Brora Golf Club lies just off the A9, about 20 miles north of Dornoch. It's one of the most delightful short road journeys imaginable. The A9 follows the East Coast of Sutherland and skirts around the westerly edge of Loch Fleet before passing through the Highland village of Golspie - where there's another fine course. Grab a glimpse of Dunrobin Castle, where the Duke of Sutherland died in 1833 and then enjoy the coastal views before passing through the village of Doll, where a big cat-like animal was recently spotted. And then, you arrive at Brora, ready for even more excitement.
Scotland has dozens of famous classic links courses but Brora is probably the least well known and this most northerly course really does deserve to be discovered. When Brora Golf Club was founded in 1891 the members played on a nine-hole course and the Secretary of Royal Dornoch Golf Club, John Sutherland, later extended it to 18 holes. J.H. Taylor made further changes following a visit and, in 1923, James Braid was commissioned to redesign Brora and little has changed since.
It's a traditional out and back layout with the opening nine holes hugging the North Sea coastline. We can think of no other course in Scotland which has so many holes playing so close to the sea. What's more, there are no dunes to obscure the magnificent seascape, but the downside is that when the wind blows, you'll have to hold on to your hat. The ground undulates gently and you can expect to encounter the odd wily burn and a series of electric fences, which do a fine job in keeping the grazing animals off the fast Brora greens.
Measuring 6,211 yards from the back tees, Brora is certainly no championship layout, but playing to handicap will be a real achievement, not only because the greens are tough to hit and tough to read, but because it's even tougher to concentrate on your golf in these breathtaking surroundings. When you arrive at the 2nd tee, you'll know what we mean. The tee is sited on a small promontory directly next to the beach and from here you are presented with the most arresting view along the full stretch of the coastline.
There are so many great holes, but the 9th, a 162-yard par three called Sea Hole, is our favourite. It will come as no surprise that it's a visually attractive hole, where the North Sea is a rather large lateral water hazard. The inward holes are solid but less dramatic than the front nine. The closing hole is a tough par three where the tee shot must carry across a deep gulley to a green which seems to be too close to the clubhouse for comfort.
Our message to those pilgrims who are heading to tick Royal Dornoch off their list is this, take your time and add Brora to your itinerary, you will not be disappointed.
Is Brora the best course I've played? No. Is it the best Golf experience I've had? Possibly. Best livestock on a course? Yes.
The above cliches actually do the course a dis-service, because it's simply very good in its own right and not just a pleasant/surprising contrast to the track down the road that has helicopters landing next to the 18th green.
More than the sum of its already sufficient parts, my main takeaway was that if there are 99 courses in the U.K. & Ireland better than this, then I should probably move back to my Foggy Island. Really enjoyed my day here.
In short, and to return to the cliche: Brora is worth a trip to the back of beyond even if it wasn't for its illustrious neighbour. BB
Brora is the wild-west of links golf and a completely unique experience. Whilst Royal Dornoch, a short drive down the road gets the plaudits, shame on you if you don’t head 30 minutes north to play this special course.
Whilst you’re welcomed as you drive into the carpark by an ugly concrete clubhouse, the course itself is a beauty. Brora is in a desolate location and is played across a rolling topography with nothing else to distract you apart from the hills, white sandy beaches and sea that surround the course. The course is completely sparse with very little gorse and just enough rough and plenty of hidden dips and swales to keep you honest. As you would expect from James Braid, the routing is also fabulous. There are some blind shots, as there should be, this is links golf after all, but not enough to cause frustration. The only criticism you could throw at the layout is that it’s a traditional out and back links, so if you’re confronted with anything other than a crosswind, you’re bound to find one of the 9s a much greater challenge than the other.
The par 3s at Brora are of a ridiculously high standard, and I would put them as being on the same level as Royal Dornoch’s, high praise indeed. The 6th, the Witch, is a tough one shotter with a sharp incline at the front of the green meaning only the best struck tee shots will find their way onto the putting surface. The short 9th, like the long 8th before it, is a pretty hole playing out to a green perched in front of the beach where there’s a real sense of isolation. The 13th is a gorgeous hole over a twisting natural burn to a green surrounded by bunkers and the 18th, although partially blind from the tee, is one of the strongest par 3s I’ve played. Your shot needs to be highly accurate as the green falls away on both the front and back meaning plenty of room for embarrassment in front of those watching on from the clubhouse.
On the theme of the 18th, some of the other closing holes are also tremendous. 16, aptly named “Plateau” only requires an iron off the tee before you’re faced with a pitch to a green high above the fairway. Then comes the 17th with the drive from an elevated tee before you play across more fantastic undulations to a raised green.
Strangely, the locals (the sheep) were absent from the course during our day’s play, maybe because it was lambing season, but the electric fences to keep them from straying onto the greens were unmissable. Fear not though, as this fence protection doesn’t detract from the course in any way; the condition of the course in April was excellent, better than both Castle Stuart and Nairn where we’d visited in the previous days.
