I begin the description of Royal Dornoch with a quote from the great golf writer Herbert Warren Wind who said of the course: "No golfer has completed his education until he has played and studied Royal Dornoch."
Royal Dornoch is the northern most located golf course in the top 100, located in the Scottish Highlands. The drive up to Dornoch from southern Scotland is long but scenic. I played Dornoch early one morning several years ago in the summer. One of the nice things about Royal Dornoch is that they will let out two-somes prior to 8:30am. So it was that we were teeing off at 7:32am and the caddy said we'd be back in by 11:00am. Playing golf in the home of golf they know the value of playing fast. This was my second time playing Dornoch and I was very much looking forward to it because it is just different that most courses on the list. Because of its highland location the air is different; the day light is different and you have a feeling of being far away from civilization because you are.
In any event, little did I know that the day would bring two new experiences to my own personal golfing education. The day was kind of damp with a low fog hanging in the air. About three holes out we were attacked by midges. Midges are tiny swarming insects that are like gnats only they travel in swarms. For about four holes we could not get rid of them. They attack you all over, even under the golf hat I was wearing. The caddies were in shock, they said it was the worst attack they had ever seen, they put towels over their heads and you couldn't swat them because there were so many. Apparently it was a bad year given the damp conditions that spring. I don't wish to scare you off of a trip to Dornoch because its worth the trip; apparently the midges are not present that often, but if they are, watch out.
The beauty of Royal Dornoch with the gorse in bloom
So finally the midges were starting to abate. As we teed off on the 6th hole it happened. I apologize for using the word, but I shanked the ball. There is no question that the most difficult shot in golf is the shot you have to hit after you shank the ball. In any event, the problem did not go away. I couldn't advance the ball other than at a 90 degree angle. It was desperate. Dornoch is an out and back layout, meaning that for the first eight holes you travel away from the clubhouse and the next 10 bring you back in toward the clubhouse. In other words, it's not the type of course you can just walk in. I turned to my caddy and said "Do you have a pro on duty who can take a look at my swing. I don't think I can continue, I'm going to walk in". He looked at me and said "Just hit the f---ing ball, there's no way we're walking in, just turn your shoulder".
And so it was. I know it sounds dramatic but he was right. While I was still a bit fragile coming in, it worked. I stopped shanking and made it in. Scottish caddies have a well earned reputation for dry wit and candor and he was great. The tip he received at the end of the round was the most generous I have ever given.
Dell Leigh wrote the following about Dornoch in 1925 and it is still true today, "The very journey thither is a pilgrimage of pleasure of the kind which remains crystal clear in the memory long after the return to the drab side of life. And the very fact that one cannot say in bald words that the links are definitely this, that or the other thing instils into the mind a predominant feeling - the desire vehemently expressed, to play over them again, and then once more."
Despite the problems of the day, I still have very, very fond memories of Dornoch. It is a fine and challenging golf course. Donald Ross grew up in Dornoch and you will clearly see where he got many of his design ideas from. Although what happened to me at Dornoch is not exactly what Wind meant, I recommended it highly. Go and complete your education!
Royal Dornoch's Website