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  • Writer's pictureAlan Tait

A Highlands Treat - Spey Valley

Updated: Apr 6



One of my favourite places in Scotland is the highlands, with it’s beautiful scenery and it’s hills, glens and lochs. It really is stunning. The highlands has also become a really popular destination for visiting golfers from all over the globe and no wonder. The area boasts some of the world’s best known venues such as Royal Dornoch, Cabot Highlands Castle Stuart, Nairn and the very exclusive Skibo Castle. It doesn’t stop there though as there are an abundance of other secret gems like Tain, Golspie, Fortrose & Rosemarkie, Brora, Nairn Dunbar, Moray, Elgin, Spey Bay. The list goes on and don’t fall out with me with the ones I’ve missed!!



Through work and pleasure, I’m lucky that I spend quite a bit of time in the beautiful highlands and one of my favourite stopovers is Aviemore. Better known as a ski destination, Aviemore is however also home to the wonderful Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Course, a place I had the pleasure of managing back in 2007 as Director of Golf. Aviemore is based just off the main A9 road from Perth to Inverness. The Perth to Inverness road is just over 100 miles long and is a stretch of fantastic Scottish scenery and beauty. On route, there are plenty of little villages and towns to stop for a break such as Dunkeld, Pitlochry, Blair Atholl and Kingussie for that well deserved coffee and cake! A definite stop off on your journey north is The House of Bruar, which is an independent country fashion retailer which boasts an impressive collection of tweeds and cashmere garments. It also has a fantastic food hall, restaurant and delicatessen, although it’s the only place in Scotland I have to start saving up weeks before to buy a bacon roll! All joking aside, they have an annual weekend sale around the second weekend in November, where literally thousands come from all over the UK to attend.




On a slightly negative note, albeit the A9 is a beautiful journey it’s also had its fair share of tragedy over the years. There are plenty sections of the road which are dual carriageway, so please wait until then to overtake any other vehicles. Take your time and enjoy the scenery.

So this week I had a 2 night stay in Aviemore on my way to The Scottish Golf Tourism Week which is being held in Inverness for 3 days. I decided as I hadn’t played Spey Valley for quite a while it was time I got myself out there. I arrived at Spey Valley at 0745 on Monday morning bright eyed and bushy tailed, after I had set off from home in Edinburgh at 0530. As you can imagine the roads were pretty much empty on the way, so could enjoy and relax listening to my favourite radio station Talksport.



After saying hi to the guys at the club I headed down to the range to hit a few balls. I have to say the range at Spey Valley must have one of the best backdrops ever with the snowcapped Cairngorm Mountains in the background. So severe can the winters be in Aviemore, snow on the mountains can still be seen on the mountains in June! Incredibly beautiful all the same.



30 or so warm up balls later ( doesn’t take long to fine tune a Rolls Royce ), I jumped in my buggy and made my way to the 1st tee. I don’t normally choose to take a buggy when golfing, but I had a busy afternoon ahead and was happy to scoot round on my own. With that said though, Spey Valley is a long golf course and some of the walks from tee to green are also quite long especially from the 1st green to 2nd tee and then 17th green back to 18 tee. As much as I enjoy walking, for me buggies at Spey Valley are recommended. From the very back blue championship tees the course measures at 7,118 yards, but from the yellows a much more playable and more enjoyable 6,653 yards.




Before you leave the clubhouse, have a look at the course record scorecard hanging on the wall next to the bar. In the 2013 Scottish Hydro Challenge which was part of the European Challenge Tour, a certain Brooks Koepka ( whatever happened to him ) shot a 9 under par 62 in the 3rd round of the event. The par of the course is actually 72, but that week they played the par 5 3rd hole as a par 4 so effectively it was really a 10 under round. Knowing the course like I do, I can’t quite get my head around that score given it was off the blue tees and apparently it was a 25-30mph wind on the day!!! Unbelievable. I really would love to know what these boys put in their morning coffee!! Needless to say Messrs Koepka went on to win the event by 3 shots.




The opening 3 holes at Spey Valley you can see the beautiful River Spey which runs along to your right. Not really in play unless you hit your wildest and longest slice! At 98 miles The River Spey is the 9th longest river in the UK. Fantastic for salmon fishing and also very important for whisky production for the many distilleries in the highlands. Playing those first few holes, you’ll immediately be in awe of the beauty that surrounds you and what the area offers.



