Royal Dornoch (Championship) - North Scotland - Scotland

Royal Dornoch Golf Club,
Golf Road,
Dornoch,
Sutherland,
IV25 3LW,
Scotland


  • +44 (0) 1862 810219


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.

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 the 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."

In 2017, Tom Mackenzie of Mackenzie & Ebert oversaw a number of improvements made in-house to holes 5, 10, 11 and 12. Shortly after these were implemented, work began on creating a new 7th hole, routing it closer to the edge of the escarpment, with the old gorse bushes removed to open up views of the coastline for the entire length of the hole.

The new hole opened for play in 2020 and the green is now shaped exactly to the dimensions of the old one. New tees will also be built on the site of the former 7th green, allowing golfers to tee from the top of the hill as part of the original design intent of Old Tom Morris.

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Reviews for Royal Dornoch (Championship)

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Description: 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. Rating: 9.6 out of 10 Reviews: 112
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janetbeal
This is definitely my favourite of all the courses I have played. The course itself is very challenging, but rewards good shots (and punishes bad), and the location is fabulous, so if you are not playing well, just look around and take in the scenery and sense of calm and isolation. One thing I REALLY like about Royal Dornoch is that the course plays really well from the RED tees, with all the trouble off the tee being at a similar range from both mens and ladies tees, given the difference in average driving distance. The main concession to the ladies is that the course is a par 76, sss 76 from the red tees, compared with par 70, sss 73 from the white. This also means that it is a fair course for a mixed event, where it is the guys who get the courtesy shots! The layout is traditional links, out and back following the curve of the bay, so the wind direction changes as you progress around the course. Like the other reviewers, it is difficult to choose a few favourite holes, but the following deserve mention: 2nd – a great par 3 with a green that repels all but the best shots, 5th – a short par 4, but you need your two best shots to have any chance at a birdie putt, 14th – par 5 for the ladies, but still requires two good shots and then an accurate approach to the green or you run back down off the elevated green, 17th – elevated tee so your tee shot should roll further, but you need to take advantage of this extra distance to have any chance of getting on the green in two. The course has been in excellent condition each time I have played here (last time was April 05), with greens that run true and bunkers with perfect sand.
March 31, 2006
10 / 10
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kelly conway
#20...you have to be kidding me!!Royal Dornoch is an awesome and special place. The journey to the far reachs of Scotland is extremely rewarding. The ambience, the setting, the quality of the course are hard to match anywhere.At every difficult crowned green one can imagine Donald Ross making mental notes for his future work.I highly recommend this course and I plan to get there in 2006.Kelly Conway
December 18, 2005
10 / 10
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Richard Smith
Royal Dornoch is magnificent. I would rate this course substantially higher than 20th, probably in the top 5 or 10 in the UK. The only two courses I"ve played that compare are Muirfield and Ballybunion (old). Although the first hole is somewhat average, from there the course proceeds from one magnificent challenging hole to another. The holes have a great variety of twists, turns, and doglegs, and there is enough elevation change to give you the sense of never quite being able to find your balance or your game.The greens are unique and it is easy to detect the influence that they had on Donald Ross. I play at Holston Hills in Knoxville, Tennessee, a classic Ross course, so I recognized a number of features in our course from Dornoch. The greens at Dornoch, however, are severly sloped and approach the difficulty of Pinehurts #2.This course is very demanding but straightforward. My highlights were to eagle the par 5 ninth with an 80 foot putt and to birdie the famous Foxy (I believe #14).This course should be sought out and played by anyone who wants to know what links golf is all about.As an aside, the Struie course is really not much to talk about. If you can get a day ticket to the championship course I would skip the Struie. It is short and uninteresting, but is a nice course for kids and beginners.
November 20, 2005
10 / 10
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Both par 3 holes at 2 and 6 are a challenge, you will see what I mean when you play! The views from third on are amazing. Playing the back nine along that wonderful coastline you will be in heaven. Royal Dornoch is one of the best experiences in golf. You will love it.
September 23, 2005
10 / 10
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Jim McCann
