Scotland’s Angus county is famous for Carnoustie – arguably the toughest course on the Open Championship rota.
Along the Angus coastline and inland, in the shadow of the Grampian Hills among beautiful glens are several little known courses worth praise and acclaim too.
- More to Angus than “Carnasty”
- Play the 5th oldest links in the world
- Fettercairn Whisky and the Old Caledonian Railway at Edzell Golf Club
- Land of the ancient Picts
- Feel like Peter Pan at Kirriemuir Golf Club
Carnoustie is undoubtedly the headline attraction in Scotland’s Angus County.
Mention its name among golfers and it summons a wince, a shiver even.
Minds suddenly recall Jean Jan de Velde, the Frenchman, standing knee deep in the waters of the Barry Burn, gifting the Claret Jug to Paul Lawrie in 1999 with a final hole triple bogey.
It’s difficulty is legendary, etched in history as the toughest of the tough.
“Carnasty,” as it sometimes called, deserves its own article – here Global Golfer explores a selection of surprising and little known courses in the northerly county of Angus, above Fife and to the right of Perthshire.
Montrose, the charming coastal town beyond Arbroath on the rail route North, is the first port of call when exploring Dundee and Angus. The fifth oldest links course in the world, it is an unsung hero amongst the renowned Scottish seaside courses.
Montrose Links trust is a traditional outfit, and has four clubs all brimming with historical ties.
Whichever clubhouse you choose to sit in, be it Merchantile or Royal, you’ll find the locals in agreement at just what a difficult but magnificent test of golf Montrose medal is.
A venue for Open qualifying when the championship is played at Carnoustie, this course can be unplayable when the wind blows and positively docile on flat calm days.
Two courses at Montrose
There are two courses at Montrose, the historic Medal course and the shorter Broomfield links.
At 4800 yards, the Broomfield is the embodiment of the Scottish belief that everyone should be able to play golf. Juniors, beginners and families are encouraged to play the flat course.
The Medal course is a rugged, elemental test of links golf.
Its opening hole stretches straight into the jaws of the North Sea and is the first of five holes running adjacent to the beach.
The first and second holes are a gentle introduction, but the par three third at 154-yards, and exposed to buffeting winds from the ocean, tests both nerve and skill.
The lone par three on the front nine, and one of only three on the card, it is merely a prelude to the later examination posed by “Gully”, a titan of a par three at 235 yards.
Often played into the prevailing wind, the long undulating green is protected by thick gorse bushes left, and split by a double hogs-back that makes holing out in two almost as difficult as finding the green.
There are birdie chances at Montrose, but you’ll need the courage of your convictions at the short par-four fifth and eighth holes, both less than 300 yards and reachable for the long straight hitters.
The front nine is easier and more playable than the back half. You make a score and hang on. If you manage to better your score on the inward half you probably do deserve a Montrose Medal.
Footprint of the Picts
The early settlers of Angus were known as Picts, and adding a little artistic licence, one could argue that the Aberlemno stones – carved Pictish stones, dating back to the C7th, on the B9134 Forfar-Brechin road – were an early take on tee-markers.
The best of the stones is around eight feet tall and bears symbols depicting Pictish life, hunting and grooming, including the Z-rod – which may have been an early Pictish driver with 460cc head.
You can learn more about the Picts at Pictavia, an interactive visitors centre near Brechin, if you have a free morning or afternoon après golf.
Information is thin on the ground, as the Picts had no written language, and were wiped out in around 900 AD by the Gaels of Alba, so don’t plan for the exhibit to entertain you beyond an hour or two.
A short drive west on the A935 from Montrose brings you to Brechin, home to a James Braid designed parkland course and an area of historical interest.
In the shadow of the Grampian Hills
The club dates back to 1893 and enjoys a beautiful setting at the foot of the Grampian Hills.
A short course, the good driver will find himself reaching for the wedge and mid-irons on a number of occasions, particularly at the par-fours, some of which are reachable like the 2nd, 8th and 11th.
It’s more likely that you’ll remember Brechin for its par-three’s, especially the stretch of three in four holes, starting at the 10th.
The easiest of the three, the tenth requires a well executed long-iron shot to a green sloping severely from left to right and front to back.
It’s slightly downhill and is little help in preparing you for the 12th.
A 201-yard slog straight back uphill to a plateau green, severely sloping and heavily bunkered, you may appreciate that while the par-fours lack bite, Brechin’s short holes are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
The back nine is the course’s better half, and the feel of Braid comes through strongly in the stretch from 14 to 16, before the course dwindles with two disappointing finishing holes.
