As mentioned in the episode, Royal Dornoch rolls all the best elements of Scottish golf into one package. It’s generally rugged yet the playing surfaces are refined, located seaside yet offers some elevation change, features world class bunkering, boasts magnificent scale while simultaneously possessing some quirk, etc. From an off-course standpoint, the club is welcoming, the town is remote, yet accessible and the weather is unpredictable. Checks all the boxes.
From a hole-by-hole perspective, the 1st hole provides a warm handshake to start the round. As evidenced by DJ’s escapades, the 2nd ramps up the stakes and demands accuracy. The stretch from the 2nd through 6th is as good as it gets in golf. The 3rd plays downhill, doglegging left to a wide fairway that feeds into four brutal fairway bunkers on the right side and then to a massive green. This is really where the scale hits you. The 4th is relatively straightaway and an easier drive than the previous hole but features a more difficult approach. And then the 5th is among my favorites in all of Scotland. Playing only 350 yards downhill, you can hit whatever you want off the tee and try to play to whatever yardage suits best. However, there are tradeoffs to any route you take and the approach is intimidating, even from 75 yards, with three deep bunkers fronting a deep, narrow green and a drop-off along the right. Distance control is essential. And then the 6th is the devilish par three featured prominently in the episode. Soly also wrote a detailed review from his first visit.
While I’m undecided on whether I like the new cliff-side 7th (will reserve judgment until it’s open for play) I fervently think it’ll make the 8th a better hole, as it’ll ensure that only a great drive gets down the slope.
The ninth is a relatively straightforward par five that highlights one of the strengths of the course – slightly elevated greens that make accuracy that much more integral (and chipping that much tougher in the event of a missed green.) And then there are places like the backside of 10 green (pictured below) that will feed a miscalculation or over-aggressive shot 20-30 yards off.
The 11th is a long four featuring a rumpled fairway and gorse guarding the entire right side and two well-placed bunkers on either side of the green. The 12th (dogleg left par five through the dunescape) and 13th (175 yard par 3 with a small green and trouble everywhere) are a stern mid-round test.
You arrive at the 14th weary from the stretch you’ve just played, yet need to keep it dialed in because you’ve got a 440 yard dogleg left in front of you that demands a drive down the uncomfortable left side a to secure a good look at the green. The farther right, the more you’re blocked out by swales abutting the right fairway and a drastically elevated, shallow green that repels anything coming in from the right. Brilliant hole, one of the best I’ve ever played.
The 15th offers a respite with a short par four featuring a mound blocking the green. A good drive leaves a short pitch into an ample green. The 16th is wide and plays longer than the 401 yards on the card (this is where I blew it right off the tee and Soly got into trouble on the approach.)
No. 17 is another stunner: a downhill, dogleg-left par 4 that drops off abruptly about 200 yards off the tee (similar to No. 8) and then plays back up to an elevated green that looks far scarier from the fairway than it is. Next time I play here I’m going to lay back off the tee on the upper fairway for a look at the green on the approach, rather than going down the slope and having a blind shot in.
Finally, the 18th is an absolute brute. 456 yards slightly uphill to a massive green fronted by crazy swales. A rewarding finish, no doubt. Dornoch has a magical quality about it, and the course somehow exceeds its colossal reputation.
THE COURSE IN ONE WORD: storybook
WEIRD COURSE TRIVIA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sz-A0a49-4s
WHAT SHOULD I DO BEFORE PLAYING THIS COURSE?: Put your phone away (or put it on airplane mode if you’re gonna take pics) and enjoy the splendor of the place. Also pack your waterproofs, because the weather can change quickly.
CLUBHOUSE/FOOD: Despite the mix-up with the haggis toasties the offerings are on point. The view is exceptional, as the grille sits on the second floor with a commanding look over the 1st tee, 18th green and the club’s other course, the Struie.
TEE TIMES: Visit the club’s website.
ACCOMMODATIONS: We stayed at the Royal Golf Hotel Dornoch, which is just about my favorite hotel in the world. I was blown away. Best water pressure of anywhere we stayed on the trip, comfortable beds, and the perfect lounge and restaurant. The service was exceptional. I went back three months later and paid rack rate for a couple nights. The hotel sits about 30 steps from the first tee and not much farther from the town. Perfect.