Royal Dornoch Review

Graylyn LoomisCourse Reviews13 Comments

Our trip to Royal Dornoch exemplified perfectly the difficulty of golf trips without a car. It was another trip with my good friend Matt, and it lived up to all expectations. We took multiple trains, which eventually dropped us in the very remote town of Tain, Scotland. From Tain, we took a bus to the town of Dornoch. We then found that Dornoch has no taxi companies, so we hopped a ride on a school bus to our B&B. Our journey had taken us deep into the Scottish highlands to play what is one of the best ancient links courses in Scotland. I had a personal goal of playing Dornoch, because it was the home course to Donald Ross, the course design master who brought the world Pinehurst #2, and my home club, Biltmore Forest Country Club, in addition to many other greats.IMG_0505We played a twilight round the evening of our arrival. This allowed us to get a good look at the course before our early morning tee time, but also to slow down, and let everything sink in while the course was empty. The decision to play the twilight round was excellent. We made our scores irrelevant, and brought the design and course layout to the forefront. Between our two rounds played, we were able to grasp the course, and realize that it was one of the best ancient links in Scotland. As my dad would say, “We sat back and enjoyed the breeze!”IMG_0509The course begins to come alive on the par-3 second. It is a 175-yard hole with a raised green and severely sloping sides, both spilling into small collection areas. With green complexes like this one, it is easy to see where Donald Ross found his inspiration for Pinehurst #2. His signature small greens, with beautiful bunker complexes, definitely have their roots at Dornoch. The course dramatically opens up from the third tee onwards. 

IMG_0515The bunkering on the 5th hole is classic. With a set of bunkers guarding a right side bailout and three massive bunkers endangering huge hitters and short approaches, there is plenty to think about on the tee. Lots of room on the left side of this fairway makes it obvious that if played correctly, a good score can be had. Getting greedy or leaking the ball right would lead to big numbers.IMG_0518The 161 yard par-3 6th has a massive slope on the right side, and bunkers and gorse guarding the left. A confident tee shot is a must. This is one of the holes at Dornoch that is truly fun. We spent time chipping around and hitting multiple approaches into this small challenging green.

IMG_0521 This famous view at Royal Dornoch is from the 7th tee box looking back at the majority of the course. It was absolutely stunning.IMG_0527The 8th hole has a two-tiered fairway, featuring a beautiful view looking down towards the green. Longer hitters can try to reach the lower tier off the tee in the correct wind, but the long elevated approach from the upper tier is very fun.
IMG_0534The par-3s at Dornoch really stood out. This picture of the 10th green shows the clever green complex, with bunkers guarding nearly every miss, even over the green. The par 3s varied in length, with the longest reaching 175 yards. They were challenging and fun to play, while not presenting unenjoyably long beasts.
IMG_0565The finishing holes were strong, and the 17th was particularly fun to play. The 16th required a straight tee shot, which we found to be a theme on nearly every hole. A premium was put on straight drives, and long rough bordered by gorse was quick to catch any wayward balls. If you could drive the ball straight, you could go low. I had two eagles on the back nine during the twilight round (on 12 and 15), along with two double-bogeys (on 14 and 16), where I hit it in the gorse.IMG_0595The course conditions were superb. Being a “golf nerd,” I always look out for types of grass, and particularly the conditions of the greens. The greens had nearly no intruding grasses, poa annua, or other impurities. They rolled very true.IMG_0548

Unfortunately, we had a negative experience with the staff at Royal Dornoch. Due to our random assortment of trains and buses, we arrived for our 6:30 twilight round at 14:00, planning on slipping out early. After a massive meal in the clubhouse and an hour spent putting, we asked the pro at 16:30 if we could tee off early. The course was completely empty. He said that we were the next tee time, but if we wanted to go off early, we would have to pay 40 pounds each to upgrade from a twilight rate. I understand that rules are rules, but while we sat for two more hours, not a single person teed off. Letting two students off two hours early would not have hurt the club, and I wouldn’t be writing this negative blurb right now. The rude and illogical way they went about letting us tee off was a disappointment. It put a stain on what could have only added to the trip. Luckily, the great golf overshadowed the pro-shop staff.

