measuring 5,595 yards, and a par of 73, is similarly an enjoyable test. Thankfully, some of the longer carries for the men have been avoided by the provision of ladies tees.
These forward tees remove some of Montrose's length but none of its charm. Indeed, Montrose is well known on the ladies circuit, annually hosting the Munross Trophy; a prestigious Scottish ladies amateur championship.
Montrose can appeal to a wide range of golfers, providing demands for all age groups and all abilities. In the springtime the gorse bushes are covered in glorious golden flowers adding some wonderful colour to this seaside links. The counter side of the springtime is that the early growth can often result in thick rough and accordingly those not armed with a healthy supply of golf balls may wish to wait until mid-summer when the rough will be wispier.
Perhaps more importantly, Montrose's has some wonderful greens, but the harsh winter weather often means that in-line with all Scottish courses, their greens are not are their very best until May. However, should you have the good fortune to play Montrose in the summer, the greens will be a delight to putt on.
Although not having a specific visitors centre, Montrose has three clubs connected to the course, all of which will be willing to cater for your needs. However, only the Royal Montrose and the Mercantile clubs provide catering.
Other recommended local eating establishments include 'Roo's Leap' an acclaimed burger restaurant and the Carlton Hotel with a full a la carte menu. What's more, Montrose is only forty-five minutes from the major cities of Aberdeen and Dundee, which provide a larger range of accommodation and social outlets.
Montrose is a great place to play golf and the natural layout and feel of the links appealed greatly to the golfing purist in me. Add to that the fact that this is the fifth oldest course in the world, with golf being traceable at Montrose from as far back as 1562. It becomes obvious that Montrose is a course not to be missed on any tour of Scotland.
Montrose Links Trust
Phone: 01674 672634
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
Darren Clarke learned to play the game at Dungannon Golf Club, a pretty parkland course right in the middle of Northern Ireland. While the course is pretty enough and the green fee is almost embarrassingly reasonable, the appeal of Dungannon is the opportunity to pay homage to the 2011 British Open champion, Clive Agran writes from County Tyrone.
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