- +44 (0) 1862 810219
45 miles N of Inverness (A9)
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Royal Dornoch Golf Club is spellbinding. It seems to mesmerise amateur and professional golfers from all over the world and many make the pilgrimage to this natural links at some point in their lives. Let’s be honest, for most people, it takes a concerted effort to get to Dornoch. For those who live in Glasgow, the drive by car will take about four hours.
In 1630, according to the Guinness Book of Golf Facts and Feats, Sir Robert Gordon described the course in glowing terms. Dornoch… “doe surpass the fields of Montrose or St Andrews”, he wrote. There are also written records showing that golf was played at Dornoch in 1616, long before its first nine-hole golf club was founded in 1877. This makes Dornoch the world’s third oldest golf course (behind St Andrews and Leith). In 1886, Old Tom Morris “updated” the original nine holes and came back three years later to extend the course to 18 holes. John H Taylor later made changes to Old Tom’s layout with guidance from the club’s secretary, John Sutherland. After the Second World War, George Duncan added six new holes (6 to 11), when former holes 13-18 were incorporated into the new Struie course.
It’s the timeless setting that makes Royal Dornoch such a pleasing place to play golf. It’s wild, isolated and, at the same time, absolutely beautiful; there’s the blaze of colour in early summer when the gorse is in flower. The pure white sandy beach divides the links from the Dornoch Firth and it all feels very humbling.
Ostensibly the course itself is pretty straightforward: it’s an out-and-back layout. Many of the greens, though, are built on natural raised plateaux making approach play especially challenging. It’s the raised domed greens that became the trademark of Dornoch’s most famous son, Donald Ross. Born in 1872, Ross became the club’s head green-keeper and professional. He later emigrated to the States and became one of the greatest golf course architects of all time. Many of his designs, most notably Pinehurst No.2, bear the hallmark of Royal Dornoch’s greens.
There are plenty of great holes to choose from at Royal Dornoch. The 4th is in the middle of a stretch of three excellent par fours. The line from the tee is the statue of the Duke of Sutherland. “Whinny Brae” is the par three 6th that signals the change from the low-lying holes to the more elevated ones. It requires an accurate tee shot across a swathe of gorse that wraps its way around the plateau green. The 14th, called “Foxy”, is a long par four, measuring almost 445 yards, and it is one of the most simple and natural holes in golf featuring a classical Donald Ross domed green.
The town of Dornoch is steeped in history; there has been a human settlement in the area for over 4,000 years. The witch’s stone stands in a local garden, commemorating Scotland’s last “witch” burning. The stone says 1722, but Janet Horne, the alleged witch, was tried and condemned to death in 1727.Most people know about Dornoch and many have this course on their must-play list. All we can say is that you shouldn’t leave it too late (as did Bernard Darwin), this course must be played sooner rather than later. "And then, alas!—worst of all the deficiencies in my education—there is Dornoch. I never seem yet to have enough time or enough money to get so far north."
I played Royal Dornoch for the first time on Monday 3rd June 2019. I had travelled up from Gleneagles in the morning for a PM tee time. I arrived in good time and walked up to the 1st tee from the car park. I was instantly aware that this was not going to be an easy day. The wind was a constant 25mph, blowing straight down the 1st hole.
We teed off at 14,30 with the wind not having abated at all. I was amazed how soft the fairways were and that even down wind the ball would still make a pitch mark on the greens. Apparently the area had had one of its wettest Springs for many years. It was not really like playing links Golf apart from the wind which was relentless, The thing which struck me most was that apart from the famous upturned greens, the course just followed
the natural contours and meandered along the coastline. There were some fabulous holes and others that seemed a little bland, but all in all we had a great day. I felt I had achieved something, by scoring on every hole in a Stableford comp off 6 handicap.
We had a quick drink in the clubhouse afterwards. It seemed strange to be in a clubhouse at an historic course that did not feel 'special'. I have played some of top clubs in Scotland, Troon, Muirfiled, Prestwick etc all of which have a clubhouse that has an aura about it. I'm not quite sure what was missing.
Ref the club house observation and its lack of "specialness", I think that the difference between RD and the other clubs you mention is that it is a thriving, welcoming local golf club that happens to play on a World class course (with a nice second course such allows membership without the waiting list or cost of the Championship course).
