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.
On a previous visit to the area I had played Tain and Dornoch so this time I chose to combine Brora and Dornoch as recommended by so many other reviewers – what a good shout on their part! Dornoch may be the jewel in the Highland crown but Brora is definitely one of the gems that adorn that same golfing coronet.
Put simply, do not miss playing here if on a trip to the north of Scotland.
James Braid never put his name to the design of many bad courses and Brora must rank among his very best.
The first nine holes sweep down and away from the clubhouse along the shoreline – crossing a couple of burns on the way – then the inward half returns further inland, with a couple of quirky holes at the 16th and 18th where the fairways play uphill towards the clubhouse.
The greenside bunkering and putting surfaces were the best we saw over a weekend in the area – greens were fantastic for the time of year and sand was soft and fluffy. Local man Robin Wilson made a point of coming over to chat to us in the clubhouse after our round and really made us feel at home as we tucked into a massive all day breakfast in the late morning.
Brora is what value for money links golf is all about. Do yourself a real favour and sample it for yourself.