How to Fit Dornoch into a 'Bucket List' Golf Trip of Scotland


Anyone seeking to assemble a 'bucket list' golf trip of Scotland built around the world top-20 list quickly finds a problem: Royal Dornoch! The geography is against us. So how might we do it?

5th Green

Image by Kevin Murray CLICK 

The Geography

The first question you might find yourself asking then if considering how to include Royal Dornoch in a Scottish golf trip is, whether it’s worth it? Well, yes, it probably is. Royal Dornoch doesn’t get ranked over and over again in the world’s top-10 by accident.

The first thing we need to establish is Royal Dornoch is not only in the Highlands, it’s actually in the northern Highlands. There are no ‘easy’ ways to include Royal Dornoch in a Scottish golf trip, but there are things we can do which make it more manageable.

Anyone who is trying to complete the top-20 rank list, or the Open Championship venues faces an unavoidable cross-country transit, the west coast (Troon and Turnberry) to the east coast (St Andrews and Carnoustie). Troon to St Andrews is about 2¾ hours (that’s a genuine estimate). Faraway Fairways seeks to draw the sting from this by introducing Gleneagles as a mid-point.

Now there’s no way of cutting the next bit. It’s 170 miles from Gleneagles to Royal Dornoch and will take close to four hours (including a break). It’s then going to take about four hours to complete a round, and of course we need to build about an hour in for eating.

4th Green

Image by Kevin Murray CLICK 

Image courtesy of Royal Dornoch

View to the 8th

Image courtesy of Royal Dornoch


Image courtesy of Royal Dornoch

11th Green

14th Fairway, Image courtesy of Royal Dornoch GC

The A9 at Gleneagles.

Image by David Dixon CC BY-SA 2.0

The A9 & Gleneagles

The A9 is the main artery between the Central Belt and the Highlands. It’s mixture of dual-carriageway and single track road. A 06.00 start might be fairly demanding but it is manageable.

If we work to the understanding that you’ll likely require at least 45 mins to get prepared on arrival at Dornoch, plus food, we’re probably finishing at about four o’clock onwards. We might describe this as the ‘one big day’ strategy as we’re only halfway through the journey and need to complete a push back south.

The logical line of retreat would be returning to Carnoustie, not Gleneagles. This is 190 miles and is going to take about 4½ hours, but it does reduce the next day burden and puts you into the Fife zone for St Andrews. You’d arrive in Carnoustie somewhere between 8 and 9 in the evening. Yes, it’s tiring, but it’s been done before. You’ll sleep well!

Dornoch Castle Hotel

Quite understandably however, you might take the view that you’ve done enough for the day by the late afternoon. Instead of the ‘one big day’ you might choose to spend the night in the Highlands and pick things up again the next morning. The Dornoch Castle hotel is an obvious accommodation. This is a genuine Scottish castle. It’s not a pastiche recreation that has adopted a ‘castle’ name to make it sound more attractive. It would allow you to tick the ‘Scottish castle’ off your bucket list.

Alternatively if you were prepared to take an hour out of the following day and draw stumps at about five o’clock, you could go south to Inverness and even add a sunset cruise on Loch Ness to your haul

Dornoch Castle Hotel.

Image by Tom Pennington CC BY-SA 2.0

8th Green. Image courtesy of Royal Dornoch GC

'Whinny Braes' the 6th

Image by Kevin Murray CLICK 

Daylight is our Friend

If you’re playing in the height of summer then you have a natural ally. At these northerly latitudes the sun rises between 4 and 5 o’clock in the morning and sets anywhere between 10 and 11 o’clock in the evening and If you possess a healthy attitude towards mileage, have a group that can share the driving burden, and are prepared to simply ‘saddle up and go’ you’ll probably have about eighteen hours of useable daylight. It’s probably best to use the morning light to travel on, then playing into the evening

Even if we push into fringe months of May or August we’re only losing about 75-90 mins at either end of the day. We might spend the first or final half hour of the day driving in half light conditions but it’s still manageable

Inverness Airport

So are there any other ways to include Royal Dornoch in a Scottish golf trip that doesn’t involve a demanding round road trip whilst also wrapping up the rump of the other courses on your list? Not easily, is the answer, but we might be able to dilute things a bit. There are direct flights between Inverness – Dublin and London (or were – it remains to be seen what a post-pandemic timetable looks like). In theory anyway, we could put Royal Dornoch on the start of an itinerary. You’d pick a vehicle up from Inverness airport and from there it’s only 60 minutes onto Dornoch. You’d still have to undertake the drive south the following day (probably to St Andrews/ Carnoustie described earlier).

Trying to put Royal Dornoch on the end of a golf tour is more problematic. The flow isn’t as good and it’s more disrupted.

Inverness Airport.

Image by Braveheart CC BY-SA 4.0

Royal Dornoch

Scotland has three courses that regularly feature in the world top-10. Two of them host Major championships. Royal Dornoch in the high north is the other. Those who make the effort, reap the reward


Sample Itinerary - The Highlands

The Highlands combining with Aberdeenshire features 5 courses in the world's top-100. This is how we'd normally fit Dornoch. We could also take a shot at St Andrews & Carnoustie on the outward and inward leg for 7


Sample Itinerary - The Classic Scotland

This itinerary wouldn't feature Dornoch. We'd need to squeeze it in. With Gleneagles featuring at the mid-point though, we'd get a chance along the lines described


Review from South Carolina

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Alun's focus on the details was extraordinary from the choice of courses and the timing of the tee times, the amazingly beautiful accommodations along with some excellent meal selections, and the transportation options he provided to get us from place to place. It was truly a wonderful experience and even though I initially viewed the trip as a bucket list “once in a lifetime” experience”


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