I have always wanted to visit Royal Dornoch after hearing stories about how good the course was, its continual high place in pretty much all the rankings and that it is set in one of the most perfect settings for a golf course. We arrived early to take a look around the clubhouse and to warm up before taking on the challenge ahead. The first hole is not overly long although we were playing it downwind which made the second shot tricky. Hole 2 again a shortish par 3 with a green raised on both sides which falls off severely at the back of the green. Three of my group pitched the ball onto this devilish green only to see it fall off the back never to be seen again as the gorse swallowed the balls up! Holes 3 - 6 are excellent with a mixture of short and long par 4’s plus a very nice par 3 set alongside the gorse covered dune. Hole 7 is slightly weak and I am sure once Mackenzie and Ebert work their magic this hole will be much improved. Hole 8 is brilliant with a blind tee shot to a left to right sloping fairway leaves a short iron to the green. The turn home does not disappoint. Hole 9 a long par 5 which runs along the sea is excellent and a real test into the wind. The 10th a shortish par 3 plays to a narrow green which slopes from right to left which if you miss will test the short game of even the most accomplished player. Hole 11 is an exacting par 4 that requires two good shots to reach the putting surface and this hole is followed by a cracking par 5 which dog legs very slightly from right to left. The par 3 13 gives you a little rest before you tackle the brilliant 14th which some describe as the best par 4 in golf which is hard to argue…the green complex is amazing. Hole 15 is a solid par 4 before you reach 16 a hole that I was not overly keen on as it played directly uphill with a blind second shot. 17 is a fine par 4 with a blind tee shot to a sloping fairway and then a second shot to a slightly raised green. The 18th hole gives no respite a long par 4 that plays into the wind to a green with a small gully running along the front section. A couple of things that stood out from my visit were the bunkering which is world class and the excellent green complexes which will test every facet of your short game. The course was in reasonable order considering the long season although its was a shame that the fairways had been scarified. All in all Royal Dornoch is very much worth a visit but I am not sure its worthy of its Top 10 in the World status. Played October 18.
Royal Dornoch is overrated. It’s clearly a very good golf course, but has weaker moments like 7 & 16. Several holes, despite being good, are also too similar: 3 & 4, 8 & 17, etc.
You expect more of a world top 10 course, in terms of variety and consistent quality. After all, we’re talking about the top 0.3% of all golf courses.
I wonder if much of the valuation of this course comes from American visitors on a golfing pilgrimage, perhaps inspired by Donald Ross associations & comments from the likes of Tom Watson et al, who are just not used to experiencing this kind of golf
Ref BB'S "over rated" points, I'm certainly not a sentimental visitor but return every year. RD has a great blend of being a top quality course but retaining fun and peril; the "pleasurable anticipation" that Darwin writes of to see where one's tee shot has alighted on 8&17, or the approach on the 16th which I actually think is under rated, particularly in match play. Maybe you're a better golfer, but for a ten handicapper is perfect.
Wonderful scenic classic true links track with a great history.
Well worth the long trek north to play this course.
Some great holes and some great views and some tough shots.
Travel north to Dornoch where the world slows down, people have time to talk, the town is a miniature St Andrews, outstanding beach with stunning views, challenging great fun golf course, friendly clubhouse, in short you are sure to enjoy your visit to play Royal Dornoch
I have been fortunate to play well over 1000 different golf courses and when I am asked for my favorite, it is Royal Dornoch. It does come with a disclaimer to The Old Course, due to the fact it is The Old Course. The difference is, I will go out of my way to play Royal Dornoch. Golf has been played here since the 17th century, however the course was not really laid out until 1886 by none other than Old Tom Morris. To add to its legacy, Donald Ross was born in Dornoch in 1872. After apprenticing with Old Tom Morris, Ross returned to Dornoch in 1893 as the keeper of the green and head pro. It was not until 1906 that Dornoch received Royal status.
