Highland Swing: Playing Dornoch’s Dynamic Duo

By Anita Draycott

Ever since reading "A Season in Dornoch" by Canadian golf journalist Lorne Rubenstein, I’d been salivating to play Royal Dornoch and the neighbouring Carnegie Club in the Scottish Highlands. Thanks to an invitation from Aberdeen Asset Management (sponsors of the Scottish Open) our foursome arrived at the Royal Burgh of Dornoch late afternoon when the sun shone a rosy glow on the neatly kept cottages, shops and the imposing 13th-century Cathedral (where Madonna had her son, Rocco, christened).

We headed up the hill to Royal Dornoch, said to be the third oldest golf course in Scotland. After reading Rubenstein’s glowing accounts of this course and noting that in 2011 Golf Magazine ranked it 16th in the world, so I had high expectations. Usually such lofty hopes meet with disappointment, but not on this masterpiece conceived by Old Tom Morris. If ever a golf course felt like the ultimate natural collaboration with Mother Nature, this was it.

Number one is a short, inviting par-four to put you in a positive frame of mind. From the elevated third tee, a majestic vista unfolds of seemingly limitless sea, dunes and links land. The lull of the North Sea and the choir of the shorebirds give one a sense of calm. By the time we hit the eighth hole, we were almost on the beach and in golf nirvana. If I’d spotted a little old Scot in a red coat hitting a feathery it wouldn’t have surprised me.

I’m not alone in my raving. Tom Watson described his three rounds in twenty-four hours here as “the most fun I ever had playing golf.” When asked how he enjoyed it, Ben Crenshaw replied. “Let me put it this way: I nearly didn’t come back.”

With just eight bedrooms, the Links House boutique hotel, conveniently located beside the Royal Dornoch course, offers first-class, personalized service. Guests may relax in the wood-paneled library where the aroma of a peat fire beckons you to pour yourself a wee dram from the honour bar stocked with premium single malts. The chef at Links House features locally caught shellfish, fine Scottish beef and wild game on his gourmet menu and there’s a huge selection of vintage wines to accompany your meal. Outdoors, the property has its own putting green so you can practice your short game before your round.

After our round, we took a wander through tidy Dornoch. At No. 3 St. Gilbert Street a historical plaque marks the birthplace of Donald Ross, acknowledged as the father of American golf course design. Before setting out for the U.S., Ross was Dornoch’s club professional and greenskeeper. No doubt Dornoch’s crown greens were his inspiration for his renowned Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina.