Scottish Links Golf
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Royal Dornoch Golf Club ©
|Sunrise over the Royal Dornoch Championship
Course. Photo by David Scaletti
What a golf course! Royal Dornoch Golf Course alone is worth the trip up to the northern
Scottish Highlands. On just about everyone's
"Top 25" list, it is certainly
one of the finest golf experiences
ever have and one of the best golf courses in
the world. Yes, it's out of the way, but
go out of your way to play it. If you are
an independent golfer planning your own Scottish
tour, you will forever thank yourself for
including Royal Dornoch in your itinerary.
Strange, you may think, that being such an
exceptionally regarded course hasn't hosted
the Open Championsip. But the reason is not
any deficiency of the golf course but rather
its relative inaccessibililty. In addition,
the town of Dornoch would be hard-pressed
to absorb the hordes of people and media
and fuss that the Open Championship brings.
(The town of Dornoch had trouble enough coping
with Madonna's wedding.) Dornoch itself is
a small, quiet, unassuming town that takes
in its stride the fame of its great sport
The Dornoch championship course was originally
designed by Old Tom Morris, a man responsible
for more fine Scottish courses than perhaps
any other single individual. Donald Ross,
certainly one of the greatest golf course
designers of all time and himself a native
of Dornoch, served his apprenticeship under
Tom Morris. He credits his early years at
Royal Dornoch Golf Course with influencing his design of the renowned
Pinehurst #2 in North Carolina. Anyone who has played
both courses will note a similiarity.
|#14 - Nary a bunker in sight on this difficult
hole, but it's the toughest on
the golf course.
Photo by Iain Lowe
Royal Dornoch Golf Course is a timeless design
Royal Dornoch is a jewel set between the
North Sea, mountains and hills and, in the
Spring, sprinkled with flowers. It's something
of an enigma in that it's not at all a deceptive
golf course and there are precious few blind
shots and few hidden bunkers to contend with.
In fact, virtually all of the hazards are
clearly visible. That's the good news and
also the bad news because seeing the hazards
presents an intimidation factor. Unlike many
links golf courses where a bump and run will
bring you closer to the pin than a high pitch
shot, the greens at Royal Dornoch Golf Course are protected by bunkers at the front of
the green and/or are set on plateaux so that
a bump and run has to be perfectly executed.
And, of course, there's the wind which will
always discourage extra high shots. Decisions,
|Don't let the gentle start fool you.
Photos by Iain Lowe
|And don't miss this inverted saucer green.
|| Note fairway sloping toward bunkers.
Royal Dornoch is a classic links golf course,
but with a twist
The championship course is a classic out-and-back
links golf course but with a twist--an "S"
shaped twist. When playing the usual out-and-back
layouts you have to contend with the wind
blowing in only two directions--one way when
you're going out and the opposite way when
coming back. But Royal Dornoch is laid out
in more of an "S" shape, which
means that no matter which way the wind is
blowing, on every hole it will be blowing
in a different direction. Now that's an ingeniously
Royal Dornoch starts out gently
1 is a matter-of-fact par 4 of
only 331 yards.
However, there are 9 bunkers
and plenty of gorse lining the
2 is a simple-as-can-be looking
par 3 that
plays only 177 yards but you
could be hitting
anything from a 3 wood to a wedge
on the wind. And take note, the
an "inverted saucer"
so that any
shot not landing and holding
the green rolls
off and presents a devilishly
Tom Watson--not a stranger to
having won 5 Open Championships--said
his tongue firmly planted in
his cheek, "The second shot to #2 at Royal Dornoch is one of the toughest shots in golf." He was right on target. In other words,
don't miss the green on this deceptive par
3 and take note of the inverted saucer green
because you'll see it throughout this course.
It not only makes for a difficult approach
shot, it makes the greens seem smaller than
they are, again adding to the intimidation
factor. A well-struck shot that is able to
hold the green or a well judged shot that
rolls up and stops will serve you well on
|#6 and #11 greens. Just seeing this photo
of this fabulous golf course should be enough
to make you want to drop everything and come
and play it at once! Photo by Iain Lowe
The 4th is a good example of
what is in store.
At 427 yards it's not the longest
par 4 on
the course but it requires a
shot from an undulating fairway
to an equally
undulating plateau green guarded
by two deep bunkers on the left,
but a severely
sloping fall-off on the right
and rear into
tall grass. The 5th is equally
with a tee that is about 40 feet
fairway which slopes dramatically
a bunch of tall mounds covered
grass. The green is no gift as
it has three
bunkers in front to discourage
a bump and
run and two more on the left
of the green.
As if that's not challenging
is a nasty hollow between them
and a severe
fall-off on the right side and
severe fall-off in the back into
(Are we having fun yet?) The
6th would seem
to offer some succor at only
163 yards but,
again, the green is on a plateau
and is built
right into a gorse-covered hillside
continues up on the left and
with two bunkers
also on the left side. Any ball
too far left
will end up in deep gorse with
lie. Any ball to the right will
15 feet down the side--if it
a deep bunker first. On you go,
hole, seeing clearly what needs
to be done
and trying your best to do it.