According to the 2005 first edition of the top100golfcourses book, this course is the number one as voted by website reviewers and it easy to see why this beats all the more renowned Scottish tracks – there is an “X factor” , an intangible golfing variable that you feel from start to finish when you play here.You cannot adequately describe what it is, but rest assured that it does exist and you can only experience it by playing! Royal Dornoch (Championship) - Photo by Jim McCannThis place, from the moment you enter the small town main street, oozes charm. Memories of the recent Rubenstein book ‘A season in Dornoch’ come flooding back as you pass the wee gift stores, coffee shops and cafes to get to the clubhouse. The club term their clubhouse as modest but it more than meets the needs of its members and 12,000 visitors who pass through annually. And, unlike so many top venues, it feels like a place where people come to play golf, not for the social cache afforded by being a member.That’s all part of the ‘X factor’ mentioned earlier, of course. I played in the Gents Open in August 2005 and parted with the best twenty quid I’ll ever pay for a round over a championship links. And on a day with no wind, I was very fortunate to compete on a day which was as near perfect for scoring as is possible. To think that golf has been played here for nigh on 400 years at the third oldest course in the world is very humbling. The first eight holes playing away from the clubhouse towards Embofeel for the most part as if you are playing on a shelf, away from the shoreline. The next eight holes are played at the lower level, though the last of those, High Hole does rise back up a hill to a higher elevation for the closing two holes. Riveted bunkering and enormous, saucer shaped, elevated greens at most holes are a lasting impression, as is the gorse which awaits anything toowayward off the fairway. Having said that, the layout is very fair and you can let loose with the driver on most of the par four and fives. My only regret was not playing in early summer when the members I played with said the yellow gorse in full bloom was something to behold. The scorecard has a detachable portion marked ‘The Dornoch System’ where you can enter fairways in regulation, greens in regulation, putts per hole with a ready reckoner giving percentages for each category scored. When I asked my co-competitors what it all meant I was given a wink and told it was ‘some old flannel for the overseas visitors’ who pay more attention to those sort of banal statistics than what really matters.Yes, look up from the scorecard and look around at what really matters as you play the course! A turn off for many golf enthusiasts are the tired old stories of golfing greats who laud a particular links then suddenly their testimony becomes gospel. Well, Watson and Crenshaw have been quoted in similar vein here but … hail the two revered high priests of golf as they have never spoken truer words when praising the work of the Lord in laying out linksland such as Dornoch! You will be enchanted by the whole experience, honestly. James McCann.
August 22, 2005
10 / 10
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dan
August 25, 2013
Just planning our 2014 trip and considering whether we go to Dornoch again this year (would be sixth running). Having a very pleasant time making the effort to read all of the reviews and responses (including mine) of my favourite golf course to date. What recurs both here and in my recommendations to friends are references to such as "x factor", "ambience", "mystical", "magic", "fun", "hard to describe", "difficult to explain". That, along with the trip up playing surrounding golf courses and a return trip to Durness, probably means Ireland can wait for yet another year !
Played this great course several times on a Scotland journey in 2000, wish we could have gotten there again on this years trip. I kept finding myself comparing the great courses we played this year to RD. The course has a fabulous natural layout, and the view from the 3rd tee with the gorse in bloom in late spring is incredible. The par 3's are all great holes, along with "Foxy". It challenges every club in the bag..tough but fair.This will be a must play on my next trip.
August 22, 2005
10 / 10
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David Parratt
Something mystical about Royal Dornoch. Played July 2004 as a twosome in just over 3 hours. Bumped into Mike Weir on the course. Great layout. The rough was not very punishing (light wispies). A first class pure golf experience.
February 08, 2005
10 / 10
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Bart Boudreaux
Fantastic golf course with great views. My favorite in Scotland followed by Troon, Carnoustie, Old Course, Kingsbarns then Muirfield. Great value at £70 or so.
December 31, 2004
10 / 10
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Jimmy G
December 16, 2008
My buddy wrote this review and trust me when I tell you he is a true " golf course snob". When he rates a course this high, you better book a tee time on it ASAP!
Steve Searle
Like a lot of people, I had wanted to play RD for so long I forget. Needless to say the course did not disappoint in any aspect. After a gentle start the course opens out in front of you as you walk from the second green to the 3rd tee. I found myself stopping to take the beauty of the view in for longer than I possibly should, but it can't be rushed when you've waited this long. From there the course simply tests every aspect of your game, especially your short game. The greens were fast, firm and in superb condition. The bunkers were penal in many places, but if you go in them you deserve to be punished! To list the best holes is difficult, however, the 4th, 5th, 6th, 9th, 14th(stunning), and the 17th were fantastic and really got the pulse racing. I have decided that I will be back to play this fabulous course again as soon as I can. Without wishing to name drop, I have played Valderrama and Pebble Beach; sorry, but RD leaves you both firmly in it's wake. Its design, atmosphere and scenery cannot be faulted. Stunning!
September 21, 2004
10 / 10
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Kevin P
Do whatever you can to grace the fairways of RD (due to it's Nth location you can play there very late at night in the summer) as you will not be disappointed. Portrush gets more accolades but for mine Dornoch is a better overall package. Superb linking of holes Par 3 6th, Par 5 9th + bunkerless Par 4 14th 'Foxy' are standouts. 'Crowned' greens ala D Ross (Pinehurst fame: above) are abundant and test your short game. Rating 9.5/10 KP
June 18, 2004
10 / 10
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