The small town of Thornhill lies in the Nithsdale valley, along the main A76 road between Sanquhar and Dumfries, where it nestles between the Carsphairn and Scaur hills to the west and the Lowther hills to the east. It’s here that the local golf club was established back in 1893, with members honing their golfing skills on a 9-hole course.
It was reported in the St Andrews Citizen on 20th October 1894 that Old Tom Morris would travel to Edinburgh to lay out a course at the Barnton Estate, followed by a journey to Tayport to extend the course at Scotscraig, before heading to the south of Scotland the following week “for the purpose of laying out courses at Thornhill and Lockerbie”.
When extra land became available from Buccleuch Estates in the mid-1970s, a small committee was set up – including professional Marshall Douglas and Greens Convener Jim Boyle – to steer the club through the process of doubling the size of the course.
Original holes 1 to 5 on the old course became holes 10 to 14 on the new course and the old 9th hole became the closing hole on the new layout, with greens from old holes 6, 7 and 8 incorporated into the new set up at holes 2, 16 and 17.
When completed, the new layout offered a fine blend of heathland and parkland golf holes. The course measures 6,102 yards these days and it plays to a par of 71, with three par fives on the card at holes 2, 15 and 18.
A round at Thornhill starts with a 153-yard par three hole then there’s quite a gap until the next short hole is encountered at the 156-yard 8th. The toughest hole on the outward half is the 450-yard 4th, “Orra Green,” where out of bounds runs along the right and a ditch cuts across at an angle 100 yards before the raised, two-tiered putting surface.On the back nine, where most of the older moorland holes are situated, the 148-yard 14th is a delightful par three, with its three-tiered green located behind a low stone dyke, It’s followed by the signature hole at Thornhill, “Peat Sheugh,” a testing par five requiring a long carry across a pond and wetland area to a narrow fairway that dog legs sharply left.
It's a long and winding road to reach Thornhill and I feel the remoteness of its location contributes to it being relatively unknown. I consider it a better course than several which feature in the top ten for its region. While there are some unprepossessing holes (such as the par three 1st) there are a couple of standouts : the tree-lined 4th and particularly the very challenging dogleg 15th where your drive must clear a burn and there is water all the way down the left. Several holes feature old stone dykes, surely the finest staple of traditional Scottish courses, For sure Thornhill is a bit of a mongrel with two very different nines but the views are lovely and the rolling Border landscape serves as a backdrop to a fine day out.
I played at Thornhill back in July 2011, before it made an appearance on this website. It had escaped my attention that I’d never posted a review for it since then so, on discovering it was on my relatively small “outstanding” review list, I made the effort a few months ago to have another look and refresh my memory about the layout.
First up, I have to agree with what I thought nine years ago: they should never have expanded the original 9-holer to an 18-hole course as all the best holes already existed on the old layout and the new ones (apart from the right doglegged par four 4th which is a great hole) are not a patch on those now residing on the back nine.
In particular, holes 5 to 9 are set on the same parkland paddock behind the clubhouse, where they’re laid out in a highly efficient, but hardly inspirational, manner. In fact, I remember thinking on my first visit that if I ever returned it would be to play the moorland back nine twice, where the newer par five 15th blends in really well with the other holes.
There’s lots to like here among the original holes: a blind tee shot through a gap in the stone wall at the 11th, another tee shot over another wall running diagonally across the fairway at the 12th, then an uphill shot to the par three 14th over the same dyke from two holes earlier. And all this played out across tumbling terrain where the only even stance is found on the tee box that you start from.
In fairness, the last three holes are a bit more pedestrian (though the downhill short par four 17th is tougher than it might appear on the score card with back tees extending into lower ground between the 4th and 16th greens) so the round kind of tapers off in front of the lovely old clubhouse. If relaxed golf is what you’re looking for somewhere off the beaten track then Thornhill’s certainly worth a go.