Discover: Royal Dornoch and Golf in the Highlands

Play a Scottish Classic and four of the Highlands’ lesser known gems

"6 night discovery tours featuring: 1 Bucket List Course and 4 Hidden Gems, unique experiences and great value!"

Having spent most my life playing golf in Perthshire and Fife, I had foolishly neglected to sample the revered courses that seemed just that bit too far away in the rugged Highlands of Scotland. However, in more recent years, I’ve sought to address that imbalance, with my only regret now being that I hadn’t done so much earlier. The north is the most naturally beautiful and untouched region of the country, with dozens of quality golf experiences tucked away in remote villages and quiet fishing towns. That sense of adventure serves as an appetising ingredient.

Let me take you on a trip of discovery of where you will play: Royal Dornoch, Nairn, Brora, Moray Old and Golspie.

If you’re impressed by what you see, contact and they’ll put you on a path of ultimate enrichment to uncover Scotland’s best, but lesser known, courses.

Day 1 – Arrive in Inverness
When you arrive in Inverness I would suggest taking some time to settle in and adjust into your new surroundings for the week. Known as the capital of the Highlands, it’s become established as one of Scotland’s major cities, and is the most densely populated area within an 80 mile radius.

Consequently, it has all the amenities that you could hope for and a city centre that’s populated with several excellent bars and restaurants, which should be fun to tick off during your stay. In terms of nearby attractions to explore, the breathtaking and mysterious Loch Ness is just a short drive away, while another popular spot is the infamous Culloden battlefield that saw the last major land battle on British shores between clansmen and government forces in 1746.

Day 2 - The Nairn Championship Course
This is comfortably among the most underrated venues in Scotland. Welcoming and visually stunning, with the Moray Firth in clear view from most of the holes, it’s also a tight and challenging test of golf, featuring plentiful gorse bushes, narrow fairways and deep bunkers. Host of the 1999 Walker Cup between Great Britain & Ireland and the United States, it has an impressive pedigree.

It wasn’t until May 2015 that I played Nairn, and it quickly left a positive impression. The opening sequence of holes run alongside the coast, making for quite a backdrop on a breezy day, with the water being in play on six of the first seven holes. Old Tom Morris, Ben Sayers and James Braid all had a hand in creating this highly-respected gem, underlining its significant credentials as a quintessential seaside links.

You’ll find some of the best holes at the fifth, ninth and just after the turn, where the course takes a surprising turn both inland and uphill. It returns to a more traditional fare as the layout loops back round towards the impressive clubhouse, presenting a wonderful finale before you head back west along the road to Inverness, which is only 16 miles away.

Day 3 – Moray Old Course
Much like the Old Course at St. Andrews and the West Links at North Berwick, Moray’s Old Course (designed by the legendary Old Tom Morris) starts and concludes on the edge of the town, which creates that sense of history and community tradition that few others can rival. Host of numerous national championships in Scotland, Moray is an immaculately conditioned and quality links.

Boasting firm fairways and fast greens, Moray presents all the characteristics that you would expect from a vintage course, with deep and riveted bunkers just adding to that sense of difficulty and authenticity. Despite its age, many would assume that it would be short, but featuring seven par fours measuring over 400 yards from the back tees, it provides a stout challenge.

It’s fair to say that the course ends on a high note, with the 18th being regarded as one of the best finishing holes in the country. Playing towards an elevated green with the clubhouse in the background, it’s a visually striking and exciting way to complete what is likely to be a memorable round on a traditional, unfussy and impeccably solid course.

Day 4 – Golspie
Crossing the Kessock Bridge over the Moray Firth, Golspie is a village situated in the northern county of Sutherland, nearby Brora and Dornoch. It may be somewhat overshadowed by those two more prestigious venues, but the settlement’s enjoyable links/heathland course is unquestionably a worthy addition to your trip alongside those bigger names.

The early holes run alongside the Dornoch Firth in a classic links nature, with undulations and a couple of blind shots keeping things interesting, before the character shifts to more of a heathland style; featuring trees and heather, perhaps reminiscent of similar layouts in England. Despite having a fondness for seaside golf, I was most impressed by this inland stretch, being always engaged by the changing pattern and shape of the course. Golspie, without doubt, deserves to be included on anyone’s list.

Day 5 – Brora
56 miles north of Inverness, is generally about as far up the Highlands as most visiting golfers will venture, but it’s undoubtedly worth the journey. Brora is a wonderfully thrilling and purely fun course, measuring highly in the rankings of charm and uniqueness. It’s a favourite of five-time Open Champion Peter Thomson, who once referred to it as being the best traditional links in the world.

It may not quite live up to that major billing, but it’s a special and distinctive place. Each of the undulating holes seems to have its own unique identity, combining sheer enjoyment with just enough of a challenge for those more accomplished players. Rugged and visually attractive, the amazing views are nearly on a level with the golf.

However, what Brora is perhaps best known for is the fact that sheep and cattle reside on the course, and will often pay close attention to those playing on their patch. Small, electrified fences protect the greens, but they’re virtually never in play. This quirky fact enhances the natural environment of the course and the whole wonderful experience.

Day 6 – Royal Dornoch Championship Course
Having discovered many of the lesser known courses in the region, it seems appropriate to complete your week in the Highlands at the legendary Royal Dornoch, which has captivated touring golfers for decades; particularly since improved road networks opened the door for American tourists, who followed in the impressive footsteps of Ben Crenshaw and Tom Watson.

There is something utterly grand about Dornoch. Home of famous course designer Donald Ross, it’s stunningly beautiful, picturesque, and often punishing for those who fall into its many traps. And it does manage to meet its lofty reputation as one of the world’s most respected layouts. When I first had the pleasure to play it a few years ago, on a damp spring evening, it was literally jaw-dropping when the views over the entire course appeared midway through the front-nine; including strikingly designed bunkers framing elevated greens… which incidentally is quite unique for a links.

I’ve since returned once more to sample the course, just to see if my first impressions were accurate. This is a must-play for anyone who desires to experience the game at its purest and most natural, and to absorb the aura that has seen Dornoch become one of golf’s undisputed classics.

Other Highland Courses to Explore
Elsewhere, and there are many to choose from, the Highlands boasts an eye-watering portfolio of courses. Tain is an excellent Old Tom Morris design that is situated on the edge of a welcoming town, and would certainly be a good complement to the likes of Dornoch and Brora. Whereas the breathtakingly scenic Boat of Garten is an example of Scottish inland golf at its best. I would also recommend Spey Bay and the distinctive Fortrose & Rosemarkie as additional gems to add to your list.

Final Words
Although remaining a firm supporter of St. Andrews and East Lothian, these past few years have seen me explore the Highlands, and take the opportunity to play some of Scotland’s best and comparatively untapped courses. It’s something that I would to have done sooner, but will relish the chance to do more frequently in the future. If you’re looking for an authentic, thrilling and memorable experience, the Highlands will create and leave behind some indelible memories.

You too can experience it…
Prices for the above tour start from $1105pp when staying at The Glen Mhor Collection in Inverness, or from $1185pp when staying at the Jurys Inn Inverness. Includes all taxes and surcharges.

The package includes the following:
• 6 nights’ B&B at Jurys Inn Inverness or The Glen Mhor Collection
• 5 Rounds of Golf at: Royal Dornoch Championship Course, Nairn, Brora, Moray Old, Golspie
• Car Rental (self-drive)

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