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.
If it is good enough for a five-time Open
Champion, then everyone should play Brora. The late Peter Thomson visited regularly, proclaiming it to be his favourite course in the world.
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.
“When one thinks of linksgolf, Brora is what one sees, even if one doesn’t know the course.” Please don’t sue me over the copy rights on this quote, but the statement sure is true. Brora is the quintessential links course, where everything is about golf, and great turfconditions are enjoyed year round.
The strategy on the holes are dictated by the landforms, often resulting in a decision whether a shorter blind approach is preferred over a longer shot with the target in view. While the course isn’t long as a whole, the par 3s are demanding, all play in different directions and there are a few cracking long par 4s into the prevailing wind. The brilliance of the design is in the simplicity. The bunkers are simple and roundshaped, but well placed. Cattle and sheep roaming freely over the course, it’s classic links golf at its most charming. Brora’s cult status is well deserved, however nearby sibling Golspie is a very close competitor and may steal your heart even sooner.
Brilliant, brilliant, Brora. The essence of the game right here. Rugged, understated links perfectly put together by the genius James Braid. Heaps of room off the tee, very playable for all levels but approach shots are the great separator here, these greens take some finding in the prevailing conditions - some outrageous green sites (namely 1, 11, 12, 16) make for plenty of chaos and fun. The Par 3’s here are phenomenal, 6, 9, 13 and 18 all go in different directions and throw up a great array of challenges. Other holes of merit that jump out would be 15 & 17, two sensational long par 4’s.
Sheep and Highland Cows flank many of the holes, proving quite a unique hazard when you have to flight a shot over them to find a green. Electric fences guard every putting surface so as to deter the said livestock from ruining the 18 perfectly crafted green sites. It’s a proper throwback this place to a simpler time, a glorious layout on a brilliant strip of land with wonderful sea views at almost every point. Short in length by modern standards but this does nothing to halt the fun you can have here.
It’s a mission to get as far north as Brora but very much worth it. Hope to keep coming back here for many years to come.
The fantastic course was just a shame I was playing in 35 mph winds. The favorite hole was 17 for the view and 18 for the tricky green, not what I needed at the end of the round. Plenty of sheep and cows on the course. It is a true links course and a must to play if you are in the Highlands area.
Immediately after the round at Golspie we drove 10mins to arrive to another very special place with one of my most liked logos of the courses I have played in Scotland. Brora has an elevated Club House from where you can have views to take your breath. We had lunch there and as in many clubs here, the soup of the day is something you need to try. Some time for rest before the second consecutive 36 holes day could not have been better!
The course has the classic links layout of being out from 1 to 9 in one direction (except par 3 6th) and then back from long range from 10th to 18th. The great touch Braid put here is the angles of the approach shots in a course that will ask you to be on the correct side of the fairway in order to have a better chance to get close to the pin.
It is quite generous off the tee which for us was great coming from a very demanding morning at Brora but even hitting fairways was not enough to get some approach shots close to the pin.
A fantastic set of par 3s with 9th and 18th being played in opposite directions and 6th and 13th the same but perpendicular to the other 2, a master touch of golf design. Two par 5s, again in opposite directions which can give you at least one birdie chance with wind helping.
Many holes to point for you to take your attention:
Short 1st can be hit with the driver but a well sloped green can make you feel ridiculous after not getting close from 30yds.
3rd and 5th are 2 monster par 4s, the last one with an elevated green protected by a dune on the right side, be short like me and the white little ball can come back 30yds!
Par 3 9th might be the most pictured one as it is straight by the ocean. It played into the wind and it was maybe the one I liked most.
Short 14th sponsored by “No Laying Up” where the guy made an albatross hole in 1 some years ago. A blind tee shot to a reachable green, short 4s with a good green can. Be great holes!
17th is maybe the best hole with one of the single tough tee shots over a mound of tough but with enough carry the second shot can be much more easy.
Final 18th … a costly bogey made me hate it for some minutes but it is a strong finisher where anything off the green whether it is long/short/Left/right will leave you with an impossible up and down.
We needed with a drink with Tony The Club Secretary who played with us and apart from being helpful to understand the holes from the tee box, he was very kind and that sort of guy you see is in love with his place and the Job he does. A very warming staff, a nice logo to get some goods from the ProShop and the feeling you have walked a very nice piece of history.
Third day of the trip was over and it was amazing. Two courses to be played … more than once!
“Go on, go on, go on!” I shouted and realised that, to non-golfers, I must have sounded like a cross between Mrs Doyle from Father Ted and a contestant in One Man And His Dog.
In fact, I was encouraging my ball which I had launched over three grazing sheep and a pot bunker to land on the green of the par-three 13th at Brora Golf Club.
Sheep and cows are in such abundance at Brora that electric wires surround each of its greens.
