Royal Dornoch Golf Club
Designers: Old Tom Morris and George Duncan
Some four years before the first pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock, the 13th Earl of Sutherland arranged for the purchase of a set of clubs and balls while pursuing his education in the town of Dornoch. This set in motion 400 years of golf history along the shores of the Dornoch Firth, eventually leading to the formation of a proper club and the arrival of Old Tom Morris.
In 1886, the Grand Old Man of Golf rearranged and extended the club’s basic 9-hole course to a full 18-holes. As it did at countless clubs across Britain, however, World War II forced a number of changes to the links, after several holes were lost to the construction of an airfield. George Duncan was called upon to extend the course over new land leased from the House of Sutherland, setting in place the spellbinding course that is played today.
The round begins with what Donald Ross called a “gentle handshake.” The Dornoch native and Keeper of the Green was born just steps from the 1st tee, and the opening hole’s warm introduction would be a trademark of his later course designs. The same can be said of the domed greens perched atop natural tables throughout the links, an attribute of Royal Dornoch that Ross most famously brought to the sandhills of North Carolina.
The acclaimed golf writer, Herbert Warren Wind, once wrote “No golfer has completed his education unless he’s played and studied Royal Dornoch.” From the 2nd hole onward, only the most strategic of golfers will see that education happily fulfilled. For example, there is no shame in laying up on the par-3 2nd hole. The proper miss on the 3rd is toward the left hand bunker, where the contours will funnel the ball toward the green. A running shot between the bunkers is the wisest approach to the 4th, while the 5th is perhaps best tackled from the left rough. Then there is the tiny 6th, where we advise finding the green at all costs. And so it continues at Royal Dornoch, across the sweeping swales and knobby knolls that toy with the best of our intentions at every turn. The closing stretch of original Old Tom Morris holes are a fitting climax to this day on one of golf’s sacred grounds. Most notably, the infamous 14th – a par 4 ½ known as “Foxy – as well as the 17th, which rivals its illustrious counterpart in St. Andrews as the finest penultimate hole in the game.
Due to its location on equal latitude with the Bering Sea, Royal Dornoch has long been known as much for its remoteness as it has its outstanding golf. For many years, the journey to this far flung outpost was a pilgrimage for the truly enlightened golfer looking to discover one of the hidden treasures of our great game. The secret, if you will, is most certainly out. So much so that Royal Dornoch now finds itself comfortably seated in the upper echelons of every list of golf course rankings – merely a printed confirmation of what they’ve known here for centuries.
Regardless of what the scorecard may read at the end of the day, there is much to be taken away from a round at Royal Dornoch. It will leave you happy. It will leave you inspired. And, there can be no doubt, it will leave you eager for more.
Perfect Pairing with golf at Royal Dornoch GC: stroll around the Royal Burgh of Dornoch. From its 13th century cathedral to the Bishop’s Palace to the Old Jail shops, this little town is so charming Disney should buy it and move it to Orlando as the Scotland section of Epcot. Madonna must have agreed as she choose Dornoch for the site of her most recent wedding.
Major Basil Haversham, OBE
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