The philosophy is simple. Good shots are rewarded, poor ones are punished. Dornoch is a supreme test of iron play. Many of the greens resemble up-turned saucers, the putting surface like a plinth with bunkers typically guarding the front making the traditional bump & run a high risk option. You need to risk going through the air here, and then means surfing the wind. You’ll also encounter gorse which thrives in Dornoch’s micro-climate (whins in Scottish). This yellow flowering plant explodes in colour during spring, but sadly it devours errant golf balls
It was Tom Watson no less who described the second shot to the par 3 second hole at Royal Dornoch as “the most difficult shot in golf”. He was only half joking!. The green has precipitous roll offs all round and deep bunkers either side. It’s a small target that you simply have to hit in order to avoid playing a hideously difficult rescue from below the putting surface that even Phil might blanche at before attempting. After the second though, you walk around the corner and the whole majesty of the links opens up before you
Although the 14th will usually win the vote, the 4th stands alongside it on merit. Donald Steel no less, included ‘Achinchanter’ in his 18 best holes in Britain and Ireland.
From a tee on the side of a hill the hole runs adjacent to steep bank of gorse along its length. A a drawn shot has to find the runway to stay on the sloping fairway. Miss, and it slides away in a series of gullies on the right, which begins to become difficult. A triangular green with vicious swales is typical of Dornoch’s raised putting surfaces. It’s about strategy now though. The approach can be pitched to the green and risk running off on the right or behind, or to play through the valley in front of the green and risking falling back off the front bank and into the bunkers left or right.
Holes 3, 4 and 5 play under a ridge of steeply banked gorse which explodes into colours of golden yellow in the spring. The par 3, sixth represents something of a departure from this. Instead the green has actually been cut into the bank requiring you to play straight into the stuff and trust that you can hit the landing area. ‘Whinny Brae’ has been the source of bemusement and frustration in equal measure. The green is narrow and small.
Two bunkers sit in the hillside left and a massive slope defends the right. There might be a case in going a little bit too long if anything and trusting the contours to deliver a rolling ball, but if you over-cook it you’re in the gorse – ouch! and if it doesn’t release, or catches a rear bunker you have truly awful chip downhill
At 146yds, Fuaran is the shortest of Dornoch’s charismatic par 3’s and perhaps makes you wonder how a navy pilot might feel trying to land on the deck of a carrier. At face value its a downhill flick but this risks coming in on too low a trajectory. The task is made harder still by the fact that the hole normally plays downwind. There’s even less chance to apply the brakes. Ironically this is one hole where a headwind helps. It’s almost impossible to hold the green on a low trajectory, and the penalty for skidding off through the back is unforgiving. A steep slope ensures you’ll continue to run further and further away from the flight-deck. Only the most exquisitely excused flop shot from below the surface will save you now.
The ‘bunkerless’ fourteenth has been described as “the most natural hole in golf” and is the most difficult assignment on the course by stroke index. Raised dunes with thick grass run down the right side, drastically narrowing this fairway and cutting off angles and lines of sight. It’s a tougher tee shot down the left, but the bolder play is rewarded with an unobstructed view of the green and a superior angle. Just where the best place to launch your approach from is a question that continues to defy even those who have developed an intimate knowledge of it. There’s a scarcity of aiming points in the landscape and skyline to assist the bewildered golfer trying to solve this problem. It’s all about strategy, flair and your own instinctive feel
Dornoch is the highest ranked course in the highlands and typically plays alongside Castle Stuart & Nain. The courses of Aberdeenshire can also be addeddiscover
This needn't be about top-100 lists. It's more about exploration of remote areas. Even so, we need to put some top quality stuff in there and Dornoch obliges on both countsdiscover
The highlands has some of Scotland's most evocative history. Royal Dornoch ranks in the world's top-10 golf courses. Bring the two interest point togetherDiscover
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The transit between the Highlands to Aberdeen means crossing through Speyside. Dornoch naturally appears in a whisky comboDiscover
Being the furthest north, Royal Dornoch is often the hardest to fit and frequently misses out. You'll need to 'work' to include it, but it can be donediscover