Brora Golf Club lies just off the A9, about 20 miles north of Dornoch. It's one of the most delightful short road journeys imaginable. The A9 follows the East Coast of Sutherland and skirts around the westerly edge of Loch Fleet before passing through the Highland village of Golspie - where there's another fine course. Grab a glimpse of Dunrobin Castle, where the Duke of Sutherland died in 1833 and then enjoy the coastal views before passing through the village of Doll, where a big cat-like animal was recently spotted. And then, you arrive at Brora, ready for even more excitement.
Scotland has dozens of famous classic links courses but Brora is probably the least well known and this most northerly course really does deserve to be discovered. When Brora Golf Club was founded in 1891 the members played on a nine-hole course and the Secretary of Royal Dornoch Golf Club, John Sutherland, later extended it to 18 holes. J.H. Taylor made further changes following a visit and, in 1923, James Braid was commissioned to redesign Brora and little has changed since.
It's a traditional out and back layout with the opening nine holes hugging the North Sea coastline. We can think of no other course in Scotland which has so many holes playing so close to the sea. What's more, there are no dunes to obscure the magnificent seascape, but the downside is that when the wind blows, you'll have to hold on to your hat. The ground undulates gently and you can expect to encounter the odd wily burn and a series of electric fences, which do a fine job in keeping the grazing animals off the fast Brora greens.
Measuring 6,211 yards from the back tees, Brora is certainly no championship layout, but playing to handicap will be a real achievement, not only because the greens are tough to hit and tough to read, but because it's even tougher to concentrate on your golf in these breathtaking surroundings. When you arrive at the 2nd tee, you'll know what we mean. The tee is sited on a small promontory directly next to the beach and from here you are presented with the most arresting view along the full stretch of the coastline.
There are so many great holes, but the 9th, a 162-yard par three called Sea Hole, is our favourite. It will come as no surprise that it's a visually attractive hole, where the North Sea is a rather large lateral water hazard. The inward holes are solid but less dramatic than the front nine. The closing hole is a tough par three where the tee shot must carry across a deep gulley to a green which seems to be too close to the clubhouse for comfort.
Our message to those pilgrims who are heading to tick Royal Dornoch off their list is this, take your time and add Brora to your itinerary, you will not be disappointed.
Dornoch may be the course that gets the plaudits and in my view rightly so. However, for me Brora comes so close it is hard to choose between them. It is immaculately kept and whilst it may not match Dornoch for stature it has great variety including the Braid signature of the par 3’s being in all 4 directions. We played in a strong wind. (The locals would probably call it a breeze!!!).The first at 280 yards played a drive and a full wedge, the second at 334 needed a full 5 iron to get close on the second shot. Downwind did not seem to give much help so you had to think all the way round. The course is fair but tough and enjoyable from the first tee shot to the last putt.
Given that the green fee is about 1/3 that of Dornoch and the quality of the course it is a must play if you are in the area.
Brora is the perfect example of how simple and brilliant golf can be. This natural links that James Braid has routed over perfect golfing land is quite simply out of this world. Its naturalness is only bettered by its brilliance. The creased landscape is ideal for golf and the simplicity is its genius.
Deciding to play Brora is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made but it was a quick one and very little time was required to book a tee-time at this exceptional course over 400 miles from home. Deciding what club to hit from the first tee took a lot longer. There’s an option to go for the partially hidden green, over broken duneland, or perhaps play down the left to try and find the fairway for an approach directly up the tilted green, but which club and how far should you hit? It’s the first of many decisions you will make during the round on what is a highly strategic layout.
The entire course, established in 1891, falls so peacefully over the mildly undulating and wrinkled terrain, the round just flows and before you can blink you’ve played five holes along the shoreline; all par fours, all varied and all excellent.
There is unassuming roominess to the course at Brora, a surprising bigness to the out-and-back linksland and although it wouldn’t be classed as a championship course, and it has no pretentions to be one, it could certainly host one.
Not that it really matters but for the record par is 70 and the total yardage is 6,211.
If only golf in general was as simple and uplifting as the golf course at Brora.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
A party of 11 golfers from England ventured Northwards in June to experience the long days and unspoilt golf on the links of Brora in the Highlands of Scotland.
I should be clear that Brora is not the refined perfection of relatively nearby Royal Dornoch (which is quite rightly in the top 10 in the world). However, for any golf course fan, it is just as important to play Brora. It is simply so natural; literally in both senses of the word being “derived from nature” (there’s nothing artificial about it at all) and “in tune with the natural world” (the abundance of wildlife is not just the sheep and cows on the course but we also saw rare birds and dolphins!).
The course is an out and back layout with the 1st nine being closest to the beach. The 9th is a lovely short par 3 which feels very remote (this is the most Northerly point on earth I’ve ever played golf!). We played on a beautiful summer’s day and the scenery was stunning. 36 holes felt like 18. I’m sure that it’s not quite so pleasant when the wind blows hard or the clouds roll in, but I would advise that, if you’re visiting Royal Dornoch, to travel a little bit further North to Brora; it won’t cost as much and you’ll be rewarded with a different, yet still wonderful, experience. RdeD
Brora was one of the most pleasant surprises of our trip through the Highlands. Although I had read about the quality of this links, the truth is that my experience exceeded expectations by far.
It is a classic links in which the first 9 are away from the clubhouse bordering the sea, while the back nine are located more inland. It is advisable to make a good result in the out nine, since the back are clearly tougher.
There are many lovely holes, but I would mention the short holes 6 and 9 (not so much the 18, an overly complicated finish), 3, 5, 10, 16 and 17.
The course presentation was impeccable, at least when I visited it, in mid-September, and we found the friendliest staff of all the clubs visited so far in Scotland.
In short, an obligation if you visit the Highlands, in my opinion, at a level comparable to Castle Stuart or even Dornoch (even at the risk of heresy to some purist).
Bunkers are limited in number as the course is totally unprotected from the ever present wind. Brora has five par threes, hence its short length of 5872 yards, and each one runs in a different direction. The first five holes are all par fours. The fourth is a real birdie opportunity being only 325 yards in length.
Eight and nine are the last holes beside the sea with the 9th green being the furthermost point on the course. The 8th is the only par five and the 9th is a delightful par three that plays to a green not so far from the beach. Interestingly, as with the opening hole at Machrihanish, the beach is not out of bounds but is treated as a lateral water hazard.
The 13th is the shortest of the par threes at only 125 yards. The tee shot is slightly uphill and over a valley with gorse and a wandering burn which seems to make distance harder to judge. The 17th is possibly the best hole on the course. This is a hole requiring two accurate draw shots and the avoidance of a nasty bunker almost in the middle of the fairway.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.