The distinguished Scottish club maker Ben Sayers originally designed the course at Spey Bay Golf Club and it’s an unsung links layout that is routed over Moray’s undulating shingle banks.
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A Review of Spey Bay Golf Course - April 2013
The true appreciation of a golf course should only be judged on the experience of your journey from the 1st tee to the 18th green and with all due respect, the rest is just cake decoration.
In Spey Bay’s case this is a wonderful journey. The undulating firm fescue fairways with gorse and heather in abundance and views over the Moray Firth, all play their part in this “sleeping beauty” of a classic natural links.
The layout resembles the Old Course at St Andrews with seven holes out, the loop, and then seven back in. Yes it’s short and now reduced to a par 70 with small greens but rarely does it enjoy a calm day, which ensures that the skills you acquire playing here will stand you in good stead to play anywhere.
The course opens with three par 4’s which introduce you to the one of Spey Bays best features, the fescue clad shingle banks which you must plot your way across. The long 1st hole at 427 yards affords the luxury of a wide open drive which then leads you down to the green and enthusiasts of fine links turf will already be appreciating what awaits them. Holes two and three are shorter but full of character, aim for the Bin Hill in the distance and you’ll be fine, the only downside is that they are possibly too tight for their position on the score card. For reasons that will become very clear I’ll comment on the 4th 6th 12th and 13th later. The 5th, stroke index 1, which says it all, has a much more open drive than in years gone by but with a very undulating fairway and approach to the small green can prove very tricky with a long iron, the layout is more typically suited to a par 5. The 7th offers you a wide open drive, the first for a while and there is an interesting slope leading onto the green that can catch you out. In the summer this dries out and can insure that your next shot is from the gully at the back of the green. Some would arguably call the 8th the signature hole at Spey Bay, when you experience the 138 yard par 3 named Plateau the only advice I can give you here is keep your head down on your second shot. Signature hole or not you will not forget it. The 2nd hole at Royal Dornoch is tricky but nothing compared to Spey Bay’s 8th. Onto the 9th which comes with a change in direction heading back to the clubhouse, a short par 5 aptly named the Valley with out-of-bounds on the left and gorse on the right. On the card it looks like a birdie chance, but be glad of a five and walk to the 10th tee adding up your first nine, anything under forty and you’re doing well.
The 10th completes the loop and then the tricky 11th, so typical of the shorter par 4s at Spey Bay, on the card it appears simple but treated it with a lack of respect and you will be left wondering where it all went wrong. The 14th, my favourite, was originally 300 yards and has been greatly improved with the addition of 105 yards making this a wonderful par 4, stroke index 2, with a fairway that would grace any Open Championship venue, a flattish green situated between two shingle banks that is normally approached from at an angle across the banks. You will see what I mean when you play it yourself. I always feel when playing a course for the first time the same as when watching a good film, I’m hoping for a really good ending, and Spey Bay delivers this with the last four holes, none of which are give aways, and into the prevailing wind will show you what you’re made of, so I’ll not spoil the ending and leave you to discover this for yourself.
The four holes that I left out of the previous paragraph were not part of the original layout planned by Ben Sayers in 1907. The original layout unfortunately had to be hastily altered due to coastal erosion in the late 1980’s. This erosion caused the loss of the entire 11th hole and 13th green and forced the removal of the 4th & 6th holes. The subsequent alterations resulted in four completely new holes. The new 6th hole is so out of character for Spey Bay it begs the question why Ben Sayers’s original 6th hole is not reinstated albeit with a subtle change up at the green. This hole was brilliant in design, driving the ball towards the Moray Firth, as so desired and incorporated by Mark Parsinen and Gil Hanse when designing Castle Stuart. The original 6th traversed the two large fescue clad shingle banks, yes short by modern standards at 304 yards but it would take a brave man nowadays to stand up with the modern driving equipment and attempt to reach the green or even to find the fairway that was cosseted by the awaiting gorse. The long 12th is the only new hole that comes close to being worthy of its place on Spey Bay. The unimpressive par 3, 13th is hopefully to be extended to a 300+ yard par 4 which should see the new green being situated on the fairway of the original 13th hole. With these alterations and a simple transfer of the Par 3, 4th back onto its original line, albeit shorter, would bring the course back closer to the original layout.