As with so
many well-designed links courses,
brings swift retribution. The
deep and can require your hitting
backwards or sideways onto the
than playing it toward the green.
save is cause for celebration
alternative can easily be two
or three more
to get it in the hole.
The 14th, named "Foxy" (always
be suspicious of a hole named Foxy), is one
of the best holes on the course and the only
one without a bunker. It doesn't need one
any more than Jack the Ripper needed a bodyguard.
A par 4 at 445 yards from the medal tees,
it requires a lot of thought because it is
a double dogleg with plenty of length. The
fairways are guarded on both sides by grassy
promontories that manage to jut out just
about where an errant drive will fall. It
also has (guess what?) a plateau green. This
one narrows to only abot 8 yards on the left
before it falls off steeply. The front of
the green varies from about 5 feet on the
left to double that on the right so a second
shot needs lots of thought and lots of skill.
A bogey is not bad on this hole. If you are
scoring well up to this point, don't let
this hole spoil your day. Don't force a shot.
Take what it gives you. If you have a great
drive, go for the pin. Otherwise, use good
course management and make a good decision.
If you get into the rough you won't have
a lot of fun getting out.
Royal Dornoch Golf Course is a fair course despite what you may have
inferred from my review. Yes, it's tough
and, yes, you have to think your way around
it, every shot has to be planned and well
executed. But the course is not deceptive.
What you see is what you get (even though
it may not be what you think you deserve!).
I'm a mid-handicapper and, although it was
all I could handle, it wasn't impossible.
I had some pars and even one birdie on my
way to an 84. And, by the way, don't think
that 6,514 yards from the medal tees is short.
With a par of 70, the AFSD is a very respectable 186 yards--right up
there with the best golf courses in Scotland.
To my mind it is absolutely worth
to come up to this high latitude
Royal Dornoch. And plan to stay
days. After you play it once
want to play it again. Some golfers
and play it for a full week.
you realize that three other
excellent courses--Nairn, Brora, and Golspie--are in the same general area, the effort
to come this far north will seem worth it.
Along with Royal Dornoch Golf Course they are a fabulous bevy of fine golf. But
I feel that even if Royal Dornoch Golf Course were the only golf course within 100 miles,
it would still be worth the trip.
|#17 A tough dogleg left with hills and dales
in the fairway and two
huge bunkers guarding
the green. Lots of luck! Photo by Iain Lowe
After your round get a seat at the window
of the upstairs bar. It will give you a great
view of the golf course and you'll have fun
watching the "first tee jitters"
of the golfers getting ready to tee off just
as you had a few hours previously.
Which reminds me. Keep up with
in front. Scottish golf is not
in the States. Rounds of under 4 hours are the norm in Scotland. In fact,
virtually all golf courses expect you to
complete a round in 3 1/2 to 3 3/4 hours.
Be ready to hit your ball after your partner
has hit. Since you'll be walking (no buggies
allowed except with medical certificate),
you'll always be in position.
Give their website a look. It's excellent--friendly
and informative--with photos of the golf
course, the staff, and some 360 degree panoramas.
You'll get an idea of the graciousness and
the spirit of the staff.
|Roddy Dingwall, starter, is part of the tradition
that makes Scottish links golf so unique.
Golf Nook Scotland rates Royal Dornoch a rare HOLE-IN-ONE.
Check out this golfing bonus - One of the best golf bargains in Scotland
For a very attractive price you can play 36 holes on the Championship
Course and also the second links course,
the Struie Course. Keep in mind that at this latitude in the
summer you can play golf until 11 PM!
The Struie is laid out on the same topography as the
Championship Course, and you still have to
knock the little white ball into a 4 1/4
inch hole in 3 to 5 strokes. And besides,
you're playing golf in Scotland!
The Struie Course at Royal Dornoch
Royal Dornoch has a little brother called
Struie. The Struie Course is right next to its big brother and shares
the same links topography and obviously the
same winds and weather. As I said, it's not
as difficult as the championship course but
is still a nice test of golf and great fun
to play. I never go to Dornoch without playing
at least one round on the Struie. It's the perfect second course if you've
had enough of the big boy (although, who
could ever get enough of it?). A morning
round at the championship course, which the
locals call "The Top Course," then
lunch, maybe a short nap, then a second round
on the Struie Course, another nap, dinner, a short walk around
town, maybe a wee dram of single malt whisky
and then off to bed. What a perfect day.
(More details at Links Lite - great Links golf for the not-so-great
|Struie Course #3
||Struie Course #7
|Photos by Iain Lowe
Royal Dornoch has an excellent website, easy
to navigate and filled with good info.
The Greenkeepers Cottage. owned by Royal Dornoch Golf Club.
Self-catering, beautifully designed and outfitted,
and part of Royal Dornoch Golf Club. We were
delighted to visit this exceptional just-opened
(June '12) accommodation. The cottage is
everything one would want -- top class, luxury
comfort, sleeps 6, great location, golf course
views from every window, and very attractive
rental fees. We highly recommend it. For
info & booking, click here.
Any closer it would be in a bunker !!!
For What to Do All Day, please see Northern Highlands
Or maybe you'd rather just relax
in the Greenkeepers