In the great panoply

of Scottish links golf, Montrose Links tends to sit in the background, hiding its light under one of its many prodigious gorse bushes. Certainly these crusty old links don’t have the international clout of nearby Carnoustie or the upscale eminence Royal Aberdeen a few miles to the north.

Montrose, both geographically and fashionably is unashamedly somewhere in between. Like Carnoustie, it’s a council-run course – run by the people for the people, artisan golf designed to give the butcher, the baker and the microchip-maker their daily bogies. These undulating links, sprinkled with a sprig or three of thickest, A1 gorse have been provoking such distraction for 500 years. This is, after all Scotland’s east coast where the game began and where the petrified swells surrounding Montrose Bay must have proved ideal for early enthusiasts.

"Written records go back to 1562 but it’s clear that the game was then well established in this important coastal community"

Montrose Golf Links has the honour of being the 5th oldest golf course in the world. At one point in its history the course offered 25 continuous holes of golf, the largest number of any course until Old Tom carved St Andrews Old into 18 and set a standard. In 1903 Willie Park Jnr did the design of the existing track with Old Tom Morris lending a hand in alterations.

The Modern Medal

Consequently a round on Montrose Medal is a step back in time to the natural substance of the game. Ben Crenshaw mentions ‘a magnificent stretch of marvellously natural ground which depicts how the game was born.’ Montrose Medal maybe doesn’t have the silky smoothness of Kingsbarns or the generous landing zones of Carnoustie. It’s altogether gnarlier; a grizzled old grape vine, a twisting, tortured shillelagh of a golf course. And this is what makes it such a joy to encounter.

The front nine stretches towards the sea then whips smartly left to skirt the dune-fringed, wind-whipped, scimitar beach. Whereas nearby Carnoustie's fairways are long, roomy and relatively flat, Montrose is tight, rippling and rolling! On most occasions you need an accurate tee shot to find and maintain the fairway; that’s fair enough but it’s the approach shots that really sort out the rookies from links veterans. My cousin and I played the Medal recently, both reasonable golfers; but it took us the best part of the round to stop ripping balls out the back of the greens. The standard links strategy is to land early and let the ball roll on but at Montrose you seem to get caught out more often, lofting the ball across the undulating ground and onto raised greens – only to struggle to find the thing again in the back garden vegetable patch. It’s a hard lesson to learn!

The Par 3, 3rd playing 150 yards across a deep grassy gully to a table-top green is a remarkable hole that fairly pulls up your stride. Stewart took a 8-iron I think it was and rolled on through. I took a pitching wedge and lofted it into the tailwind and watched the ball grab the green with its fingertips then roll on towards the pin. The lesson is you can play this hole a number of ways but never the same way twice!

There’s a huge amount of character in all the duneside holes here at Montrose. It puts me in mind of the front 9 at Royal Aberdeen in some respects. Of course, it’s not nearly as good – Royal Aberdeen’s front half’s as good as links get. But Montrose is a pocket battleship variety and a zesty, exciting encounter. The 9th is a memorable example, a tight driving hole normally into the wind with a long second shot between mounds and bunkers. Like Royal Aberdeen, at the 10th you turn inland, this time to the 15th but there’s nothing lacking in these inland stretches either. Flat generous fairways appear but gorse still flanks the fairways and the greens are all well defended. 14 & 15 are two good examples.

A the 16th you move back onto the duneland and find cause for thought. This is a Par 3 of 235 yards! It presents a formidable tee shot whether into the wind or not. Should you hit the green (its exceptionally large but watch out for the small pot bunker) it is the long putts across a heavily undulating surface that can be the undoing. We haven’t mentioned Montrose greens much here; this one is the granddaddy. It rises to the right with a hollow at the rear and is extremely elongated. So the closer you are off the tee, the better off you’ll be - but it will never guarantee a par on this boldly undulating leviathan.

You think it couldn’t get much better but Montrose’s final two holes area deceptively good. The 17th is a Par 4 of 418 yards onto a raised green tucked into a corner with OOB up the right side. Getting there in two is an adventure. The 18th, apparently straightforward from its raised tee is more influenced by the winds than you might suspect with long avenues of grass to the right. Six bunkers surround the green and it is surprising how many golfers come to grief on this seemingly innocuous finish.

So that’s our summation of the 5th oldest golf course in the world. It might not be in Scotland’s premier league of links but for those that wish to know the country a lot more and are interested in genuine experiences, Montrose Medal is a decoration to obtain. After golf, stop in at Royal Montrose Golf Club which celebrated its 200th anniversary last year and welcomes golfing gu

Montrose Golf Links
Medal Course
Traill Drive
Montrose
Angus
DD10 8SW
Tel: 01674 672932
Email: secretary@montroselinks.co.uk
WWW: www.montroselinks.co.uk
Location: Follow the A935 coastal route to the town of Montrose then follow signs to golf course.
Statistics: 18 holes, 6, 495 yards, Par 71, SSS 72
Designer: Willie Park Jnr.
Professional: Jason Boyd (01674) 672634 – (email-jsnboyd@aol.com)
Type: Links
Green Fees: Weekdays: £50.00 per round, £55.00 per day
Weekends: £59.00 per round, £67.00 per day
Facilities: Changing rooms & Showers, Full Catering, Bar, Pro Shop, Teaching Professional, Trolley Hire.
Visitors: Visitors welcome Monday to Friday and weekends although pre-booking is advised.

Course Review & Photography by David J Whyte © Linksland.com (All Rights Reserved)

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