If you want to have a real good idea of what is
Dornoch and it's golf courses, the better mean is to take your preferred
conveyance and head for the north east of
Now, if you are lazy enough to click on the link above, here are some words about this particular place.
Dornoch is an old and important town of
The Championship Course is more recent than that (the
oldest holes dating from the XIX th century, some designed by famous Tom
MORRIS) but when you are on the lower links, just remember that 4 centuries
before, rough highlanders used to frolic there with rabbits and some well crafted
wooden sticks. That's how I see the Scottish: solid fellows, speaking a
strange language where they say "threw here" what is written
"froach", throwing trunks and stones at each other and celebrating
all that drowning in a barrel of whisky...
If "Royal" means great course, Dornoch is the most northern of the British great courses. Unlike most of the other ones, no Open Championship took place on this course: too far north, and far from big towns and their accommodations.
It would have deserved an Open in the early years, but now the course is a little under the requirements of modern pro golf. Not that is is an easy course (and some of the best golfers in the world can attest it is a real test for the player), but today's golf ball smashers should reach most of its greens from the back tees, and it's quite impossible to lengthen most of the holes. However, another strong characteristic of the course is the weather. The wind can build very different courses, depending of its direction and strength and par 3 as the 2nd or 10th can require a short iron to a wood. It needs years of practice to be used to each and every change of mood of the wind.
So, lets' keep the course for what it is, a
challenging routing, rolling its fairways among the gorse and bents between a
plateau and the dunes bordering the
From the first tee (almost among the chairs of the clubhouse
bar), you play two holes with the town just at your left, the pullers risking
to seek their balls in the yards of the nice houses bordering the course. Then,
getting down the path that leads to the 3rd tee, just after the turn it's a
breathtaking moment: all the lower links lay at your feet and you can embrace
10 holes in a single panoramic. I really believe there's no place like this one
anywhere in the world : gorse, dunes, the highlands in the back, the north sea
so close that any sliced shot should reach Norway, just take a deep breathe and
enjoy ! Let's go back to our walk through, the following holes play just near
the steep fall from the plateau to the lower links, from the 3rd to the 6th.
There, with a little effort, we go up to the plateau to play the 7th, the
hardest hole on the card. Then down again to the northern end of the course
Now, here's a hole by hole string of tips. They are
given considering the play in Links 2003, where the golfer can fire consistently
First: it's a short par 4 and the prevailing winds make it event shorter. The green then can be drived with a solid driver shot. It is often wiser to keep safe and play a long iron of fairway wood to be left with a full wedge to the green. Favour the left side of the hole where the green is more open to the approach. The right fairway bunker can eat balls but also bring an illusion that the green is nearer than truth. The green, as most at Dornoch, easily throw outside the balls that are not perfectly aimed. The slopes are gentle and the back left has the rare characteristic for the course of a well marked low tier, making it a tight spot to be reached.
Ord: this par 3's green is laid upon the north east horizon of the course, making the distance appreciation difficult. The green is steeply surrounded of three sides with deep hollows. A safe place is to be short of the green, but there, a lengthwise hump can deflect the ball to either side with two bunkers hungry for balls and able to keep them in for some shots. Every tee shot on the green is a great shot.
Earl's Cross: the aim on the tee and the slope of the fairway invite the balls to go down right to the bunkers or worse. So, it is wise to aim to the left and use the slope to keep the ball on the fairway, but it means sometimes to aim to the gorse which could be rather intimidating. Once the ball on the fairway, you are left with a short iron to a green that slopes to the right, with steeper slopes on he high of the green. Deep rough is very near the green on back and right, so it is wiser to aim for left front and let the slope bring the ball near the pin.
Achinchanter: Once again a hole playing alongside of the slope bringing the balls to the right of the fairway. This hole is longer than the 3rd and requires caution from the tee. There again, you have to use the left part of the hole to bring your ball to the centre, but there is a depression filled with rough on he left between the fairway and the gorse that can keep the ball. On the other side, too much right brings the ball on the grassy banks and slopes over the 12th fairway. Either side left you with a very complicated shot. From the fairway, a mid iron from an uneven lie brings you to a huge green sloping from back left to front right with a big hump separating the green in two. That hump makes long putts over it very difficult. Just try to keep right of the pin to have an easier uphill putt.
Hilton: a short par 5 that could be driven in the prevailing wind, if the plateau green was not defended by three deep bunkers in front. The fairway slope is gentler but as for the two previous holes brings the balls right where a procession of bunkers awaits the pushed balls. It is wise to place the ball with a long iron or fairway wood to have a safe approach to the elevated green. The green itself is rather flat with bad rough only at the back. In the wind, you must take care to be on the putting surface as both side leads to difficult up and down shots.
Whinny Brae: a shot in an ocean of gorse. Depending on the wind you can be forced to aim to the gorse in the left slope or to the 11th green on the right. The green slopes gently to the right, left side protected by three little bunkers and the right by a steep slope which brings the ball some yards bellow the pin. The front of the green is also protected by a very deep bunker gathering short balls. It is often wise to get out of this bunker by a backward shot. On the green, uphill shots are the best opportunity of a birdie, so get your ball right of the pin and at the right distance, which is not an easy shot for sure.
Pier: A flat, long hole on the plateau swept by winds. This is the number one handicap hole and one of the few where you can have a long iron to a fairway wood to reach the green in two. From the tee, the fairway seems quite wide, but it’s easy to reach the rough on both sides that complicates again the second shot. Depending on the pin positions the two bunkers guarding the green on both sides can make the approach very difficult. Pier really deserves its rank.
