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.
“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.
Everyone must play here at least once in their life. The simplicity and rawness of the entire property is truly refreshing. There are plenty of short par 4s and delightful par 3s across this course which, depending on which direction you’re looking in, could be interpreted as a sheep and cattle farm rather than a James Braid golf course. The grazing onlookers are all part of the package, so much so that the greens are protected by electric wires. The irony is, the greens are as good as you could ever ask for. Pure, healthy, smooth and in glorious shape. While the fairways and tee boxes are a little rough around the edges, you’ll be guaranteed magnificent putting surfaces – and we have the sheep to thank!
The natural land undulations are a highlight throughout the entire round with my favourite being up the 12th fairway before the devilish short par 3 13th hole known as ‘snake’. There aren’t too many bunkers on the course, but the best as reserved for the par 3 holes which will provide plenty of photographic opportunities. I thought the uphill 16th and 17th holes were the pick of the bunch which contributed to a very strong finish ahead of the par 3 18th hole with a semi-blind tee shot. Everyone will enjoy the excitement of the approach into the 16th green as you’re aiming at the club’s logo blowing in the wind from a pole.
As with many of Braid’s inland courses, there are several blind tee shots as he discovered a routing that takes you to the best pieces of topography on offer. While this is agricultural farming land, it is a credit to the hard-working greenkeepers who tend to the land to preserve an old classic. If you want a pleasant round at an affordable price in a peaceful setting like nothing you’ve experienced before, put Brora on your list. Time has no meaning here.
My group and I visited The Highlands last October on a two day golf break taking in Royal Dornoch and Brora. We arrived at Brora slightly before 8.00am in pitch black but as the sun rose we were greeted by this magnificent vista. The setting of this golf course is hard to beat! The first hole encompasses all that is great with Brora… a short dogleg left to right to a raised green which tests course management and accuracy. The greens which are protected by electric fences are some of the best green complexes I have had the pleasure of playing on. The par three holes are particularly good fun with 6, again with a raised green needing both accuracy and distance control to ensure you hit the green followed by 9 which is set right on the sea framed by marram grass. Hole 13 is a dinky little par three set over a winding burn whilst the 18th is a brute of a hole with a green that has a false front. There is a nice mix of holes across Brora which allows the golfer to hit pretty much every club in his bag….wind dependant! The one big thing we all took away from Brora was that it was fun and I would encourage all those visiting this part of the country to add Brora to their schedule.
Very enjoyable course. I played it two days before Royal Dornoch and while not really in the same class as RD, Brora has many fine moments. The fairway turf is quite good without that nice even grass cover that would take it top shelf. You have to mark it down for the electrical fencing too but that is an endearing quirk and I would go back anytime. Best holes were the par 3 6th which heads inland and the par 3 9th with its fabulous backdrop of the sea. The Burn holes were also great fun. But I did lose a ball on the 13th after what I thought was a brilliant drive so if you find a nice Srixon Q with 3 dots lying somewhere in the gorse its mine. I did not like the par 3 18th with its nasty swale which is bound to collect most tee shots anything less than the 190 yards - like mine, naturally.
As previous reviews have highlighted, a naturalistic golfing experience and great fun holiday golf. We played off whites as not overly long and the rough is not penal - you can spray it around a bit, still find you ball quickly and have a shot at the green. Greens were smooth running but not championship standard. The front 9 runs along the beach but bizarrely the back 9 is the more enjoyable and better presented. Very tough finishing holes but otherwise a course to relax, take in the scenery and wildlife, and bask in golf as it was meant to be played (except the electric wires around the greens of course!)