Royal Dornoch

The Royal Dornoch Championship Course is ‘the‘ flagship of the Highland courses, about 40 miles north of Inverness, (home-port of the monster), but the claim could be expanded. It comes as a surprise to some folk to learn that it isn’t St Andrews (#8), Muirfield (#9), or Turnberry (#22) that Golf Digest rank as Scotland’s best golf course. At number five in the world, that accolade goes to Royal Dornoch. It is really only Dornoch`s remoteness which has prevented it from hosting major championships but that remoteness adds to its charisma. The Royal Dornoch should figure prominently on any bucket-list.


Founded 1877
Yardage Championship course white tees 6626 yds
Par 70
Golf Digest World Ranking 6th in the world
Handicap Restrictions No handicap restrictions apply


Royal Dornoch Championship Course

The Course itself

One of the first obstacles you encounter on the Royal Dornoch comes at the second hole. The par 3, ‘Ord’, has what Tom Watson described as “the most difficult shot in golf”. With his tongue firmly in his cheek, Tom was referring to the second shot, but not without good reason. If you fail to hold the green, then you’re playing from a horrible position below the putting surface. You’ll be required to execute the ‘mother of all flop shots to recover’ from here

As you clear the second, you turn to the left, heading out to the third tee. It is here that the course starts to reveal itself and unfolds in front of you. Royal Dornoch hugs the curve of the bay with its distinct white sands and clear sea. In front of you lies a links heaven in a landscape of genuine beauty

The Royal Dornoch Championship Course looks out over the Moray Firth across the North Sea, which means that the treacherous wind is always in play. In addition, we’re at a reasonably northern latitude here. The wind is a permanent challenge on any links course but it’s particularly acute at Dornoch, where things can get wild.

Reaping the wild wind is handed an additional challenge at Dornoch. One of the traditional links shots that golfers developed was the bump and run; “keep it low”. Dornoch however is characterised by a number of elevated greens placed on plinths. Bouncing a ball under the wind is not only technically difficult, but it becomes additionally treacherous as a phalanx of pot bunkers are typically deployed to guard the perimeters. It wouldn’t be fair to say the shot is denied you, but the course almost dares you to loft iron shots on your approach instead. In that regard that last 150yds plus, is a real test, and an instinctive feel for the conditions and how much to allow on the flight will often serve you as well as any yardage chart. Once on the greens you’ll typically be confronted with a concave surface which is great for a centrally located pin, but otherwise sets you a series of puzzles that you’ll also need to negotiate.

Hazards abound at Dornoch and its definitely worth mentioning the gorse which seems to have taken a particular liking to the course and flourishes here. In the spring whole banks of hanging gardens explode into yellow. Should you find yourself on a retrieval mission looking for a golf ball however, we dare say that the beguiling beauty is likely to be lost on you a bit.

Another feature of the Royal Dornoch Championship Course are the par 3’s which are probably Scotland’s best collection on a single course. We love giving out banal and obvious advice! But “hit the green with your tee-shot” is the best we can offer we’re afraid. Failure to find the target really doesn’t leave you much chance of a rescue. The putting surface is typically elevated and you’re likely to find yourself having to solve one the harder recovery shots you’ll have to execute anywhere resulting from being just a few yards wayward

The fourteenth, par 4, 445 yards, ‘Foxy’ was assessed by five time winner of the Open, Harry Vardon to be “the most natural hole in golf”. There are no man-made obstacles. Instead, on your right, there is a succession of hillocks running up to a raised narrow green of subtle contours. It probably encapsulates what Dornoch is all about. ‘Foxy’ is normally regarded as Dornoch’s signature hole, and is something of a throwback to pioneering history in its simple construct. The comparative absence of reference points in the landscape also means that golfers have to play a lot more off instinct and enhanced intuition.

It’s probably worth dwelling on the location a bit. Dornoch does enjoy a reputation for sublime golf, but its comparative remoteness has insulated against the golfing tourist to some extent. Those who make the journey are rewarded therefore by relative tranquillity and a wild landscape that brings you step nearer to the raw force of nature that some of the more commercial facing resort developments of the south simply can’t offer

Mention of five time Open winners, and it’s worth bringing Tom Watson’s testimony to bear in Dornoch’s resume. “The most fun I’ve ever had on a golf course”. Mighty words indeed, and for someone of Watson’s standing to come out with such an unequivocal statement really means that you have to show the Royal Dornoch Championship Course due deference





Buggy hire, Trolleys, Caddies and Clubs

Driving Range Available Yes
Rental Carts Available Yes (medical certificate required)
Rental Trolleys Yes
Caddies Yes – gratuity at own discretion
Rental Clubs Available Yes
Pro Shop Yes


The course has recently abandoned its handicap ceiling but players are expected to be of a good standard and not hold proceedings up. Marshals will patrol the course as they do many of Scotland’s best. For the most part they’re there to help and ensure a smooth flow but and under really unfortunate conditions they might ask you to leave if your play is becoming a serious problem

When playing Scotland you are very much in the heartland of the sports traditions. In a lot of cases this won’t extend to 20th century inventions such as buggies/ carts. You are invited to take a step-back into history to a large extent and play a round in the manner more akin to how the game was originally conceived. This is quite normal for the top courses. Royal Dornoch requires a medical certificate before allowing the use of a course vehicle.

Unlike the coastal areas of Fife and Ayrshire, the Highland region isn’t really a golfing epi-centre outside of some particularly stunning courses due perhaps to it being sparsely populated. We would be very disappointed however if we failed to secure you a caddie but early booking is advised. Caddies are self-employed, and American’s tend to be sought after clients!

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