As I said at the beginning of the review, Brora is a rare beast. Of the courses I’ve played to date, maybe Royal Cinque Ports at the opposite end of the UK is the closest comparison I can think of. It currently rates 100th in GB & Ire, a placing that doesn’t currently do the course justice and I’d personally go as far as to argue that it should be in the top half of those rankings. Any Highlands trip without Brora in the itinerary would be a sorry mistake. I’m sure for many a visiting golfer, the Brora experience will be a more special visit than to plenty of more high profile clubs across Scotland.
Dornoch may be the course that gets the plaudits and in my view rightly so. However, for me Brora comes so close it is hard to choose between them. It is immaculately kept and whilst it may not match Dornoch for stature it has great variety including the Braid signature of the par 3’s being in all 4 directions. We played in a strong wind. (The locals would probably call it a breeze!!!).The first at 280 yards played a drive and a full wedge, the second at 334 needed a full 5 iron to get close on the second shot. Downwind did not seem to give much help so you had to think all the way round. The course is fair but tough and enjoyable from the first tee shot to the last putt.
Given that the green fee is about 1/3 that of Dornoch and the quality of the course it is a must play if you are in the area.
Brora is the perfect example of how simple and brilliant golf can be. This natural links that James Braid has routed over perfect golfing land is quite simply out of this world. Its naturalness is only bettered by its brilliance. The creased landscape is ideal for golf and the simplicity is its genius.
Deciding to play Brora is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made but it was a quick one and very little time was required to book a tee-time at this exceptional course over 400 miles from home. Deciding what club to hit from the first tee took a lot longer. There’s an option to go for the partially hidden green, over broken duneland, or perhaps play down the left to try and find the fairway for an approach directly up the tilted green, but which club and how far should you hit? It’s the first of many decisions you will make during the round on what is a highly strategic layout.
The entire course, established in 1891, falls so peacefully over the mildly undulating and wrinkled terrain, the round just flows and before you can blink you’ve played five holes along the shoreline; all par fours, all varied and all excellent.
There is unassuming roominess to the course at Brora, a surprising bigness to the out-and-back linksland and although it wouldn’t be classed as a championship course, and it has no pretentions to be one, it could certainly host one.
Not that it really matters but for the record par is 70 and the total yardage is 6,211.
If only golf in general was as simple and uplifting as the golf course at Brora.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
A party of 11 golfers from England ventured Northwards in June to experience the long days and unspoilt golf on the links of Brora in the Highlands of Scotland.
I should be clear that Brora is not the refined perfection of relatively nearby Royal Dornoch (which is quite rightly in the top 10 in the world). However, for any golf course fan, it is just as important to play Brora. It is simply so natural; literally in both senses of the word being “derived from nature” (there’s nothing artificial about it at all) and “in tune with the natural world” (the abundance of wildlife is not just the sheep and cows on the course but we also saw rare birds and dolphins!).
The course is an out and back layout with the 1st nine being closest to the beach. The 9th is a lovely short par 3 which feels very remote (this is the most Northerly point on earth I’ve ever played golf!). We played on a beautiful summer’s day and the scenery was stunning. 36 holes felt like 18. I’m sure that it’s not quite so pleasant when the wind blows hard or the clouds roll in, but I would advise that, if you’re visiting Royal Dornoch, to travel a little bit further North to Brora; it won’t cost as much and you’ll be rewarded with a different, yet still wonderful, experience. RdeD
Brora was one of the most pleasant surprises of our trip through the Highlands. Although I had read about the quality of this links, the truth is that my experience exceeded expectations by far.
It is a classic links in which the first 9 are away from the clubhouse bordering the sea, while the back nine are located more inland. It is advisable to make a good result in the out nine, since the back are clearly tougher.
There are many lovely holes, but I would mention the short holes 6 and 9 (not so much the 18, an overly complicated finish), 3, 5, 10, 16 and 17.
The course presentation was impeccable, at least when I visited it, in mid-September, and we found the friendliest staff of all the clubs visited so far in Scotland.
In short, an obligation if you visit the Highlands, in my opinion, at a level comparable to Castle Stuart or even Dornoch (even at the risk of heresy to some purist).
Bunkers are limited in number as the course is totally unprotected from the ever present wind. Brora has five par threes, hence its short length of 5872 yards, and each one runs in a different direction. The first five holes are all par fours. The fourth is a real birdie opportunity being only 325 yards in length.
Eight and nine are the last holes beside the sea with the 9th green being the furthermost point on the course. The 8th is the only par five and the 9th is a delightful par three that plays to a green not so far from the beach. Interestingly, as with the opening hole at Machrihanish, the beach is not out of bounds but is treated as a lateral water hazard.
The 13th is the shortest of the par threes at only 125 yards. The tee shot is slightly uphill and over a valley with gorse and a wandering burn which seems to make distance harder to judge. The 17th is possibly the best hole on the course. This is a hole requiring two accurate draw shots and the avoidance of a nasty bunker almost in the middle of the fairway.
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.