If you have ever wondered where Donald Ross got his inspiration for his golf course designs, you need look no further than his birthplace on Gilbert Street, in the village of Dornoch. Where the Royal Dornoch Golf Club is considered the heart and soul of Scottish Highlands golf.
So special is the layout of the Championship Links Course, Royal Dornoch is often referred to as a course with a club, rather than the normal – a club with a course. While Ross did not have anything to do with the design, that distinction belongs to a collection of famous golf architects – beginning with Old Tom Morris in 1886, continuing with George Duncan in the 1940s after WWII, and finishing with the latest redo of the third hole by Tom Mackenzie in 2014. He took the best design elements with him when he moved permanently to the States in 1899.
One of those elements was the infamous inverted saucer greens that Old Tom introduced when he expanded the layout from 9 to 18 holes. Perhaps his most famous design of over 400 courses attributed to his genius in North America is Pinehurst No. 2 and its treacherous convex plateau green complexes, incorporated as a nod to Royal Dornoch.
The Championship Links Course is built across two distinct levels with panoramic views overlooking the Dornoch Firth. The first eight holes follow the ridge line out, with the inward nine returning in parallel fairways along the beach, except the 17th and 18th holes. Not long by modern standards at 6,754 yards, the course is very strategic, especially on the outward nine, where if a shot isn’t positioned correctly the next one will be more difficult.
Golf in some form has been played on the linksland of Dornoch since 1616, and the Club gained its “Royal” designation in 1906. However, it wasn’t until Ben Crenshaw and Tom Watson discovered the joys of Inverness golf here in the 1980s that it gained its worldwide, deserved reputation. Watson, after playing three rounds in 1981 proclaimed it, “The most fun I’ve ever had on a golf course.”
While the Championship Links gets most of the attention, a wonderful 36-hole day is to combine a round on the sister Struie Course, a Top 50 Links in the UK on its own merit. Donald Steel expanded the then Ladies 12-hole course to 18 holes in 1999, making it a challenge for golfers of all abilities and genders.
Andrew Carnegie was a long-term resident of the area at his neighboring Skibo Castle, and the most important annual Club competition is the Carnegie Shield, started in 1901 in his honor. Royal Dornoch is a member’s club with more American overseas members than residents of the Village, therefore, to obtain a coveted Visitor’s Time it is suggested to plan at least a year in advance.
Immerse yourself in the rich history and mythology of the Scottish Highlands, while visiting some of the best golf courses in Scotland.
Including the third oldest Golf Club in the world, Royal Dornoch, championship links course, Brora and Nairn Golf Club, which has hosted a number of championships, including the Amateur Championship and the Walker Cup.