The only points of criticism I would mention, other than the new holes enforced by the coastal erosion is that the first six holes are too tight and unforgiving and that the first hole is about 30 - 40 yards too long. All too often the paying visitor or first time Open competitor is beaten before he has had a chance to reach the 7th tee, this does not encourage a hasty return. Also the majority of the greens are flat, however the 8th, 9th and 15th are not and watch out for the subtle ridge through the 18th green, a masterful touch by someone, long ago.
Historically the lack of money available to maintain this course has actually helped to preserve its natural condition, no automatic watering system or expensive fertilizer budget. Yes more money would help with course alterations and the demands for Greenkeeping machinery, maintenance and in the overall upkeep, but the present Greenkeeper, Barry Cruickshank, has already worked wonders on a shoestring budget to rescue the greens during the 2011/12 seasons back to a very good putting surface. A local businessman has recently purchased the property which grants him the lease of the golf course, so hopefully this will be the start of great things for Spey Bay, never has a course deserved it more.
No fancy ponds, no striped fairways to show which direction to play, no buggy tracks, no huge meaningless bunkers and no hiding behind the delusions of grandeur that come with a magnificent new clubhouse, just golf as it was intended to be played.
This was the second time I have played this course and it will not be the last. When I first played this course there was an old shack with a honesty box for green fees. It cost £15, and what value for money. A natural gem of a links course with rolling fairways and lined with gorse and heather. My return today was only marred slightly by the fact that they had hollow tuned the greens, but attire time of year, only to be expected. The club has been saved by the members and the club house refurbed. The welcome from staff and members was second to none, and the food top notch afterwards as well. In these tough times many of the more well known clubs would do well to create such a welcoming atmosphere. Many thanks to Ian who provided us with good conversation and an interesting history of the hidden gem of Scottish golf
Spey Bay is a reasonable links course no more, no less and it not a patch on the excellent Spey Valley. There must be at least 100 golf courses in Scotland better than Spey Bay and perhaps only a dozen that are worthy of a 6-ball rating. I’d take this review with a very large pinch of salt.
16 October 2012
I must agree that this is a great links course.We were up in North Scotland on a golf tour and only came across Spey Bay by chance and thought it to be one of the best we had played as a really natural linksy course.Nothing fancy but great golfing seaside holes,super turf,bumps and hollows,out you go hen back you come.Great value and a nice welcome in a recently revamped clubhouse.We also played the Spey Valley course which is a totally different course-- and really can't be compared -- certainly not on price and hospitality.We would recommend that any real links golfer give Spey Bay a whirl.We enjoyed it immensely.
16 October 2012
Must agree totally.Great links golf,so natural,so real with nothing fake.great feeling that this is really what golf is,compared to some of the expensive courses we played on our mini tour of the north.good simple golf food in homely clubhouse.
16 October 2012
I think Jim McCann perfectly sums up Spey Bay in his review below. The fawning comments from the 6-ball reviewer and Jack and Bill’s comments smack of Spey Bay member or management skulduggery. If you are visiting the Grampian region of Scotland and want to play courses that are perhaps worthy of a 6-ball rating, you’ll need to head to the Balgownie, Cruden Bay and Nairn. If low green fee prices are at the top of your list then I’d check out Tain, Fraserburgh or Peterhead long before Spey Bay.
17 October 2012
Thank God Hugh for a bit of common sense. I played the course with Jim McCann, In fact, I badgered Jim to to put this on our hit list due to the many great reviews. I found it pleasant but very samey in many places and i came off disappointed in all honesty. 3 ball review is spot on in my view
17 October 2012
Thanks to everyone for their comments on Spey Bay. Clearly the course splits opinion. I have not played Spey Bay, so I cannot comment on the merits or otherwise of this course, so I will have leave it up to you to decide whether or not this course is worthy of its score. We are watching all Spey Bay posts very carefully, so if you do have anything to say, please ensure your comments are submitted from a valid email address otherwise they will continue to be deleted. Keith Baxter – Editor-in-Chief
Just played this wonderful natural course.lovely setting,interesting holes,great fairways ,nice and springy. It gave the feeling of playing Links golf as it should be....nothing fancy just a great test of golf and all our group reckoned it was a much better golfing experience than some of the bland parkland courses we had played .great value,a pleasant bar and food at a sensible price.No queueing nor rushing -- the best real golf experience we had in our mini- tour of the area
All in all a great day out
Great course for lovers of real golf.Super crispy fairways,interesting holes,nice views,feels like a good old fashioned links is meant to with nothing fancy but a great day out.Pleasant clubhouse with no nonsense sensibly priced food.Great value compared to some of the named courses we played on our tour.