This was the second time I had the pleasure of playing and I was with three other buddies. Before teeing off. I was chatting with the starter and asked him what was his favorite course. I was surprised when he said Brora. He did acknowledge where his paycheck came from but liked Brora better. That will be my next review. The first is a welcoming short uphill par 4. The 2nd is a devilish table top par 3. Aim for the middle of the green. There are two deep front pot bunkers on the left and right. The fringe is mowed down so everything will roll down and the lies are extremely skinny. Miss the green and a double is a good score. The 3rd is a dogleg left. Aim at the left side of the fairway, if you drive it straight you are flirting with the bunkers on the right, the fairway also flows right. This is a large green with lots of undulation with just about everything going hard towards the ocean. The 4th is a long par four with a plateaued fairway. Once again left is better. If you are right, you will probably be at the base of a mound with a tough second shot. There are two greenside bunkers guarding any approach from the righthand side. The 5th is a short par 4 and one of my favorites. The tee box will aim you at the right bunkers, so, once again, left is better. You should have a short approach shot to the elevated green that is well protected by bunkers. I described the 2nd as devilish and I am not sure how to describe the par 3 6th, perhaps feast or famine. There are two bunkers left, protecting a narrow green with a 90 degree 8 foot drop runoff to the right. I was fortunate to hit the green and escape with a 2 putt. My friend, Carlos, was not so lucky. His tee shot was short and he made what appeared to be a good chip to a back right pin. Alas, it hit the pin without much pace but slithered right down the slope. He gave up after several attempts to get his ball back on the green. The 8th is a really cool par four. It has a blind tee shot so use the aiming post. A drive of 200 plus yards will find your ball at the bottom of the hill with an approach to another well-guarded green. The par 5 9th heads back towards the clubhouse and parallels the Dornoch Firth. Depending upon the wind it can be reachable in two. However, danger lurks right with two deep greenside bunkers. The 10th is another short par 3 that is hard to describe. I think I will settle on downhill. It is well protected by bunkers. Both times I have played it has been downwind and I have been unable to hold the green. Regardless, it is a pretty hole. The 11th is a long par four where everything runs toward the ocean. Aim right. The 12th is a dogleg left par 5 that is reachable in two depending upon the wind. However, left of the green thers is a steep dropoff and of course the requisite bunker right. The 13th is another wonderful par 3. It is well protected, however, that did not stop Vince from skulling an iron and rolling it onto the green to set up his birdie putt. I cannot think of a course that has 4 fantastic par 3s like Royal Dornoch. The 14th is a long par 4 and has been recognized as on eof the top par 4s of all time. All I know is that I have never parred it and neither have any of the people that were in my foursomes. The short par 4 15th is a fun hole. A driveable par four that has a huge mound in the middle of the fairway. If you go for it, you can carry it, but if you are too far right there is a ginormous bunker. Conversely, if you lay up, you will have a blind approach shot. The par 4 16th is uphill and your tee shot will roll hard left. The approach shot is blind with a large mogul short and right of the green. However, if you miss left, there is a severe dropoff. The 17th is similar to 8, with a blind drive that runs down a hill. However, big hitters can hit it through the fairway and into the gunch. The 18th is a tough finishing hole. A long par 4 that slips right and is protected by a gully that creates some challenging pitches.
Royal Dornoch is amazing. If you love golf you gotta go!!!
Played a couple of weeks ago. From the hotel to the staff to the course, fantastic. Caddies are great, course has incredible views, great mix of holes, and a joy to play.
I first visited Royal Dornoch quite a few years ago early in the season. It was wonderful then and it was wonderful this time around as well. I couldn’t have been more fortunate to be there with the gorse in full bloom and the sunny perfect weather all but forcing us to wear shorts at a balmy 30 degrees C. Almost hard to believe these temperatures and left me thinking, wait I didn’t come up here for this, if I want 30 deg C I’ll visit Spain! Hard to complain nonetheless. As it turned out the entire trip was tropical summer weather.
Dornoch is such a great experience, has such wonderful views and is such an idyllic place to be but I believe the course itself is slightly overrated. Not the experience mind you just the course. Is it great? Yes, but is it a top 20 in the world course, nope.
Naturally I’m certain most will disagree with me and I’m certainly picking at straws but no way could this course be Top s0 in the world. Take the par 3’s for example. We had a nice breeze on the day and all my playing partners and myself hit the exact same club on both the very similar but excellent par 3’s on the front 9 only to hit the exact same club on both the very similar par 3’s on the back. While each of these are excellent holes, this I certainly would not argue. There is also a lot to be said for variation and that honestly could be better and would have to be for me to consider this one of the top courses in the world.