IMG_0536In the category of “Old Scottish Links,” Dornoch is unquestionably one of the best. It had the beautiful Old Tom Morris design elements of Machrihanish, with some of the fun of Cruden Bay. Golf was first played in Dornoch in 1616, and if it weren’t so darn rural, it would get the same amount of play as Troon or other contemporaries. I don’t know when the next time I play Dornoch will be, but I would recommend it to anyone who is willing to make the journey.IMG_0547


13 Comments on “Royal Dornoch Review”

  1. Hi Graylyn

    I am delighted that you enjoyed playing our course but disappointed that you had a couple of negative experineces. If you email me at we can discuss how this can be resolved.

    Best regards
    Neil Hampton
    General Manager
    Royal Dornoch Golf Club

  2. What you experienced at Dornoch is an unfortunate aspect of the character of a certain kind of Scot. It drove me nuts when I lived there (born and lived in Edinburgh for first 30 years). It’s an obsession with rules and conventions. It affects their relationships with each other, and with clients and customers from away. I could tell you stories! I hope they put it right.

  3. One of the my favorites! top 5 in my book. The course was stunning and the most fun I’ve had on a golf course

  4. As always, another great write-up. Thanks for sharing your experience and wonderful pics!

    I’m curious as I’m trying to plan a twilight round at Royal Dornoch as well, how long did your round take? From what I gather in September I’d have about 3 hours of daylight from the time I teed off at 5pm.

    1. Thanks Jason! I’m glad you enjoyed the review. Our twilight round didn’t take too long at all. We played in about 3 1/2 hours with my stopping to take constant photos, messing around in bunkers, hitting multiple balls etc etc. You won’t have too much time to stop and smell the roses, but I’d imagine you’ll finish up without any problems!

  5. I thoroughly enyoid playing Dornoch and agree it must be one of the best courses on this planet. However I also encountered a weird situation with the staff. My wife and daughter were to pick me up and arrrived a bit early, so they thought they could have a tea while waiting. In an otherwise almost empty restaurant, the staff asked them to leave as only members or paying guests were allowed in. I found this quite unusal for Scotland, and when I consider the extremely warm welcome you experience even in St Andrews, also quite out of place. The course is a must play, anyway!

    1. Hi Lars, Thank you for taking the time to comment! That’s very odd about your wife and daughter being asked to leave the restaurant… Like you said, it’s not something you would expect at all from a great Scottish club. There’s no good excuse for that. Despite the bad staff experiences, the course sure is awesome – it’s a shame that their is a “black eye” of sorts on the day. We’ll both have to return and give them another shot!

  6. Thanks for the great review Graylyn. Has been very helpful, along with your others, in helping craft the golf trip of a lifetime from the other side of the world. Quick question – would you recommend staying in Dornoch itself or down in Inverness? Planning on a couple of rounds on consecutive days. Cheers.

    1. Hey Andrew, thanks for the comment! I’m very glad to hear that the site has been helpful. I’m jealous of you going to Dornoch… it’s such a great place!

      My personal preference would be to stay in Dornoch itself. I stayed in a B&B while there, but there are a number of hotel options very close to the course, most famously the Royal Golf Hotel. The town has a ton of character and exudes golf – some would say even moreso than St Andrews. The drive down to Inverness is right at an hour, so unless you will be playing Castle Stuart (or another Inverness course) multiple days in a row, I vote staying in Dornoch!

  7. Excellent – thanks again for the great recommendations! Not enough time for Castle Stuart this time round unfortunately, but hoping to return one day when the new Mike Keiser course is well established. Cheers.

    1. In that case, definitely stay in Dornoch. You guys will have a blast! If choosing between Dornoch or Castle Stuart, you’re making the right choice.

      I’m going to make it back for the new Keiser course as well… see you there!

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