When you talk about hidden gems there may be no better example than Royal Dornoch. It is not that the course lacks fame, most who play golf have at least heard of this wonderful course, but it is certainly hidden. The classic links course is in the Highlands of Scotland and, in many ways, the journey to get there adds to the charm.
Golf has been played on this site since the mid-1600s making it the 3rd oldest in the world has an almost cult following and those who have played it often tell you it is the best course in the world. When you talk to someone with this view there is no point in debating with them, they have made up their mind and no talk of Augusta National, The Old Course or Turnberry will sway them. To them the matter is not up for discussion.
So why does this great place evoke such strong feelings? Firstly, links golf is the traditional way to play the game, it always just feels better for some reason. When you visit Royal Dornoch you can’t help but get the feeling that it is a good thing that this course is a bit off the beaten track. This adds to the charm of the place and means that the course has been protected from ‘tour-proofing’ modifications.
The course was designed by John Sutherland, Old Tom Morris and George Duncan but is maybe more famous for a former member of the course. Donald Ross (pictured below), the world-famous course designer, was brought up in Dornoch. It was here that he learned the art and science of green keeping and many elements of course design. He would later go on to design some of the world’s greatest courses like Seminole and Pinehurst.
Many lament the way courses have changed and lengthened through the years. Thankfully this course, unlike many other links courses has been able to resist that. Of course, its position on the Dornoch Firth helps prevent the course from needing altered as high-winds can make the 6700-yard course feel longer than most.
The most striking thing about Royal Dornoch is that, even though this is a world-famous golf course, it’s evident that this is a club first and foremost. As you enter the building you’re greeted with the honour boards featuring the captains and champions throughout the years. Many modern resort-type courses miss this rich history.
When you come up to the lounge at the club you are surrounded by historical trophies and golf clubs. There is even a club dating back to around 1870 made by the Tom Morris company. It all adds to the great tradition of the club.
The Highlands of Scotland are known for many things. The people who live here are amongst the most hospitable you will ever have the pleasure of meeting. It makes sense then that the staff at the club are no different. What this creates is a feeling that you are part of the club. You may be visiting from far away but when you’re here, even for just one day, you’re ‘a member’.
Royal Dornoch is a place that will forever be synonymous with great golf and the wonderful traditions of the game. After spending time here be prepared to carry it with you forever more in your golfing memory. No golfer should miss a chance to play here.