It was ironic, therefore, that I should show so little spark on the putting surfaces which seem benign to the naked eye but I found very hard to read.
Indeed, on a calm day in the sunshine, Brora was, in theory, a course which we should have conquered.
It is shorter than many top 100 tracks and its rough, thanks to the aforementioned farm animals, is not as thick as some.
But this is a great test of a golfer’s approach play with hidden brooks, fiendish bunkers and green run-offs which mean only deadly accuracy will yield results.
The folk at Brora ran a highly successful campaign to stay in business when the pandemic lockdown hit hard last year.
It is a rare, raw Scottish links and its demise would have been a tragedy.
The outward nine is played next to the North Sea and the only sounds early in our round were the lapping waves and the singing of birds (I am not an ornithologist but the Arctic tern is on the club’s flag).
The first and second holes are both short par fours and gentle introductions to the course but the 447-yard third (par four for men, five for women) is a hint of greater difficulties to come with a grassy canal splitting the hole and demanding strategic thinking.
The jolly chap who served drinks and food in the clubhouse after our round was keen to know what I made of the sixth which he reckoned was the best par-three in the Highlands
It has a sloping green from back to front and is protected by three devilish pot bunkers. I found one but, thankfully, our Scottish tour has honed my extraction technique so I had the pleasure of landing within 12 feet. Inevitably, I missed my putt.
Being a fan of the quirky meant holes 11 to 18, played around a working farmhouse, grabbed my heart.
The par-five 11th sets the tone – with an expected hollow as well as bunkers impeding hopes of hitting the green in two.
Meanwhile, the 12th is where the undulations of links golf really come into play. While balls will likely be found, they will not necessarily be visible until the golfer is on top of them and helpful lies are not guaranteed.
The 13th was the hole which will linger longest in the memory – it only demands a pitch from the tee but I can imagine many are put off by the sheep feeding in the grassy burn and the deep trap in front of the putting surface.
I have never been so pleased to carry a mere 100 yards!
The home run at Brora is one of the most memorable I have played.
The 16th has another fairway of ups and downs before a steep dog-leg rise to its highly perched green and I received a hearty clubhouse congratulation for parring both the 17th and 18th.
The 17th is a long par four and considered a classic James Braid hole with grassy hillocks on the fairway and a tight entrance to a lofted target. The 18th is a par three with an upwards sloping green.
I admit I hit neither in regulation but chipped to flagside and nailed eight-footers. I had read the greens at last!
Thereafter, our lunch was delivered by friendly staff we enjoyed a view which was so good, we were thrilled we had rented one of the neighbouring Links apartments for a few days.
Brora provided an oasis of rest and relaxation.
Brora is just magnificent. Every hole is interesting and fun. Whilst there are some blind drives, the marker posts are spot on and the fairways generous. The grazing cattle and sheep keep the rough under control! Well worth the trip up this far north!
The comments from Tom and Mark are spot on. I have been to Brora on two different occasions and when I played Dornoch for the first time a number of seasoned Scots insisted that I head there to play to truly soak in the atmosphere.
Brora is unpretentious. Sad to say, so much of the golf "experience" is tied to a bombardment of elements that have little to do with the actual golf itself.
The James Braid design is clearly not bulletproof from a strictly architectural side. The length of a number of holes is nowhere near what it was in Braid's day when measured against the Star Wars implements golfers have at their disposal.
Much has been written, quite rightly, of the manner by which the various holes are routed and the intersection with the intoxicating views one receives. Some have also mentioned how the wind can truly put some teeth into the various holes. Fortunately, for me, in the two instances I was there the wind speed was never more than 2-3 clubs.
Unfortunately, too many people -- namely Americans who might scoff at a par-69 -- and make the ignorant statement that such golf is not golf at the highest level. That's utter rubbish. Golf need not be modeled via the formula in stretching courses to inane lengths and slavishly embracing sheer difficulty over engaging shotmaking. Brora is an unmistakable statement that the genius of Braid still resonates in 2020.
No question the ending two holes have been highlighted -- and for ample reason. The par-4 17th suffers no fools gladly and the par-3 18th surrenders to nothing but the finest of plays. Tom said it best -- heaven help if you come up short and attempt to play a pitch shot from the closely cropped turf in the hollow before the green. Amen -- swallow the pride and use a hybrid or even putter to get to the green.
Golf design has gotten too enamored with "championship golf" design which has little staying power for many beyond a one play and done bucket list check off. Brora is quite content to be happy in its own skin. Some have opined about the "soul of the game" being present and while such lofty statements may seem pious to a good number the core of Brora is about the game itself.
If one wishes to understand the roots of Scottish golf a visit to Brora is clearly one place to visit and inhale the atmosphere.
M. James Ward
Brora is a unique golfing experience and a superb addition to any golfing pilgrimage to Royal Dornoch. You will not find a more natural and authentic links. You get the sense very little has changed in its 130-year history.
