Monday, January 02, 2006

Top 100 Golfer at Royal Dornoch

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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


Anonymous said...

Point of note on midges. They are always about on most Scottish links. They just can't fly faster than 5mph. If the wind is any stronger they have to stay sheltered, eg in bushes or low to ground. The wind is rarely less than 5mph on a Scottish links. This is a good thing as golf would never have been invented as the shepherds would have been too busy scratching themslves silly to swing their crooks at a pebble.

Colin said...

I dont see Mill Hill Golf Course on your big list!

Anonymous said...

I "played" Royal Dornoch twenty-some years was very memorable.

I was in Scotland with three friends. We were playing 36 holes a day at all the best courses. This was before it cost a fortune to do so. The one day that we didn't play 36 was the day we trekked up to Dornoch.

The day was cool and cloudy, threatening rain. We had been very lucky with the weather on the whole trip, but on the third hole it started to rain very hard. Being the only person in the group wearing glasses, it caught my "mates" by surprise when I said that I thought we should walk in. I couldn't see a thing due to the rain on my glasses. I was freezing and getting soaked too as my wet suit was not very effetive.

They looked at me and said, "we're pressing on...maybe it will let up". The skies were black all around us, and knowing that layout was out and back, I decided that not being able to see what the hell I was doing and the threat of pneumonia were not going to make for any enjoyment at all. So, I bid them well and headed back to the modest clubhouse.

I believe I was on my second pint when one of the members approached me and said something to the effect of "What are doing here all by yourself? Where's the rest of your group?" I told him that I had come in and that they had decided to continue. He looked at me and laughed, "My God! WE wouldn't even be out playing in weather like this!" I didn't feel to bad about walking in then...Scots will play through just about any kind of weather.

A few hours later, my friends returned with some incedible stories of their rounds. One of them managed to shoot 76...a truly amazing round given the conditions. They took great pride in persevering through the gale that day, and let me know that I was diminshed in their eyes because I didn't...for the rest of the day at least. I know I missed out, but I had a pleasant few hours in the bar chatting up a few true Scotsmen and soaking up the parts of Dornoch that my friends missed.

Anonymous said...

I played Royal Dornoch at the end of March this year. we were up in scotland with a week of shoulder season golf, racking up a raft of top 100 courses.

We stayed at the Sutherland Inn at Brora, a highly recommended value location for golf in the Highlands.

We drove down to Dornoch for 11 am, full course in play, 50 pounds each, walked straight onto the tee and played off.

Lovely course, very fair so no need for stroke saver.
Had a great round, lots of heather, if it wasn't for ping ponging across the short par 3 (6th ?) would have broken 80.
The run of par 4's through Foxy are just great holes.

Great views, lots of history in the club house, and extremely friendly members.

We'll be back !

Dan, Jersey

Anonymous said...

I have played Dornoch twice. Once in windy conditions, hungover from too much too much, shot 71 and my caddy was amazed. The course is as beautiful and hard as I thought it would be. Could play it everyday. Stayed at the Eagles and really enjoyed it as well as the Sunday night bagpipes. I will never forget hitting my second shot over the green on two and the caddy telling me that Watson said "the toughest shot in golf is the second at Royal Dornoch if you go over". He was right. I bogeyed. The second time I played it the day started out about 65 and sunny. It started rainy on 6, got colder and colder and I had no raid gear. Needles to say I didnt shoot 71. Shot 86 but still had a fun day.

Anonymous said...

I played in 1996. I wanted to play the whole course so on the first tee I teed it up from the tips and hit a nice drive. The caddy master came running out somewhat upset and said firmly in a thick Scottish accent "Mr. Schiesser, you cannot play from those tees, they are only for tournaments!!". I was there in Sept. The weather was beautiful. I have played Pine Valley, Merion, Oakland Hills - I would put Dornoch right up there with any of them. I just thought it was fantastic.

Unknown said...

How funny to browse the site in anticipation of my upcoming Scottish trip and find an old comment of mine. Well, we have stayed true to my pledge and play Dornoch every year as part of the amazing deal with Castle Stuart. We now stay at the Golf Hotel overseen by the charming Cameron, and the highlight of every year is eating our Highlands breakfast and walking through the garden onto the first tee followed by a round on my favourite course in the World. I will keep returning until I birdie Foxy...", and then once more"

Unknown said...

I am lucky enough to be a member of Royal Dornoch. Made a trip up to play a number of courses in the area - Brora, Tain, Golspie and Fortrose & Rosemarkie are all excellent and the prices are reasonable. You can see some pics and read more about Brora here