Brora is the wild-west of links golf and a completely unique experience. Whilst Royal Dornoch, a short drive down the road gets the plaudits, shame on you if you don’t head 30 minutes north to play this special course.
Whilst you’re welcomed as you drive into the carpark by an ugly concrete clubhouse, the course itself is a beauty. Brora is in a desolate location and is played across a rolling topography with nothing else to distract you apart from the hills, white sandy beaches and sea that surround the course. The course is completely sparse with very little gorse and just enough rough and plenty of hidden dips and swales to keep you honest. As you would expect from James Braid, the routing is also fabulous. There are some blind shots, as there should be, this is links golf after all, but not enough to cause frustration. The only criticism you could throw at the layout is that it’s a traditional out and back links, so if you’re confronted with anything other than a crosswind, you’re bound to find one of the 9s a much greater challenge than the other.
The par 3s at Brora are of a ridiculously high standard, and I would put them as being on the same level as Royal Dornoch’s, high praise indeed. The 6th, the Witch, is a tough one shotter with a sharp incline at the front of the green meaning only the best struck tee shots will find their way onto the putting surface. The short 9th, like the long 8th before it, is a pretty hole playing out to a green perched in front of the beach where there’s a real sense of isolation. The 13th is a gorgeous hole over a twisting natural burn to a green surrounded by bunkers and the 18th, although partially blind from the tee, is one of the strongest par 3s I’ve played. Your shot needs to be highly accurate as the green falls away on both the front and back meaning plenty of room for embarrassment in front of those watching on from the clubhouse.
On the theme of the 18th, some of the other closing holes are also tremendous. 16, aptly named “Plateau” only requires an iron off the tee before you’re faced with a pitch to a green high above the fairway. Then comes the 17th with the drive from an elevated tee before you play across more fantastic undulations to a raised green.
Strangely, the locals (the sheep) were absent from the course during our day’s play, maybe because it was lambing season, but the electric fences to keep them from straying onto the greens were unmissable. Fear not though, as this fence protection doesn’t detract from the course in any way; the condition of the course in April was excellent, better than both Castle Stuart and Nairn where we’d visited in the previous days.
As I said at the beginning of the review, Brora is a rare beast. Of the courses I’ve played to date, maybe Royal Cinque Ports at the opposite end of the UK is the closest comparison I can think of. It currently rates 100th in GB & Ire, a placing that doesn’t currently do the course justice and I’d personally go as far as to argue that it should be in the top half of those rankings. Any Highlands trip without Brora in the itinerary would be a sorry mistake. I’m sure for many a visiting golfer, the Brora experience will be a more special visit than to plenty of more high profile clubs across Scotland.
Date: October 17, 2017