After playing one or two soulless new “corporate” courses in recent times, it was a real tonic to discover that an old-fashioned course like Spey Bay could re-affirm my love for traditional links golf layouts. The club could do with a little self-promotion by way of its website as it seriously under sells itself both on and off the fairways. Its charming wood framed clubhouse has been upgraded inside with a very modern bar cum dining area that serves the campers on the adjacent site as well as the golfers, providing very comfortable facilities for everyone. The fairways are the real feature on the course and these playing corridors navigate the humps, bumps, hollows and valleys that lie along the coastline in between dense areas of high gorse and heather. The fact that many of the holes favour a slight fade suited my game but I can see why others would not be so pleased to have such a high number of similar-style holes on the card. The par threes were a bit of a disappointment, with only the table top green of the very short 8th providing an abiding memory. Overriding everything, the state of the putting surfaces left a lot to be desired - something catastrophic has obviously occurred to cause so many bare patches on the greens, making putting a complete lottery. Spey Bay certainly offers excellent value for money and its inherent charm is hard to ignore. Not quite a four ball rating on this occasion, I’m afraid, as there’s plenty of room for improvement on the conditioning aspect of the course. Jim McCann
Great course only going to get better when the greens settle down.A true links course that puts some of the nearby "named "courses in their place.
My family, friends and I have been taking annual golf holidays in Scotland for over 20 years, focusing on links courses somewhat off the beaten track. This year, on the personal recommendation of Ronan Rafferty (who called it a “hidden gem” in the same breath as Machrihanish and Machrie), we played Spey Bay for the first time. We found a wonderful course, with an imaginative layout. Like courses such as Tain, the fairways are often framed on both sides by gorse and appear at first glance to be more narrow than the typical links course, and can be visually intimidating when combined with the prevailing crosswind. The course, however, plays fair and, because of the great variety of holes, we used practically every club in our bags. We played the course on a Thursday afternoon in June, and saw a maximum of 5 other golfers during the course of our round. Combined with the views of the North Sea and Buckie and Buckpool in the distance, and the sounds of the plentiful birds in the area, we were free to make our way around the course in peaceful isolation. The greens are currently a bit rough, but the current efforts by the management inspire confidence that they will be brought up to the quality of the remainder of the course in the near future. We will certainly be back to test them.
Must endorse completely.A great course that should be enjoyed by more people.When the greens improve this will be a course not to missed.
We played 12 courses from Brora to Moray, most of them more than notable but mostly well reckoned - with one exception, Spey Bay.
Spey Bay was designed by Ben Sayers and sits right between the shoreline and a small forest… not to forget the huge amount of gorse. There is not much around the course – a driving range and a lesser modern hotel – but the course is not only worth a visit but also a nomination for the Scottish rankings.
The layout is more or less classical, nine out, nine in. The variation of the holes is one of the strengths of the course. All par threes are fantastically challenging. The 4th plays pretty long (195 yards) with half of the green hidden behind gorse, and the 8th can make a man cry, with the most difficult plateau green you can imagine. Furthermore you have got tricky doglegs, long and straight but very undulating and narrow fairways, nice views and absolute silence. Concerning the condition, the greens were the best we played throughout our stay and the fairways and tees have been competitive.
All in all Spey Bay is a great test of golf because of the very challenging layout and the relaxed atmosphere. Patrick
I thoroughly enjoyed my round at Spey Bay. It was a real test of golf and, as an 18 handicap, I found it very tough going out, but very fair coming back in. As a traditional out and back layout, a stiff wind was in my face for almost the entire front 9. This made the 420+ yard par 4's almost impossible for me to par, and difficult to bogey. With that said, there were also some shorter par fours. On the way back, playing predominantly with the wind, I found the par 5's reachable in two with straight hitting although the damage had already been done and there was no chance of me playing anywehre near my handicap. The course is great fun, and very relaxed. This is no-frills golf, with an honesty box, and a small (temporary?) clubhouse. The walk from green to tee was only about ten or fifteen yards on many holes. Perhaps the way golf is really meant to be played. The course takes you well away from everything apart from the beach and the sea, with great views. I played in the evening, with a lowering sun perfectly highlighting the undulating ground - there are few flat lies - and the raw nature of the course. There is room to really open the shoulders on many of the drives, but accuracy is needed for approach shots into smallish greens. The condition of the course could also be described as 'raw' but, for me at least, that didn't matter a bit. Although there was quite a lot of moss, puts ran true and I never had a bad lie on the fairway. The heather was in full bloom and it completely punished a wayward drive or approach. I imagine this is what golf was like a hundred years ago and I loved it!