That being said and I realize how critical it sounds, there is not a bad hole on the course. One of my favorites on the way out is the par 4 8th. Which requires a centerline to left side tee shot to take advantage of the steep slope that adds an extra 50 yds to your shot and sets up a tricky semi blind approach into an undulated green guarded by a huge mound on the front middle and right side.
On the inward 9 my favorites would be the par 4 16th and par 4 17th. Both excellent two shotters.
16 plays up hill and a strong driver can carry up the ridge allowing for a look at the pin. Important to land the approach short in most cases as even though this shot seems uphill it always plays shorter for me than I expect and the yardage indicates.
17 is remotely similar in feel to the 8th a solid drive to the center or left can benefit from a sizeable yardage gain by running down the steep hill. The approach is a tricky one into a well protected green that is raised.
Royal Dornoch is one of the places that golfers dream about, a sort of mecca for American golf tourism thanks to classic and favorable comments from people like Tom Watson. There is no doubt it is one of the great experiences in golf given the entire package and a must play for any traveling golfer. Catch it when the gorse is in full bloom as I did on my last visit, get a peek at the sun and I can promise a day you won’t soon forget.
Have only played the course once, but I think 16 may be a bad hole - at least compared to what has gone before it. I agree with much of this review on the course. The experience goes a little the other way for me. Dornoch is still very much a must-visit though
Royal Dornoch was my first experience of a World Top Ten course so expectations were naturally high. Playing the course in Spring of this year also meant the gorse was in full bloom meaning that my first visit to Dornoch would come at a time when the appearance of the course was at its most dramatic. It did not disappoint.
First impressions of Royal Dornoch was that this is a very unassuming golf club. It appears to do very little to announce itself as one of the world’s top courses. In this new “Trump” world where everything needs be pompous and lit up in lights, the arrival at Royal Dornoch is extremely modest starting from the drive up the side street to get to what is a rather humble looking clubhouse. Admittedly, there’s the mega sign next to the first tee to announce where you’ve arrived, but I got the feeling that there’s a sense of reluctance to the attention that Royal Dornoch has received rather than it having been particularly sought after.
Onto the course and the first hole is one of those that eases you in and gives you an opportunity to get your round going, golf doesn’t need to be a slog from the start. You best soon have your wits about you though as a mountainous plateau green then awaits you at the par three 2nd, miss here at your peril. But it’s following the long walk to the 3rd tee where the full beauty of the course reveals itself. You’re greeted with an open expanse of links golf gold. This is Royal Dornoch. Swathes of gorse line the banks next to the fairways and the layout looks and feels as though it’s been untouched.
The 3rd through to the 5th were all picture perfect holes, but there was just something about the string of bunkers stretching diagonally across the fairway on the 5th that got me. The cute 6th looks like a strong storm could wash the away the green as it sits tucked, almost stuck on to the side of a hill. I kept my tee shot straight on this hole but it looks deadly if you miss left, right or go long.
The 7th hole, with a tee that presents the most obvious photo opportunity at Royal Dornoch is a tough hole, particularly into the wind, but compared to the very high standard of holes that surround it, doesn’t reach those same heights. This appears to have been recognised by the club and they’ve just involved Mackenzie and Ebert to locate a new green site, removing gorse that obscured the sea views from the right-hand side of this hole to make the most of the setting.
The 8th as well as the similarly styled 17th were two of my favourite holes on the course and captures the essence of Royal Dornoch in a nutshell. Both holes tee off from a raised area of ground and you’re met with a diagonal ridge half way down the fairway that divides the hole. This means you’re presented with a choice. You can drive your ball down the hillside to the lower ground leaving a shorter iron but a lesser angle of approach, or lay-up off the tee making the most of approaching the hole from the higher vantage point and better line of entry. Royal Dornoch is all about choices and I’m sure that your strategy can completely change depending upon time of year and the weather conditions. Many of the fairways are wide, but you can snooker yourself by putting your ball into the wrong position. Finding the fairway but coming into the green at the wrong angle can mean that you’re facing a fight to save par. Take Foxy for example, the infamous par four 14th, with a pin and green tucked behind a row of protruding low banks, it was a hole that had me stumped. I felt like I had to almost hit the ball into the rough or have the ability to hit a high cut to have any chance of finding a way to get anywhere near the hole. Foxy would probably still have me scratching my head if I played it a hundred times.
