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. 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 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: 108
TaylorMade
David Worley
For any lover of the links, to play at Dornoch is simply a must. The town itself has an understated ambience and there is still a lovely feeling of unspoilt beauty and serenity in the whole area.

Dornoch tests your golf game in every possible way but it is also an undeniably fair course. But, be warned, you can be unlucky with the tide affected wind and you just may end up playing sixteen holes into a decent breeze.

The 5th is one of the best par fours anywhere. It is only 354 yards long but precision is required with both the drive and the approach. Trouble in the manner of thick rough and gorse runs the whole length of the left side.

Foxy, the 14th, can play much harder than 445 yards would suggest. It is one of the hardest holes on the course despite having no obvious hazards.

At 6685 yards off the championship tees, Royal Dornoch is quite a long par 70. Play there in late spring whilst the gorse is still in bloom and if you get a balmy sunny day then you just might think you are in heaven.

This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.
March 09, 2015
10 / 10
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Claudio
Played all the British Open venues plus many other links in Scotland and Ireland (including County Down, Portrush and Ballybunion), but Dornoch remains the purest links experience. Is just the perfect golf links you always dreamed to play. I played it twice on August 2010 and still remember every single hole! There are no weak holes and the view is great from every single one. Little complicated to get there but definitely worth the trip. I enjoyed the overall experience, including the clubhouse, the nice hotel at less than 100 yards from the first hole and the village as well. Can't wait to go again.
December 29, 2014
10 / 10
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Scott Kliesen
1st time visitor to Scotland, and this was my first round, thus not much to compare it with on this side of the Atlantic.However, with that being said, I found this course to be everything I had hoped for In a seaside links course. Tremendous variety of holes. Many tight, challenging tee shots, taxing approach shots to crowned greens w deep, penal bunkers.Course conditions were excellent, especially the greens. Several visually stunning holes with dramatic elevation changes. And of course, very penal rough to gobble up misplayed strokes.Only complaint would be the slow pace of play due to its extreme difficulty for average tourist golfer.
July 13, 2014
10 / 10
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Philip Runkel
Played Royal Dornoch on May 2, 2014. Without a doubt, my most memorable and favorite day of golf ever! Just a wonderful experience on the course and in the clubhouse and pro shop. Everything was perfect, including the weather, which was a gloriously sunny day in the mid-50s. The gorse was in full bloom and ablaze on the hillsides. The beaches seem almost pink in places and the surf was up and rolling in. Truly a magical experience! Other, more knowledgeable, reviewers can do a better job of discussing the routing, etc., so let me just say that the course is challenging and very fun at the same time. And the fact that I birdied "Foxy" (of all holes!!) in no way influences my opinion of my day at Royal Dornoch. I hope to return to Dornoch several times in my golfing life!! By way of comparison, on this trip (my first to Scotland) here is how I rank the courses, starting with my most favorite: Royal Dornoch, Royal Aberdeen, Castle Stuart, Old Course, Crail, Carnoustie and Jubilee. And I really enjoyed playing Jubilee -- they all were a lot of fun, especially for a mid-handicapper who has not done a lot of serious golf trip travel. 13 Index
May 09, 2014
10 / 10
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dan
May 11, 2014
I've played there lots, and danced a jig when I even PARRED Foxy, so I would suggest immediate retirement since golf won't get any better ! Nice quote from GolfClubAtlas..."One of the better local golfers for many years once went 1, 3 on 13 and 14. When he got back to the clubhouse, someone said to him ‘I can understand the hole-in-one on the 13th, but how in hell did you get a 3 on Foxy?’". Congratulations !
Jim McCann

In light of the recent controversy – or “storm in a tea cup” – regarding changes to the 3rd hole on the Championship course, it seemed only right to exercise a little quality control on behalf of the Top 100 site and so I ventured out onto the links a couple of days ago to find out what all the “fuss” wasRoyal Dornoch (Championship) Golf Course - Photo by reviewer about.

To paraphrase the title of the 400-year old Shakespearian comedy which was written about the same time as golf at Dornoch was first recorded, as far as I could see the changes were “much ado about nothing”.

The fairway realignment and repositioning of bunkers may have whipped some people into a froth but the locals here seem to have taken the modifications in their stride.

As I was told in the professional shop, where the alterations have been welcomed, the changes actually help the higher handicapped player and hinder the more elite golfer so only a small fraction of those who play the course should feel in the slightest inconvenienced.

Therefore, as a non-elite golfer playing off a modest double digit handicap, I can exclusively reveal that the remodelling of this hole has had absolutely no influence whatsoever in me awarding a six ball score to a course that comfortably rides very high in the list of world ranked courses on this site.

PS The other 17 holes are none too shabby either…

Jim McCann.

