Brora Golf Club was another stop on my North Coast 500 drive, and apart from Royal Dornoch, it was the course I’d heard the most about on my itinerary. Brora is located only 35 minutes north of Dornoch, yet relatively few people make the journey past north of Dornoch on their itineraries.
I stayed at the nearby Royal Marine Hotel and woke up to heavy rain, wind, and fog. After a morning round at Golspie Golf Club (10 minutes south of Brora), the afternoon turned into a beautiful day. My round took place in early mid-June and the course was in fantastic shape. The sheep were out, the sun was out, and I wouldn’t have rather been anywhere else.
The course and club embody so much of what I love about golf in Scotland. The clubhouse is simple but has incredible views, good food, and beer, plus the people are as friendly as you’ll find. There is no range, but instead a hitting net overlooking the North Sea and expansive beach next to the course. Brora hasn’t changed for decades – no developer came in and built a giant clubhouse, nobody bought the surrounding farmland for house development, and nobody built a huge hotel next door. Brora’s location well-north in the Highlands protects from that and the experience is as pure as it gets.
People most often know Brora as “one of those courses with electric fences around the greens.” Indeed, it is common grazing ground for local livestock and the electric fences border the greens to keep sheep off the putting surfaces. The quirkiness and movement of stepping over the short fence to putt out adds to the experience.
To compare Brora to other courses in Scotland, my mind jumps to Machrihanish on the west coast and Askernish in the Scottish Outer Hebrides. Askernish has electric fences as well, but both courses have natural rolling linksland that produces the Scottish golf we love.
The club was established 1891 and had 9 holes until 1900. James Braid – a five-time Open Championship winner at that point – was invited two decades later to visit the club and redesign a new 18 holes. His visit came in 1924 and his design fee was £25 plus travel expenses. The plan Braid laid out for Brora is almost exactly what you see today.
The course is my favorite James Braid design that I’ve played. Brora follows a traditional out-and-back routing and the front nine hugs the dunes alongside the North Sea. The course is relatively flat, but the design maximizes the gently rolling dunes with hidden greens, interesting angles, and the occasional burn. The biggest movement in the course is found except for the 15-17 holes that play along, up, and over a short hill.
Hole #1 – 297 yards – “Ardassie” – The opening hole initially looks like it plays to the red flag in the distance, but keen links players will know the “outward” nine usually has white flags and the “inward” features red flags. With that in mind, the first hole plays to a hidden green tucked in the dunes right of the fairway.
Hole #2 – 344 yards – “Bents” – The teeing grounds for the second hole create an awkward angle that brings those two left bunkers into play. The approach is straightforward, but the rolling fairway can create odd stances.
Hole #8 – 501 yards – “Long Hole” – This hidden par 5 green is elevated in the dunes to the right of the fairway. Any player going for the green needs to carry the slope short of the putting surface – no running it up here!
Hole #9 – 152 yards – “Sea Hole” – This par 3 is the furthest point outward in this out-and-back layout. The right half of the green is partially obscured by dunes a few yards in front of the tee box. You could spend hours soaking in the view from this tee.
Hole #12 – 362 yards – “Dalchalm” – The perfect rolling fairway in the second photo below can’t be found many places outside of the British Isles. Many consider this one of the best par 4s on the course with OB down the right and the rippled fairway that creates tough stances and lies. It would be tough not to agree!
Hole #13 – 125 yards – “Snake” – The angle into this par 3 green can vary drastically depending on the tee position on the large teeing grounds. The flat green is surrounded by pot bunkers and a generous kick-slope back left.
Hole #14 – 334 yards – “Trap” – Straight-away to a green guarded by a right and left bunker.
Hole #15 – 430 yards – “Sahara” – It’s tough to see, but there is a short white marker pole in the center of the fairway in the first photo below. That marks the top of a hill that longer hitters can carry off the tee. The approach to the slightly raised green is significantly easier from the bottom of that hill than stuck at the top!
Hole #16 – 345 yards – “Plateau” – Now that I’ve seen this hole once, I desperately want to play it again. It is a dogleg right that takes a sharp turn to a green on top of the hill (you can make out the flag in the first photo below). I lost my drive in thick grass to the right and next time I’ll play a long iron down the left and wedge into the green.
Hole #17 – 438 yards – “Tarbatness” – The 17th tee is the highest point on the course and it provides an amazing panoramic view. The green is immediately beyond the player in red in the first photo below.
Hole #18 – 201 yards – “Home Hole” – I’ve only seen a handful of courses that end with a par 3 and Brora is one of them! The sloping green has a brutal false front, and right and left slopes that would otherwise kick balls onto the green are protected by pot bunkers. The restaurant and bar in the clubhouse also overlook the 18th green, so pressure is on.
The Scottish Highlands hold a spell over those who visit and Brora is no exception. The scenery, charm of the people, and overall quality of the course makes it one of those rounds you think back on for years. Months after playing the course I can recall every hole and I find myself wishing I was back on that sunny afternoon!
If you make the trip to play Royal Dornoch, take the time to drive north to play Brora (and Golspie). I can almost guarantee it will plant seeds in your mind that have you coming back to the Highlands over and over.