Return to Scotland, A Trip of a Lifetime, September 1-21, 2017, Part III
After a wonderful meal at Royal Golf Hotel, it was off to bed and a chance to sleep late, as our tee time with John and Cathy was at 3:10pm. So we had a relaxing morning on Saturday and I even took a short walk around town…taking the photo shown below:
|Me thinks this is the only Left turn I shall ever make|
Royal Dornoch Golf Club, September 9, 2017: Records exist evidencing the playing of the game of golf in Dornoch as far back as 1616…even before I picked up the game. The course was originally designed by Old Tom Morris starting with his visit in 1886. John Sutherland served as Secretary of the club from 1893 to 1953 and was intimately involved with the evolution of the course during this time span. And as a player, Sutherland was no slouch, having defeated Open Champion Harold Hilton at the 1909 Amateur Championship contested at Muirfield. The course was changed in the late 1940’s by dropping 6 holes near the clubhouse and adding replacement holes at the north end.
Donald Ross and his brother Alec were born and raised in Dornoch and many (including I) believe Ross’ use of raised “turtle back” greens (think Pinehurst #2) was a result of playing what is now Royal Dornoch during his first 25 years before moving to St. Andrews and then emigrating to the United States. Alec won the US Open at Philadelphia Cricket Club (St. Martin’s Course) in 1907.
My sense is that Royal Dornoch (the club was granted the “Royal” designation in 1906 by King Edward the Seventh) first became know in the USA as a result of one of Herb Warren Wind’s epistles in The New Yorker in the mid-late 1970’s. I first played Royal Dornoch in early July 1981…when Americans were few and far between. The charm, peacefulness, pure delight of the course, club and entire area, and the subtle but devilishness of the design features (e.g. the turtleback greens that Ross learned so much from) have caused me to rate it #2 worldwide (2nd to Cypress Point) on my personal Worldwide Top 100. And don’t ask…I ain’t putting on this blog a personal Top 100 (or in an email…so don’t bother, or you will be punished by never being able to unsubscribe from this blog). I can get through 1-4, then I have a “tie” between 7 others as to places 5-11. Not really a tie…just that I find my decision on these spots moves from day to day and mood to mood.
In fact, my rating of Royal Dornoch as #2 is higher than other lists…its highest rating ever according to “the world’s greatest spreadsheet” was #5 (Golf Digest 2016 and Planet Golf 2009), and it was included on 41 or 43 lists to date not included on Golf Magazine 1979 Top 50 or the MacWood 1939 Spoof List). Overall, in the last few years it generally has been rated around #7-#15 or so.
As you must know, Royal Dornoch has never hosted an Open Championship but it hosted an Amateur Championship in 1985 that as I recall drew a huge number of applications.
The weather continued to be mixed…intermittent squalls had to be dealt with. I played poorly to start but started hitting the ball very well after the course turned back southward on #9. Birdied #12 (par 5) and #16 (uphill par 4 and hit another superb 3-wood...if I do say so myself)…but got several tough breaks coming in on the back. Ended up with a 47-41 = 88, but was very pleased with my ball striking for the last 10 holes.
Two of the most memorable sights when playing this course come on the front nine. After the par 3 2nd hole, there is a walk of about 50 yards through gorse bushes to the third tee. As you emerge onto the 3rd tee, the rest of the course to the north is open in front of you and the sight is something to behold. It is like someone opened a curtain. Then after the 6th green there is a walk up a hill to the 7th which sits on a plateau above the rest of the track. The view down from #7 to holes 10 and 11 down along the beach is unforgettable…and about to be enhanced. The club is planning to remove the large hedge that currently lines the right side of #7 and move the 7th green right about 20 yards, which should (1) enhance the view from #7 considerably, and (2) definitely bring the downslope on the right side of the 7th into play and, I think, improve an already fine hole.
|5th green viewed from 12th tee|
|Par 3 13th hole with pin tucked left|
On Sunday morning, we were up early and I drove Pat down to Inverness to catch a train to Edinburgh. We would reunite Friday evening at Gleneagles as she makes her was through her beloved castles and gardens.
Brora Golf Club, September 10, 2017: For years I had heard about this club sitting about 20 miles north of Dornoch, and all almost everyone talked about was the flocks of sheep and herds of cows (is a group of cows a herd?) that are kept off the greens by electrified fences. Dumb old me (as well as dumb young me 30-35 years ago) assumed the course was nothing special (to be fair…there was also another factor…when you are around a course as great as Dornoch, it can be hard to do 20 miles away to play elsewhere).
So in planning this trip I made up my mind to give it a look-see. I was simply blown away by how good it is. Yes it is relatively short (6211 yards) but IMO this is a gem. The views are as good as Dornoch’s, the course is in equal condition and the holes of outstanding character…especially the stretch from 13-18. I loved it from the first hole on…and thought the first might have been a template hole for Bandon Dunes’ first hole (any takers on that theory?). The “fences” around the greens were just two wires that were easy to step over, even for an old man like moi. I never did trip over them and would suggest that “happiness at Brora is never having to step over the wires more than 2x/hole.”
This is a classic links Out/In designed by James Baird and opened in 1891. One interesting aspect is that the four par 3’s all point about 90° from each other...and are four different and superb holes with yardages of 190, 162, 125, and a sharply uphill 201 yarder to conclude the round…and my scores on them were just as varied (1 birdie, 2 pars, and a double bogey on the 125 yarder).
In terms of top 100’s, it had never been on any of the lists I have found, and I now think this is a serious oversight. Perhaps focus should be on the brilliance of the course as opposed to the sheep and cows that occupy part of the property. BTW, neither was sighted until hole #16.
Best holes to my mind are:
#6---190 par 3 slightly uphill and headed west…just a classic links par 3 protected by three deep bunkers in front that must be avoided and a green with a false front on the right side strong breaks off of mounds left and back right;
|#13---I spent to much time in left front bunker---partially hidden|
#13---125 yard par 3 headed east…and just a devil of a hole protected by four surrounding bunkers…gave me fits just as I was starting to play well;
#16---maybe the best of all…only 345 yards but very uphill and turning left off the tee and right to an infinity green…and the biggest cows I ever saw to the right of the fairway.
|Off of 16th fairway|
|Cows on 16th and flag at top of hill...just visible in center of pic|
I ended up with a 48-44 = 82. It was late when I returned to Dornoch fro dinner with Cathy and John. We had some traveling to do the next couple of days. More to come…
|Rainbow in distance from 15th green|