Thursday, November 5, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 15 Durness GC and the Cocoa Mountain

The par three 7th.
Straplines are a wonderful thing, aren’t they! Just Do It, Coke Is It, Vorsprung Durch Technik… it’s something I do for a living – among other things. So when I play a round of golf somewhere very special, I tend to work on a strapline for the course as I go around.

I was standing on the 7th tee at Durness Golf Club, greatly enjoying the course and
the company of John, who I had bumped into at the clubhouse. He was giving me the tour, and not a little bit of help on where to hit.

“With your draw, I suggest you hit…”

Very kind of him to call my hook a draw, and wherever he suggested I hit I tended to aim quite a bit farther right.

The 7th  is a tough par three across a low valley and, as with many of the holes here, going left or right of the green will lead to trouble.
Stunning views from the 2nd tee box, over the clubhouse and 18th green.
Durness is a stunning, startling and stupendously enjoyable golf course in the very north west corner of the Scottish Highlands... and the North Coast 500 route. It is the most northerly course on mainland Britain and it way well be the most beautiful setting of any course, anywhere. Beaches, sea, dunes, mountains, lakes, islands and a rocky rollercoaster of a landscape over which these adventurous nine holes flow.  Nine holes, that’s all, but they contain enough adrenaline (and attitude) for 36.

John had spent much of the 1st and 2nd holes pointing out all the landmarks. The huge run of dunes visible across the bay, in above pic, belong to the MOD (See comment below - the land is not all owned by MOD). You could probably fit three world class golf courses in there, but it will never happen… unless Jeremy Corbyn gets into power and does away with the MOD altogether. Hey, it could happen!

In the meantime, the MOD run ‘manoeuvres’ which involves them bombing one of the islands out in the bay, close to Cape Wrath (got to love that name). Must add a spectacular oomph to a round of golf… as if you need any more.
A steep drop to the 3rd green shows off the stunning landscapes.
You’ll need your energy climbing a few of the dunes here, but this is pure links playing over machair land – and that means no issues with drainage. Combine that with the mild climate that this seaside village enjoys and you can golf all year round.

“This is my little bit of heaven,” John said. “Most days I have the course to myself.”

And that’s where my strapline came from:
The opening tee shot. Up to the white post and then sharp left and uphill.
A bit of a climb, but it is worth it.
If there’s a golf course in heaven, I hope it’s Durness Golf Club.

Yes, only nine holes, but there are different tee boxes and a couple of them make a huge difference. The par four 4th/13th use different fairways to get to the same green, while the short par five 6th/15th play as a sweeping dogleg around Loch Lanlish (the 6th) and then as a much straighter, slightly longer hole for the 15th. But the water is terrifying both times.
Views back over the 6th/15th at Durness Golf Club
The course is currently covered with winter greenkeepers (sheep) and Alistair, the young, sole greenkeeper, told me that the course wasn’t looking its best as a result. Well, if that’s the case I would love to see it at its best, because the place looked stunning and played superbly. The greens, while smallish, are beauties to putt on.

I hope the photos will give you some idea of what this course has to offer. You can join for £165. If you come up for a week during the summer a ‘week ticket’ costs £50. Quite possibly the best £50 you will ever spend. And if you’re lucky enough to hook up with John, enjoy the round and the stories. And if you bump into the very young greenkeeper - Alistair - congratulate him on the remarkable job he is doing. 

Here are two video links of me playing the downhill approach to 17 (with a putter from 100 yards out) and my tee shot on 18, a terrifying par three from the back tee.

Cocoa Mountain
After the golf, my sweet cravings got the better of me… and Cocoa Mountain called to me. Mind you, it had been calling to me since Inverness, when my B&B landlady mentioned this unique chocolatier in the wilds of the north west.

It is, unequivocally, the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. These guys ship all over the world (and were on Dragon’s Den a while back) and the store, tucked away in a little craft village en route to the golf club, is a bright, humming place. I defy anyone to leave without buying something.

Before calling it a day, I had one more stop to make and that was to Kevin Arrowsmith,a local photographer. Sometimes, when you want to know the most beautiful places to go in an area, ask the local photographer… they’ll probably have scouted them all out.

Last night, when I arrived in Durness, Jill at the B&B told me there was only one place where I’d get dinner – the Smoo Cave Hotel. I ate there last night and tonight and enjoyed listening to the old lads wheeling out their stories at the bar. Decent grub too.
It's Bonfire Night here in Durness.
I’ll be sorry to leave Durness. It’s a very comfortable B&B, I fancy another 18 at the golf club and there’s a peacefulness to this place that lures you back. It explains why so many of the people I have met here have settled here from other parts of Britain.


  1. Nice account of Durness and glad you enjoyed your stay. Just a wee point of note, the sand dunes that you refer to and show in your image are in fact not owned by the MOD but by a local farmer/landlord. The MOD only own the small bit of land at the top of Faraid Head where the Control Tower sits and indeed need access rights to cross the beach and travel through the dunes.


    Andy Walker