Dunrobin: depending where you want to lay your ball at drive, it can be a short wood/long iron first shot leading to a long and steeply downhill approach, or it can be a bind driver to the most roller coaster shaped fairway of the course. If you choose the second option, be careful for your aim, use the stake or the scenery in the back (trees, mobile homes, Embo Pier) to fix you aim. And hope for a good bounce at the landing as staying in the lower rough is never good, but better on the right side. One of the only two ball gathering greens of the course (in winter there can be a pond at the centre) awaits your balls for a slopping putt most of the times.
Craiglaith: we now turn back home with the first par 5 of the course. Rather short, it is most of the times lengthened by the prevailing winds. The drive is rather open, but there is a shallow corridor on the left which brings the ball further than on the right part. Still, there is danger on the left as the hole is next to the shore, and some hooked balls can enjoy the famous warmth of the local sea…Most of the times, the green is reachable in two, but it’s a test of fairway wood accuracy, with cross wind and uneven lie. As the putting surface is large it is welcoming to long shots, but the front pin positions can cause trouble, particularly on the right, where two deep bunkers await the errant shots: a good par 5 where everything from eagle to double-bogey is possible.
Fuaran: Following the shore, where the waves attack the most the coastline the last nine begin with a nice mid length par 3. The key here is to land on the green as it is well guarded in front and on the left by bunkers. The right is menaced by a deep hollow that gather all pushed balls. The green itself is two tiered with the highest tier in the back; the slope is about at the first 1/3 of the green. Short pin positions require to stop the ball quickly, and back pin position offers some complicated slopes.
A’chlach: The back tee is located just under the only trees of the course and the view is rather blocked by the surrounding gorse. It is a relatively long par 4 with a humpy fairway that’s leaves mostly no even lie. Though the shore ins next to left, only very bad shots should land on it. Depending on the wind, the approach can vary from a short to a long iron toward a wide green where the pin positions next to the bunkers are the most threatening. If you do not seek the birdie, reaching a safe point in the middle of the green is easy.
Sutherland: one of the holes designed by young Tom Morris. The second and last par 5 heads more inland, leaving a huge dune between the fairway and the beach. The drive invites you to cut the right to left dog-leg, but weeds on the left can eat your ball. Right side is not forgiving too, as a too straight drive can end in the bad grasses below the 4th green. If you keep your ball on the fairway, as for the 9th, it is a long iron or fairway wood test to a large green, protected on the right by a bunker and on the front left by a grassy hump the makes left pin positions blind and very difficult fto stop the ball at. Then,the green has gentle slopes that make a birdie always possible, even if the putting surface is not reached in two.
Bents: the last par 3 is rated as the easiest hole on the course. From the front tees, it can be true, but from the back one and into the wind it can be another song. The green is surrounded by deep bunkers everywhere and has some severe slopes on the left. Par is easy, but a birdie has to be deserved by a very well placed tee shot.
Foxy: one of the most famous holes of Dornoch. It is a
long, bunkerless hole which seems pretty straight from the tee, but in fact
it’s a double dog-leg. Form the tee, the good drive is a draw to take the
fairway in its good way, and, as for the 9th, there is a “fast lane”
on its left side that brings the ball further than on the right. If you do not
lay your ball on the left, then you have a semi-blind approach threatened by
the grassy slopes on the right, so it’s better to attack the green with a high
fade, making it the second shot of the so-called double dog-leg. The green is
famous for its plateau shape, laying some feet above the fairway and having
steep slopes in front and left, leaving very delicate approaches from there.
The putting surface has gentle slopes that can be tricky, especially on the
Stulaig: the last hole in the lower links is a short par 4 where the drive is menaced by a big grassy mound in the middle of the fairway. Avoiding it by the right is the better way to open an easy access to a large green with two bunkers which come in play only for very bad shots. The front and right pin positions are the toughest while others can leaves easy putts for a birdie.
High Hole: some say this is the weakest hole of the
course but it is a nice uphill hole starting just close to the sea. First turn
around to enjoy the magnificent panorama from the Dornoch Firth to the far
Valey: As for the 8th a choice at the drive is to leave the ball short on the plateau or to send a wood into the valley. For the first option it is wise to cut the dog-leg by aiming left, but beware of the bunkers. From there, first enjoy the view on the whole lower links then shoot a mid to long iron slightly downhill to the second ball-gathering green of the course. If you go into the valley, be cautious not to overpower your drive as the gorse on the right of the fairway is at driving distance, then you have a shorter shot, but uphill and semi-blind with an optical illusion that makes the green to seem nearer than actually. The green is huge with multiple and large slopes, which gives difficult long putts.
Home: Once again, turn back to enjoy your last glance at the lower links, a memory that you will keep for ever. Now let’s face the last drive where the fairway is hardly visible. A strong shot is required into the prevailing wind. Cutting this slight left-to-right dog leg can be punished by bunkers and rough and a nasty line to the green. The better place is on the left but the wind can push your ball too far left into the rough. The green lies behind a deep depression that makes rolling approaches hazardous. The huge putting surface slopes gently to the left but it is often hard to get the ball close to the pin.
Now, it’s time to head for the clubhouse to enjoy the hospitality and kindness of the local human beings, as exceptional as this wonderful course and its surroundings.
I hope that you will be able to enjoy for real this course someday, and that this electronic version is decent enough to give justice to one of the most authentic golf courses in the world. If you want to know more about the history of this design, just read the other document in this package.