After Montrose, you may feel slightly disappointed by Brechin, but a superb test of Parkland golf awaits at Edzell and Kirriemuir golf clubs.
From Brechin, it’s just a short drive to Edzell in the direction of the Fettercairn whisky distillery.
As soon as you enter the dramatic archway to Edzell town, which doubles at the club’s crest, you can’t miss the course on your left next to the regal looking Glenesk Hotel.
The club smacks of careful order, care and attention to detail, from the neat rows of hire trolleys aligned outside the well stocked proshop, to the catering staff, all immaculately presented in matching uniform.
This considered preparation extends to the course and particularly the greens, which give a smooth consistent roll.
The best features of the course are holes eight and nine, running alongside the River West Water, and those along the now disused Old Caledonian Railway line.
The clubhouse, one of the finest you’ll see, is situated on the site of the old station, and the shape of the line defines the tee-boxes on the stretch of holes through 12 to 13.
Edzell will impress any golfer with its mature feel, created by the dense pines and thick forest out of which the layout is carved.
The well tended lush fairways and shaped rough give the impression of inviting landing zones, and the setting itself beneath the Grampian hills is splendid.
James Braid’s hand was at work in fine tuning the original Bob Simpson design, and there are few more relaxing spots than the 9th tee, where a calm stretch of the West Water attracts a myriad of bird life.
The 13th hole, named ‘Rashie Bog’, is 415-yards and a complete examination of a golfer’s ability.
Uncompromising in its demands on a true straight drive, finding the green and avoiding the right hand pot bunker is an even stiffer test of accuracy.
Battles from the Boar War are remembered at the par-three 14th ‘Maguba,’ and par-four 16th ‘Spion Kop,’ and the par-five 18th requires a prolific fade from the tee if you’re to avoid a giant pine or bunkers guarding the left of the fairway.
The menu at Edzell golf club makes a mockery of the popular notion that golf clubs are not good places to eat.
A meal of pan-fried Angus beef medallions in old Fettercairn whisky and Arran mustard sauce was one of the culinary highlights of this Angus excursion.
A consommé of summer fruits with icecream helped ease the memory of a lost Titleist or the annoyance of three-putting.
Ghostly Glamis Castle
If you find your game is haunted by balls lost in gorse and broom, you’ll find yourself at home amongst the supposedly supernatural residents of Glamis Castle.
The childhood home of the late Queen Mother, Glamis is the family home of the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne and one of the top visitor attractions in Scotland.
A guided tour will introduce you to such people as Lady Jane Douglas, burned at the stake for witchcraft and rumoured to haunt the family chapel, and the poor servant boy who died of cold waiting to be sent to bed by his master.
From the spectre of supernatural goings on at Glamis you should head next to the birthplace of a literary legend for your final round.
Kirremuir, the “wee red town,” was the birthplace of J.M Barrie who wrote Peter Pan, and is also home to a short but infinitely charming parkland.
There are no par-fives at Kirrie, which may disappoint the slogger who likes to derive self esteem from long hitting, but there are subtler nuances to this James Braid layout that will delight the thinking golfer.
The fun starts at the 335-yard 4th hole. From the elevated tee you gaze straight down into ‘Loch Nagar,’ and further on to Balmoral and Royal Deeside.
The drive should be aimed to the left of the marker post, but a good smite will kick hard on the downhill fairway towards a fairway trap 70-yards short of the green.
It’s best to lay back with an iron and follow it with a full shot.
Two of the next three holes are reachable with a good drive, while the sixth is a sharp dogleg uphill and to the right. They lead nicely into the terrific par-three 8th hole.
The generous green here is disguised by an old quarry and steep uphill climb which creates the impression from the tee, of a flag rustling in the wind on a mountain summit.
The back nine is an excellent test winding through broom, bracken and full yellow gorse.
For Kirriemuir, Braid saved his best till last. The 195-yard par-three 17th is named ‘Braid’s Gem,’ and is sure to spoil many a neat card in its final throes.
A prominent tree short right and beyond that a grave pot-bunker are its principal defences.
The smart player will aim left and slide it in but a three is a worthy haul. The 18th, while not long, is difficult.
An awkward tree at driving distance in the fairway forces the player left, from where he will often underclub, and another old grassy quarry awaits to make saving par a real headache.
Kirriemuir is an excellent end to a fun Scottish golf break in Angus County. Less savage than the links of Carnoustie and possibly more enjoyable, sometimes unsung heroes prove themselves to be the most interesting.