Some of the holes also take you right up alongside the beach, particularly the 9th that plays parallel to the beach for the whole of its 500+ yards. There’s no out of bounds here so the beach is in play, my playing partner made the most of this and hit a three wood off the sand for his second. Something the locals wandering by didn’t even seem to blink at.
Mentioning sand, the revetted bunkers here are a real highlight. Some of them are wonderfully placed and they’re immaculately maintained. You’re going to be severely challenged if you’re hoping to have a bunker-free round of golf and once in them, you best be visiting with your bunker “A-game” in tow. In fact, I can apply that thought to your whole short game. Chipping and pitching were especially difficult. The bump and run option is often not viable as many of the greens are located on raised ground and there are slopes and puzzles that you have to try and figure out to determine what the best shot is to get you close to the pin. I’m afraid I have neither the skill nor the imagination but it’s fun trying.
Ultimately, this is a course like no other. It’s a stellar layout that provides endless options and left me baffled on numerous occasions. Referencing the review below, Royal Dornoch may also be a victim of its own success. I love to read golf rankings, but with their prominence brings increased attention to those highly ranked courses from all corners of the globe. Sure, it would have been wonderful to play the course in the 70s and 80s when the allure of the course was less recognised, but despite this, I personally found that Royal Dornoch has still maintained plenty of its charm and soul.
Royal Dornoch is clearly considered a very good golf course, but does it deserve the reverence it receives? Well, I was looking forward to forming an opinion.
Shortly after arrival I noticed a paradox between what is a fairly "normal" club golf set-up and the coaches full of Golfing tourists arriving to play it. Facilities are basic but adequate, whereas the pro/gift shop is fairly comprehensively stocked.
On to the first hole: Nothing special but very useful as a good getaway hole. The second hole: Again, nothing breathtaking, but an interesting raised green with trouble on (I think it was) three sides. An early taste of things to come I assumed. Then it all becomes a bit clearer from the third tee as the course then opens up before you. That was more like it.
Holes 3-6 were great and our group enjoyed both the views on offer and the shots into and around the greens. Think hole seven was a bit ordinary before reaching the turn with the dogleg left Par 4 eighth. The anticipation as you walk to the precipice to see where your ball has ended up was great. Highlights for me on the back 9 were driving onto the beach at 11 (always satisfying to have a beach in play), and then 14 & 15 (I think), with the former being really difficult to hit the striking raised green in two with our relatively high handicaps and the latter a short par 4 where you have a decision to make with regards to the central dune that guards/obscures the green. The pace of play was pretty good - 3 hrs 45 mins for our 4 ball (with every hole loaded with 4 balls who presumably didn't know the course that well). Castle Stuart was a good 30-40 mins longer the previous day.
As we walked off of the 18th green and started unloading our gear, the group behind us holed out shortly after and then almost immediately jumped into two helicopters that had landed adjacent to the green. Possibly one of the oddest things I've seen on a golf course and not sure how normal this was, but another reminder of the contrast on offer at Dornoch. Real or imagined, it does make me feel there is a tangible "Disneyfication" to go with the Deification of Royal Dornoch. This took a little of the shine off the experience for me, but sure this places me in a minority. For better or worse, it's always difficult to distill the golf course essence and de-couple it from the total experience when offering up an opinion.
On the course itself: I'd say it is worth 5.5 balls. And on the assumption that it has been rounded up on occasion to a 6 ball, I'll round my review down to a 5 ball. Royal Dornoch apparently only has a handful of superior courses in the world, and despite not playing that many top tracks, I do find that at least mildly surprising. Will have to defer to those with more experience. Having said this, I did really enjoy the course - and it did more than enough to ensure I look forward to returning to see if I have undervalued it. BB
There are reasons why a golf course is ranked no 1. the course, the staff, the town, the people the everything.
I came here because of a book that Lorne Rubenstein wrote,
A Season in Dornoch.
It became part of my bucket list.
I finally made it this past week. The course is that good. 8 holes out 8 back 1 out 1 back on the ocean.
this is a must play when in Scotland, its along extra drive worth every minute