A typical out and in front and back 9 respectively, every hole has a view of the sea. Despite not being a long course, like all good links the challenges lie in judgement of the wind and navigating the contours on and around the greens. The greens themselves are excellent and putt true with the electric wiring around them not detracting from their playability at all. Just remember to step over it!
The sheep and highland cows present on various parts of the course only add to the brilliantly rustic and wild golfing experience. When we played, the herd had made camp just in front of the 4th tee, completely unperturbed by passing golfers. We had to take extra care not to top the upcoming tee shots which surely would have resulted difficult conversations to be had in the clubhouse.
Memorable holes of Brora include the 5th – watch out for the semi-hidden burn, the 9th – a par 3 out to sea, the 16th – a fantastically shaped hole with a requiring a precise pitch up the hill, the 17th – an excellent driving hole from a raised tee and the 18th – a brute of a par 3 to finish. The clubhouse almost seems to overhang the 18th green and is not actually a bad line for the tee shot with a prevailing wind. If you come up short here (which is easily done) do not attempt a flop shot from the gulley in front of the clubhouse gallery and onlooking members. Bump it up, take a four and wash it down with a hearty dose of medicine.
On reflection, it is not difficult to see why Brora, despite its remote location, is the home of the James Braid Society and why they were so successful in their funding attempts during the pandemic. It is an utterly charming place that delights any golfing purist and perhaps is the last bastion of active club golf in the faraway north. Do visit if you get the chance, it will not disappoint.
I had heard about Brora being the home of the James Braid society and having electric wires surrounding the greens to keep the sheep and cattle out. My expectation was a rustic course with marginal conditions. I was wrong! Brora is an excellent course that is kept in top condition. The electric wire surrounding each green is quirky but does not deter from play. The holes are interesting and fun with a good variety. Brora is not to be missed on a trip to the Highlands. Do be sure to keep the tradition of hitting your tee shot on 18 off of a tuft of wool found on the course, it is part of the fun.
I would go a bit stronger on my recommendation for Brora. If one is in the area to play Castle Stuart and Royal Dornoch, then one should always add Brora to the schedule. Whether Brora becomes the first, middle or last golf course on your trip, it is so much fun to play that it is worth visiting every time one journeys north.
Yes, it is a short course at around 6100 yards and without a strong wind above 20 mph, you will score very well here. So what? Not every golf course needs to mentally stress you on every shot.
The views are so stunning here of the sea that you are likely to be distracted constantly looking towards the water.
Yes, there are sheep on the golf course and sometimes cows as well. I have several very good pictures of my playing partners with large cows in his background.
You see the water as soon as you arrive and you play down to it on the first hole with the second tee essentially on the water. Then you play alongside it as you go out.
This is a course where you will use your short irons a lot, pitching wedge, gap wedge, etc.
The bunkers are not numerous and they are all roughly the same size. But given their relatively small circumference, if you find them, you will likely drop a shot. However, given the width of the fairways you should be able to avoid them and with a short iron in your hand you should be able to avoid the greenside bunkers as well.
The greens are not overly large and run at normal speed for a links course. They are not difficult to read.
I did very much enjoy the humps and bumps in the fairways as well as the tilt of some of the fairways. The eighth hole is a good example of this as a short par five looking straight at the hills in the distance and the sea to the right. The 12th has similar humps to it.
Some quibble about 18 ending on a par 3 but its a pretty good one. It is not in the same league as the 18th at Pasatiempo but it is a nice way to finish off a match to this slightly uphill, long par 3.
On my personal rating scale, I gave it high marks for playability and memorability due to the joy it evokes.
I thought the best holes were 3 ( a longer par 4 along the water), 6 ( a lovely mid-length par 3 with a well guarded green), 7 (the burn is a good test to avoid going right on your second), 9 (short par 3 playing to the corner of the course with the sea behind and to the right), 11, 12 (well bunkered par 4), and 13 (a short 125 yard well bunkered downhill par 3 looking back toward the water surrounded by five bunkers and a burn in front).
The course loses a bit of steam coming in from there although the second shot into the uphill green at the short 16th is a lot of fun and the drive must be well placed on 17 to have a good shot into another slightly raised green on this hole.
If one were to critique Brora, one could ask why it does not have more bunkers, both in the fairway and near the greens given that it does not have length as its defense. I think because it often plays when there is a strong wind present. I have yet to have an overly strong wind the many times I have played it, but I can visualize what the wind in that open air (no trees) would do to a ball that is hit high. The other critique could be that the par fives are too short, but although they seem a bit straightforward, there are interesting land features such as the mounding and fall-off as you approach the green on the 11th.
There are few courses that can spark real joy when playing them. Brora is one of them. You will likely play to your index or even better, you will laugh and have fun, and you will forever remember those views.