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.
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.
Played Brora a few weeks ago. What a terrific place to play golf - a club not in any way pretentious, with great scenery, very friendly staff and members and a course to match. It might only be par 69 but it sure ain't easy. An excellently conditioned course with firm greens and deep pot bunkers. Good course management is needed throughout all 18-holes. Saw only a few sheep and none of the famous cattle and the electric fences around the greens are of no real hindrance. Make your score going out on the par 35 front nine and then hang on over the last 9-holes which contain several longish par 4's and a 210 yd par 3 at the 18th with an evil deep dip in front of the small raised green. The par 3's all play in different directions - a deliberate James Braid design trait I'm told - and severely contoured small greens are the norm. Also, a big 'well done' to Brora for building some short junior academy holes behind the 1st tee - a splendid initiative to help future golfing generations. Also thanks for without any prompting saying we could "play off any tee you wish" - so much better than the standard 'visitors must play off the yellows' that so many clubs insist on even for low handicapppers. Having played Brora I now see why so many compliments are paid to it and can't wait to return. As at some other courses however, the photographs on the clubs website do not do the course any justice, the course it much better, more interesting and far more undulating than the web-photos suggest. Play Brora if you have the chance and I reckon you will be smiling when you drive away. I was (and I still am).
There is perhaps one surprising inclusion in this august group because there, sitting quietly and unassumingly in the corner, is the beautiful but unpretentious Brora. Does it merit this accolade? I think that it does, because from the first drive to the last putt on the tricky 18th, Brora is everything that a links course should be, and if there was such a thing as a Richter scale for a feel good factor Brora would burst it.
Humps, hollows, blind drives and fantastic Highland hospitality, it’s all here and although it’s not long,(just over 6,000 yrds from the tips) the member we played with proudly proclaimed that it is never ripped apart. Pick of the holes on the front 9 for me are the par 3's at 6 and 9 and the blind drive holes at 5 and 8. The back 9 plays away from the sea and reminded me of the inward half at Royal Aberdeen, although not nearly as tough, with the 13th, 16th, 17th and uphill 18th my favourites. Brora is undoubtedly as out of the way as you can get and therefore it is a considerable trek to get to but I assure you will not regret it for one second. It may not have the celebrity of the likes of Dornoch or Castle Stuart but beguiling Brora is one of Braid's brawest, and an absolute must play. MPPJ