Recently returned to Spey Bay and my first impression was right - this is a terrific golf course! The bad news is that it is in financial trouble. We spoke with the greenkeeper who told us he is the ONLY person now employed to work there. With the closure of the hotel there is real concern for the future of this true gem so get up there and spend your money. You will not be disappointed. This secluded, tranquil place represents the true spirit of Scottish golf. Save Spey Bay!!!
I played this course a few years ago, and thought it really was magnificent. Definatively on my top 10 list, and I have played some 80 courses.
07 May 2010
I am a Greenkeeper at Spey Bay, would just like to correct things. There are two Staff that work on the course at present, I'm usually the one out on the course the Head Greenkeeper must have been on holiday. I would also like to say that i beleive the layout and scenery of the course, and its relaxed atmosphere do make it better than most courses around the area.
09 May 2010
I would just like to say that we were very keen to play Spey Bay recently and only didn't because of the opportunity to play Castle Stuart. However, the locals that we met in Portsoy said that Spey Bay is one of the most enjoyable and best kept courses in the area. We will be back !
What a great natural course--nothing fancy and in need of some care --but get out there and enjoy a fantastic lay-out,great views,links golf as it should be.We enjoyed this far more than some of the "named" courses for which we paid 3/4 times more than the very modest £20 green fee for Spey Bay.
Played this course with members of Nairn, Moray and Cruden Bay - we all thought it was great, especially the greens. At least one of us thought it was better than Nairn. What a beautiful course with friendly staff - a great advert for the North East.
Excellent natural course well worth the £20--needs a bit of TLT but it really is worth the playing
Superb layout that provided a really good Links test. Played 36 holes midweek and the only other person we spotted was a local out walking his dog! This course has great potential but suffers from a lack of investment, the hotel looked derilict, 'club house' locked up and the driving range was overgrown. The course itself was in suprisingly decent shape considering all this and I would definately recommend it to anyone visiting the area.
Nice layout and greens were in surprisingly good condition given that it looks like there has been no investment here for years. Facilities very poor and the place could do with a bit of money pumped in to it as it has a lot of potential!! Not bad value at £20 midweek for what you get. If your time is limited in the area, play Moray and Elgin.
It is one of the very few natural courses that exist, where you have to get the ball from tee to green over the land nature created against the elements of the weather, a stunning test and different every time it is played,the course needs visitors to come and play and enjoy and spread the word, there is no fancy clubhouse or other frills, just golf as it was meant to be......fun
Classic links, right along ther coast. nice and long with lots of quirky holes. Condiiton excellent and and an absolute bargin at £20 in the honesty box. I've played Dornoch, Moray and Nairn recenlty and i would rate this higher believe it or not!!!!! quick get up there!
I beleive not! There is not a chance this course is rated higher than Moray, Dornoch and Nairn, I know opinions are personal but as classic courses go I am going to beg to differ - sorry.
Would not really rate this course, as there are better courses in the area. Since the transfer to a hotel facility the green fees have jumped up over recent years. Better courses that give a greater test lie nearby - Moray (Old) and (New), Buckpool, Elgin, Strahlene Buckie and Hopeman.
Get your facts right ,the hotel has always run the course and green fees are very reasonable. It is a classic links as the fairways have not been shaped at all by mechanical means and are virtually as they were laid out by Ben Sayers wading chest high in whins with only a boy to plant flags where he decided to place the greens and tees in 1907.The greens are small and true,the fairways tight and bumpy with hardly a flat lie in the whole course.The turf is short and gives a classic crisp lie that cannot be produced by anything other than the natural bent grasses that grow here.When the wind blows it a challenge to any level of golfer and the course record of 65(par 70)is unlikely to be beaten.