Legend has it that golf has been played on the land at Royal Dornoch since 1616. Golf was played here for over 250 years before the Golf Club was founded in 1877. In 1886, Old Tom Morris was asked to visit Dornoch to survey the links and design an 18 hole layout. It took less that 30 years for the Club to receive royal patronage, in 1906, thanks to the Duchess of Sutherland.
Dornoch’s Famous Son
The most famous son of Dornoch is Donald Ross. As a young man, he was initially “keeper of the greens” before becoming the Club’s first golf professional. He departed Scotland in 1899 and went on to become famous as a course designer. In all he was involved in the design of over 400 courses, including Pinehurst, Seminole, Oak Hill and Oakland Hills.
Perfect Day for Golf
Much has been written about the course, by people far more eloquent than myself. I was excited to find out if all of it is true. I was fortunate to play it on a stunning day with a light breeze. I can only imagine the brutality of playing here in a strong, gusting wind.
Now, I don’t know about you, but one thing I never do when I am visiting a course, is look at a flyover or course photos prior to my visit. I want to experience the course as it unfolds in front of me rather than having a preconceived idea of where I am going and what’s coming up. Sometimes that means walking onto the wrong tee but it’s all part of the adventure. Thankfully, Royal Dornoch is laid out in a straightforward manner as I was about to find out.
The Legendary Links
Standing on the first tee, I was surprised how nervous and excited I was feeling about playing the legendary links. Even more of a surprise was how busy the road was that ran across the first tee to the beach. I addressed the ball 4 or 5 times and had to step back to allow cars, camper vans and people to pass, some of whom seemed oblivious that they were walking and driving into the path of golf balls. When I eventually teed off, it was a bit of a hurried swipe and we were off.
I started with a bogey on the relatively short first hole as my approach shot finished on the upslope to the green and my slightly thin chip ran 10ft past the pin.
The 2nd hole is a 180 yard par 3, which if you miss the green will result in dropped shots as its difficult to get up and down to the raised green. Thankfully my towering 6 iron to 8ft settled my nerves and although I left the putt short, I secured a nice par.
A couple more pars followed and I began to enjoy the challenge. Once you reach the 5th tee, the course starts to open up in front of you. From your elevated position, you can see the next 2 holes however it’s when you get onto the 7th tee that you get the best views on the course. The 5th hole would be my disaster hole. A 3 wood off the tee left me 65 yards to the green, but a fat sand wedge, followed by a thin sand wedge and 3 putts gave me my first of two double bogies on the day.
The 7th hole is a challenging par 4 of 480 yards, which after a good drive and an even better 3 hybrid, I managed to par. Play this hole into the wind and it would be a 3 shot hole, all day long.
My front 9 ended with 2 solid pars and I was out in 38, 3 over and I was delighted, well apart from the 5th…
The Back Nine
The 10th hole would yield my only birdie of the day. A 9 iron to 20ft and a solid putt. Life was good!!!
Three solid pars were to follow and I harboured thoughts of a round in the low 70’s, easily my best round of the trip, on the hardest course. That lovely thought ended abruptly on the 14th, a long par 4 to an angled green. My tee shot found the fairway but a pulled approach shot and a terrible pitch meant another double on my card. Two more bogies at 15 and 18 followed as I limped home. My 76 turned out to be the best round of the trip but it was a case of coulda, woulda, shoulda been lower.
Any of the par 3’s to be honest. All are different and tricky. However my personal favourites are the 8th and 17th, both downhill par 4’s.
It’s probably to do with the elevation change and the view of the holes you get from halfway down the fairway. The photos don’t do the holes justice, they are stunning!!
Why I am an Idiot…
What can I say about Royal Dornoch? It is a masterpiece of design, the vision of Old Tom Morris himself, and there’s not an average hole on the course. It is memorable from the first hole to the last. Accuracy is paramount, both off the tee and approach shots to the greens. There’s a number of holes where the green sits above you, meaning judging approach shots becomes increasingly difficult depending on the strength and direction of the wind.
It took me a lifetime to get here and I live in Scotland!! It’s on the bucket list of all travelling golfers, consistently ranked in the top 10 courses of the world and now I know why. I am delighted that I finally got the chance to play it and I can’t wait to go back.
Thank you to the General Manager, Neil Hampton and Royal Dornoch Golf Club for their hospitality and courtesy of the course. Can I come back again next year? Please……..
Where to Stay
There are plenty of accommodation options in Dornoch. We stayed at the Dornoch Castle Hotel about 500 yards from the first tee. The castle dates back to the 15th century although it could be older as records are a little sketchy.
Our room complete with a four poster bed, was very comfortable. As you would expect from a building that’s over 600 years old, the floors and door frames are a bit wonky but it all adds to the charm and the character of the place.
We had drinks on the patio overlooking the garden area which was busy with patrons enjoying the excellent food, some drinks and the Scottish sunshine.
The staff in the hotel were very attentive and knowledgeable, and our server recommended I try the local IPA and my wife try the local gin, infused with black pepper. Both were excellent, so good we had try them again, and again….
After a great night’s sleep, breakfast was served in the dining room and the choice was very good. We chose the eggs Benedict and the continental option, both were fantastic.
The overall experience of staying in Dornoch Castle Hotel was excellent and if you are looking for somewhere historical to stay, something different and quirky, then we would highly recommend this hotel.
At a Glance:
- World class links golf
- Two courses available, the championship course and the Struie
- Lovely Clubhouse with great views
- Well stocked Pro Shop
- 60 minutes north of Inverness, three hours 45 minutes from Glasgow or Edinburgh
- Fantastic area for links courses. Within an hour’s drive you have Tain, Brora, Fortrose and Rosemarkie, Nairn, Nairn Dunbar and Castle Stuart
- Read more about the Dornoch Castle Hotel here
- Read more about Royal Dornoch here