April 01, 2014
10 / 10
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Dan Hare
Easterly one/two club wind, true but not too quick greens, beautiful northern highland sunshine - Dornoch on a Spring day is heaven! Was eager to see the changes to the third.In all honesty if you didn't know the course before you won't notice the difference once the gorse and turf has bedded in.They seem to have raised the gorse, so hopefully this will make ball location and retrieval easier.The net effect is just to push you down a bit towards the three bunkers but still loads of space - all in all a bit of a storm in a tea cup.Still my favorite course anywhere.
March 29, 2014
10 / 10
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Robert
I have just see the changes to the 3rd hole and can't help feeling that they have spoiled a very good hole. The 3rd is one of the best views of Dornoch when you walk round the corner from the 2nd green and see the course in front of you. The work has been done very well but I don't like the lumps of gorse that have been dumped down the left side of the fairway. The small finger of gorse that has been dumped about 80 yds of the tee on the left looks totally out of place. I know why they have done it to play away from the houses on the left but I'm not a fan of the gorse screening. It's a pity that such a great golf course has to be altered just to accommodate houses that were built long after the course was laid out.
January 13, 2014
4 / 10
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Hugh
January 13, 2014
Seems overly harsh to award an average 3 rating to a world-class course because the view has been obscured (presumably for safety reasons) on one hole by shrubbery. What rating would you have given Dornoch overall?
dan
January 14, 2014
The reason for the 3 ball rating is that i think the work has not improved the hole in any way. I have played dornoch many times and it will always be one of the best links courses. Dornoch never disappoints when you play there and i would always rate it a 6 ball for the whole experience but at this time my rating is low purely based on the work for that hole.
Derek
January 15, 2014
You've lost me Dan!
dan
January 16, 2014
Not difficult to understand. One of Dornochs best holes has been spoiled. Im sure it will play ok but the big hitters of this world will still stand up and rip it over the gorse to gain an advantage. Im not a fan but thats only my opinion.
Keith Baxter
January 23, 2014
Dan, we do appreciate you taking the time to share your opinion of the planting on Dornoch’s 3rd hole. Many people have responded to your comments, most were unfit for publishing. If you post any reviews in the future, we will be grateful if you will rate the whole course and not just one hole. The golf ball rating system is geared for the complete golf course and not for individual golf holes. Additionally our golf ball rating system is used to inform our future rankings. We will leave your three ball rating online, but will manually adjust your rating to six (your stated rating for the whole course) to ensure your under-rating does not adversely impact Royal Dornoch’s future position. Keith Baxter
Kevan Voce
I played this in June as part of our annual 3-day golf tour (with Nairn and F&R). Fortunately, the weather was kind with only a one-club wind into our faces when we hit the 9th. I’ve played all the Open venues (except Prestwick & Troon) and this is definitely up there with them. Dornoch is a fantastic test of golf with some changes of elevation (unlike the other Open courses) and wonderful views. The Par 3’s are all excellent (a hallmark of a great course) and to hit the green’s you need a proper golf shot. The highlight of my round was a birdie on the lovely 11th. There are number of really good holes (too many to mention) but the 14th is a real cracker – anyone who birdies that is a very good player. Obviously, if you are a serious golfer and you are in the area then you must play it. It ranks in the Top 15 courses in Great Britain. It may not be quite the test of Lytham or Muirfield but not far off – I personally rate it above Hoylake, Birkdale and Turnberry – and on a par with Royal St Georges, Portrush & Carnoustie. Not mentioned the Old course because that is in a league of one.
July 12, 2013
10 / 10
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B.G. Donaldson
Add me to the long list of Royal Dornoch admirers. Our group had a full Dornoch experience: two rounds (bracketed by Brora and Golspie) and three nights accommodations in Dornoch where we enjoyed the fine food, drink and hospitality. The course, as I knew it would be, is brilliant. We played in a variety of weather conditions and the wind, often a three-club judgement, was ever-present. The par threes, as noted elsewhere, are magnificent. The opening hole, driveable with the right wind, gets you off to a rousing start, then right away to the difficult par three second. Others have described the course better than I can, but for me, it resides in a special place among the courses I have played, along with North Berwick and Machrihanish. Dornoch and Royal Dornoch are special indeed. BGD
July 08, 2013
10 / 10
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Ivan
Currently sitting in the clubhouse looking over the 18th green waiting for the rest of our party to come in. Great golf course and a superb attitude to client service. Nothing to much as they have looked after us all day. A relaxed attitude to dress has meant guest from the local hotel have eaten in jeans with no problem. By having marshals on the course the pace of play was very reasonable 41/2 hours for such a special course not bad!The only down side Is the cost of the second course The Striue which is very average £40 very steep for what anywhere else would be a £25 course at best !Just need to finish my Guinness and order the sandwiches for the boys half playing - the others gone to John O'Groats! Where else can you that !
June 11, 2013
10 / 10
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