Review for Royal Dornoch (Championship)

Reviewer Score:
TaylorMade

Review:

Having heard stories of golfers arriving at Dornoch in helicopters, I was surprised of the lowkeyness of the atmosphere upon arrival. The whole town of Dornoch is genuinely about golf. Being a Dutchman who never wore clogs and lives in an appartment instead than a windmill, I asked myself where other than in Scotland is it that world famous tourist attractions still ooze the character and authenticity they represent for their rich histories?

The first tee experience is hard to beat and a fond memory in itself. After the obligatory picture of our foursome with the flags of Dornoch, my teeshot was interrupted 4 times by scattered golfers or cars crossing the public road to Dornoch beach in front of the tee box while I was ready to fire away.

The gentle opener gives ample room to pick up some confidence early in the round, but the green is as challenging as the other 17. After a silly bogey with 4 shots within 100 yards of the pin, yet still sufficient reserves of confidence, the brutal par 3 2nd is there to kill all aspirations one might have, the back to front sloping target narrow and steeply falling down on all but the front raised with deadly bunkers in front. A good, but not good enough shot and a double bogey on the card later, you will tell yourself to get it together after this suckerpunch, and the walk to the 3rd tee will provide you with a breathtaking view over the Dornoch Firth, looking down over the piece of land where a large part of the Championship Links is exposed. A strong set of 3 consecutive par 4s follows, with brilliant strategic options and fantastic green complexes where you need to hit the right shot to the right spot as the greens (or at least certain pin positions) will repel the unsuspecting approach shots.

The second par 3 ends the difficult opening stretch and is perhaps even narrower than the 2nd, and the fall-off on the right even steeper. As if that wasn’t enough defence, a few bunkers guard the front and side of the green. Hit the green or end up with an endless variety of recovery shots, or a lost ball if you bail out too much to the left. So much for the safe option!

Hole after hole Dornoch challenges you but teases you with genuine chances to pick up shots. The back nine plays longer, usually into the prevailing wind. On a calm day, I reckon it will play a bit easier than the front 9 but into the wind it is a tough cookie with some long par 4s. Whereas the front nine, mainly due to the devilish set of par 3s, has a slightly penal spiciness to it, the back nine is all strategy with a bit more width. Dornoch’s best holes are brilliant because they are so simple and pure. The 14th, Foxy, will require no further introduction but 15 might even be better. It’s a reachable par 4 with a mound as an obstacle for the view from the tee. I hit a great drive towards the green and found myself in the greenside bunker with a front pin position. I hit a decent bunker shot, only to find my ball topple over the wrong side of the ridge and leave myself a difficult chip/putt to this raised green and walk off with a sour bogey. I also felt oddly satisfied and honored to be tricked by this elite golfcourse architecture.

17 is one of my favourite par 4s anywhere. It resembles the also brilliant 8th hole, but with a more difficult teeshot and a unique green complex. You have so many options to play this hole, I doubt one would experience them all being a member for a decade. The player must choose between keeping the ball on the high plateau, which will be rewarded with avisible target on the approach shot with a long iron, or a shorter approach from the lower fairway with a blind shot, but also risk hitting it through the fairway into the gorse. Also possible - to hit the tee shot through the middle and let faith decide whether the ball chooses the high or the low road. A running approach or one through the air must then be decided upon, with the green and its surrounds sloping left to right and back to front. It doesn’t get any better. Strategic golf of the highest order, with breathtaking views. On 18, you can start to soak in the entire experience, no wows on this hole, but nevertheless a worthy end to a glorious day of golf.

Dornoch has its flaws and IMO is not a 10 on the Doak Scale. The 16th might be a steep slog uphill for the shorter hitter. And to be honest, the new Mackenzie and Ebert 7th didn’t quite impress me. Besides the astonishing panoramic views and the legendary green to tee walk from 6 to 7, it’s a long and wide par 4 with little visual or strategic interest and has a relatively flat green that is somewhat out of tune with the rest of the course.

I appreciate that Dornoch is a course to play over and over again in order to reveal its secrets. Nonetheless, playing it for the first time at 28 years old was a privilege and I look forward to many more returns over the next 5 decades!

MO

Date: February 19, 2022


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