The first instance of a golfer teeing it up on the links at Montrose was documented in 1562 AD. The score was not recorded but the round can’t have been too bad – this gorgeous pocket of towering dunes and rolling turf on Scotland’s east coast has been in constant use ever since.
The links at Montrose is an integral part of this quiet coastal town. There are 36 holes; the short Broomfield Course, where locals learn the importance of punch shots and bump-and-runs, and the championship-standard 1562 Course which is one of Scotland’s most charming tests of golf.
The 1562 gets off to a gentle start. The opening hole is a shortish par four which rises sedately to a reasonably open green. But then things stop being gentle real quick. The 2nd (pictured above) is another shortish par four but far more demanding. Playing from a tee perched atop a beachside dune, the player must thread a drive onto a narrow fairway protected by the beach on the right and pot bunkers on the left. When the wind is coming in from the North Sea, solid nerves are required. Your options are to either set your shot out over the surf and trust the wind to drift it in or cut one back into the breeze. It’s an exhilarating early challenge.
The next five holes, strung along the beachside dunes, compose one of the finest stretches of natural golf in Scotland. The beach doesn’t come into play but the roar of the waves and the call of various seabirds are a constant presence. The layout moves inland and changes direction 180 degrees at the eighth and the front nine is completed by one of Scotland’s great par fours. Players on the 9th tee are confronted by a sea of yellow – thorny gorse bushes which front the fairway and then fringe the left-hand side of the landing area all the way to the green. A slice will almost certainly result in a lost ball or a long and frustrating period of hacking and gouging. There’s no easy out on the right, either, where out of bounds is marked by a lurking stone wall.
The back nine is less spectacular than the front but no less enjoyable. In truth, without a wind blowing, it can play a little short. But in any kind of breeze (and there’s nearly always a breeze at Montrose) it becomes an exacting test of touch and feel. The 12th and 13th are short but perfectly formed, requiring subtle and precise shot-making, while the 15th and 16th (pictured below) are long and rugged, where the emphasis is on controlled power.
The 17th is a live contender, along with the 9th, for toughest hole on the course with its plateau green jutting out from a hillside covered in yet more gorse. Walking off here with a par feels like a win.
The 18th is a short par four that would be unremarkable if it was placed anywhere else on the course. Here, though, it feels just right. As you walk up the fairway, you see kids with their friends, or parents, or grandparents teeing off on the adjacent Broomfield Course to your right. To your left, townsfolk stop to share the news of the day at the crossroads next to the practice putting green. Some of them will probably look up to watch you hit in to a small green protected by pot bunkers at the front and an out of bounds road at the back. Play it well and you may even get a quick nod of appreciation. It’s a huge compliment. Golf has been part of this community for more than 450 years. They know their stuff.
Montrose doesn’t feature on many visitor’s tour schedules, which is a great pity because while it’s not the toughest course in Scotland or the most spectacular, it can certainly lay claim to being one of the most loveable.