Welcome to our “Where I Played” series, in which a GOLF staffer runs through a recent day at a course you might play in your future.
Many know Inverness as the gateway to the Scottish Highlands. Immediately adjacent to its airport, the northernmost major airport in the country, is Castle Stuart. Farther along the south shores of the Moray Firth, you’ll find buddies trip staples like Nairn and Moray.
Head north, deeper into the Highlands, and you’ll come to Royal Dornoch, as well as Tain, Golspie and Brora.
Those are all great. But we are here to talk about the course you can spot while landing at the airport, just across Rosemarkie Bay on a peninsula marked by an eye-catching lighthouse.
Fortrose & Rosemarkie Golf Club is not new (far from it) like the famed Castle Stuart, which is just three miles away on the other side of the bay but a 30-minute drive to reach. In fact, it claims to be the 15th oldest golf course in the world. There’s a reason it’s lasted since the 1790s.
The land is perfect. There’s water on both sides of the course, which sits on less than a hundred acres of land. Had this location existed in the United States, it surely would have been developed into housing or something else, but in a country where the community revolves around the golf course, legendary designer James Braid laid out a beauty.
Braid’s redesign of the course leaves a roughly 6,000-yard par-71 from the back tees. Fortrose is a throwback, but one worth it.
The club was a late add to our Highland journey this past June. We decided to play it as our final round before our departing flights from Inverness the next morning, coming down from Brora, where we played our morning round after spending much of the past week in Dornoch.
For our 10th round in seven days, the flat canvas was a welcoming walk, but it still had enough elevation changes to keep it exciting. (For reference, after walking 72 holes in 48 hours, finishing up with Fortrose, my 67-year-old father didn’t complain a peep!)
The first three holes are short- to medium-length par-4s with water down the left. You work your way out to the end of the peninsula, toward Chanonry Point and the lighthouse. Gorse frames the fairways on these simple holes with interesting green complexes.
The round really begins on the crazy par-5 4th. At 497 on the scorecard, the better player might feel like this should be an easy birdie. Wrong. The fairway is interrupted some 250 yards from the tee by a drop-off and native grasses before it starts up again about 50 yards later and winds back to the green. The green is guarded by massive mounds and ditches to the front and left.
Then you come across my favorite hole, the 133-yard par-3 5th (main photo). The Moray Firth and the Highlanders’ Museum is behind you as you hit over Ness Road, which bisects the entire golf course. As for the green? Good luck. It’s tiny — about the size of the desk I’m typing this story from.
The rest of the front nine runs along the shoreline until the par-3 9th turns back, uphill, toward the clubhouse. While the back nine weaves through the front and across Ness Road, it still provides the same enjoyment as a waterfront outward side.
The course has everything you want in a links experience, from stunning water views to quirks like pot bunkers, mounds, gorse, and the road coming into play. It’s a challenge anyone from a professional to a beginner can enjoy, too. Times are available for 2023 at Fortrose & Rosemarkie and will cost you between 80 to 90 GBP (about $90-100) during the peak season of March through October. Juniors are charged less than half that rate.
Of course, when we finished our 185-hole adventure, the pub was the perfect spot to enjoy a Tennent’s. It was almost as satisfying as the course. Almost.