The second stop on our tour of suspected-of-being-overrated Scottish links courses was Nairn, a bustling village just up the road from Castle Stuart, outside Inverness. The Nairn Golf Club will host the 2012 Curtis Cup, so Dave Henson and I were not surprised to find a course groomed to tournament standards. The greens were suspiciously smooth, providing none of the mystifying bumps and bobbles that make small-town golf satisfying, but several of my putts found the hole, leaving me in a forgiving mood. There were a few too many steep-faced bunkers to suit Dave, and I could have done without the 20-inch fescue roughs, but difficulty does not disqualify a course from mention in the Top 50.
My colleague and I did have a piffling disagreement over what constitutes a links course. Midway through our late-afternoon round the holes turned away from the shore and climbed a tree-lined hill, putting us on farmable soil that scarcely resembled the thumpable, sandy underpinning of a true links. The closing holes presented a similar confusion: out-in-the-open, linksy greens requiring long, backward hikes into the woods to new tees that might have been transplanted from Alabama. I argued for a surgical trimming of trees to restore the openness of the closing holes, while Dave — pointing out that it was raining buckets and he was practically coughing up blood, due to his bronchitis — simply shook his head and walked off the course.
That left me to play the last three holes in total isolation, the club members having fled at the first sight of a dark cloud. (So much for the myth of Scottish golfers braving the elements!) As I holed my last putt in a drizzle on the 18th green, Dave came out to greet me, knocking ashes from his pipe, while perhaps a dozen diners cast me admiring glances from the glassed-in warmth of the club dining room.
“So how would you rate Nairn?” Dave asked on the drive back to Inverness.
“Fifty,” I said. “Maybe higher, if they chop down the trees.”
Next Up: Our Fourth of July round having been disrupted by seventy-mile-an-hour winds, we return to Castle Stuart to play a make-up round in seventy-five-mile-an-hour winds.
Top 50 on TV: The PGA Championship, the fourth and final major of the season, is being played at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisc., currently ranked No. 18. (The course, not the state.) Already famous for his island greens and railroad-tie bulkheads, architect Pete Dye gave developer Herb Kohler something no other golf course has: a thousand sand bunkers. Other ideas for Whistling Straits, considered but ultimately rejected, included reversible greens, asphalt tee boxes and torch-lined fairways for night golf.