I have played all over the US, Scotland and Ireland. Dornoch is my favorite course, and second (probably Shinnecock or North Berwick) isn't even close.
Because it is so far north, Dornoch doesn't get the traffic that St. Andrews and some of the other courses in more populated areas do. And that remoteness only adds to the atmosphere at the club.
I played there on a Friday afternoon in August 2018. Teed off at probably 4:00. And I was pretty much the only person on the course. Never waited on a single shot.
Dornoch opens with a fairly straightforward first hole. I remember thinking "for an Open course, this isn't so tough."
And then I got to the 2nd and everything changed. The second green is a good indication of the challenges to come. Elevated, rolling greens. Steep, steep falloffs on all sides. Dangerous, intimidating pot bunkers. It really is incredible.
Dornoch had the best greens of any course I played in Scotland (about 10 courses, including North Berwick, Gullane and Cruden Bay).
My favorite hole at Dornoch (and one of my favorites in all of golf), is the 444-yard 14th ("Foxy"). After navigating bunkers all afternoon, you get to 14 and can't see any sand on the entire hole. Even though I'd seen Foxy on tv, I stood on the tee and had no idea where to aim. A big mound takes up the right side of the fairway. Hit your drive too far down the right and you'll slam into it. A shot out to the left gives a clear view to the massive, elevated green.
From the tee shot to the approach to putting, every shot is tested on this hole, even though at no point are you all that worried about losing a ball. It is challenging without being penal, which is the highest accomplishment, in my opinion.
Everything about Dornoch is just about perfect. I wouldn't plan another trip to Scotland without including it on my itinerary.
Date: January 22, 2020