The 5th hole at Spey Valley is “officially” the longest par 5 in Scotland, measuring from the blue tees at an eye watering 635 yards ( although the members at Eyemouth GC challenge this with their 13th at 656 yards ). Even from the yellow tees it’s just over 600 yards, so good luck in securing your par here. Was probably just a drive and 7 iron for Brooks when he made a birdie 4 on his way to the course record!





Spey Valley does not disappoint and moving into the back 9 you are treated to more challenging and fantastic holes. I love the par 3 16th. 202 yards from the whites over a fair sized pond with a big bunker guarding the approach to a narrow green. Beautiful stunning views to the mountains when standing on the green looking back towards the tee. 18 is also a good finishing hole with The River Spey on your left as you play the hole. There’s much more room on the left than there looks from the tee, so don’t be scared to hit it over the trees on the left side. Makes the hole that much shorter if you do. The golf course is covered in good old Scottish heather. Lovely to look at when it’s in its full purple bloom, but a nightmare to try and hit your ball from. So do your best and keep the ball down the hey diddle diddle ( middle ). In saying that, they have cut quite a lot of the heather back in recent times to make the course more playable and not so punishing.




The clubhouse at Spey is small but lovely. It’s also quite a limited food menu but the scampi and the Spey Valley burger are superb, as are the morning breakfast rolls. Food is really only available in the height of the golf season, so if you are playing from Oct – March be sure to check what is available before you arrive. The views from the clubhouse towards the Cairngorm Mountains are fantastic. I have sat there on many occasion with a cold beer in awe of the beauty in front of me. In fact a brilliant local and very talented artist Elaine Fraser, did that very view for me as a painting a couple of years ago and it hangs with pride of place above my bed back home in Sunshine on Leith in Edinburgh.


Golfbreaks partner Macdonald Hotels who have 3 excellent properties in Aviemore and can easily offer a fantastic “stay and play” package. As well as playing Spey Valley, you can include nearby Boat of Garten Golf Club, which is just another highland gem. For me personally though, when in Aviemore I always stay at The Cairngorm Hotel which is situated on the main street directly across from the train station. It’s a popular place with not only visitors, but also locals which is always a good sign. The food is fantastic and there’s always a great buzz about the place. There’s “live” entertainment on every night, as well as a quiz on a Tuesday. Ok the entertainment is not Oasis or Taylor Swift, just good ole fashioned Scottish folk music as well as an array of other beats and tunes. The bar also has 3 or 4 TV’s with all the main sport on. They have a prawn cocktail starter called “Cairn’s Prawn Glory”. It’s huge, so be warned as you might struggle with your main course after! The mince and tatties also superb. As well as the traditional Scottish breakfast, I also enjoy the smoked haddock with poached eggs. As I stayed 2 nights on this occasion, I treated myself to both over the 2 mornings. However I always doublecheck there’s a loo roll in my golf bag, before I venture out on the golf course the same day!  


So if you’re heading to the highlands to play the Dornochs and Castle Stuarts of this world, Spey Valley is the perfect place to have a game either on the way there, or on the way back. I’d recommend a wee night in Aviemore as well. There’s plenty pubs and restaurants to choose from and there’s loads to do for the non golfer also. Beautiful walks, bike rides and despite being very inland Aviemore has its own beach at Loch Morlich. The coarse, pink sand at Loch Morlich comes from the granite of the Cairngorm Mountains which is ground down by glaciers and rivers over thousands of years. Loads of activities on offer including stand up paddle boarding, kayaking and canoeing. I loved a wee winter walk when I was up just before Christmas around Loch an Eilein. Beautiful.



Aviemore and Spey Valley have a huge place in my heart and wonderful memories, spending time there with my big brother John and also best friends over the years on lads boozy golfing weekends, getting up to no good whatsoever! Great spot in the world, great fun, great memories and long may they continue…..


Glenmuir - www.glenmuir.com  Sunderland of Scotland -www.glenmuir.com/Sunderland

Planning your trip to the highlands? Check out the Golfbreaks website or contact me at ATait@golfbreaks.com and I’ll be happy to help you plan a fantastic trip to beautiful Scotland…

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