Lesser-Known Golf Courses Of… The Scottish Highlands

Graylyn LoomisFeatured Post, Scottish Golf Travel4 Comments

My original idea with this “Lesser-Known Golf Courses” series was to feature courses around popular towns or golf destinations. For the Highlands, the obvious choice is to feature lesser-known golf courses around Royal Dornoch, but I’ve decided to cast a wider net and talk about the Highlands more generally.

Some of these courses are near Royal Dornoch and could easily be tied into a trip there, but many are further afoot and totally worth your time to visit. If you have even more time, consider driving the entire North Coast 500. I did the entire journey solo (wrote about it here) and I think about it often… what a place!

The order in which I’ve highlighted the courses below is a counter-clockwise loop of the Scottish Highlands coastline. The Google Map below shows the courses covered in this article as well as the route of the North Coast 500. Let’s jump right in!

Tain Golf Club

Tain is an Old Tom Morris course just south of Dornoch, Scotland. I’ve never played Tain, but it’s always been on my wish list. The proximity to a course like Royal Dornoch can be a blessing and curse for a course like Tain. You essentially have to pass it on your way to Dornoch, so it’s easy to visit and also easy to overlook with a behemoth like Dornoch nearby. I’ll report back with a review and update here when I play Tain one day.

Golspie Golf Club

Golspie is extremely charming and authentic. What do I mean by authentic? When you visit, you feel like the only tourist on the course (and maybe the only tourist who has played it recently). The greenskeeper and his dog may drive by your group, or, more than likely, you may not see another soul. It’s not a place where you’ll find travel buses loaded with Americans. The course plays along the coastline, dunes, and a few areas that really feel like heathland. Read my full Golspie Golf Club Review at the link, and certainly consider adding it to any itinerary that includes Royal Dornoch.

Brora Golf Club

“Oh yeah… that’s the golf course with electric fences around the greens, right?!” That phrase often starts conversations about Brora, and admittedly, the grazing sheep are one of the first things you notice about the course. Once you look past the sheep, you see acres upon acres of rolling emerald-green linksland. Brora is only a 25-minute drive from Dornoch and you pass Golspie along the way. Check out the full Brora Golf Club Review here. I am taking a group of friends to Scotland this coming summer and we have two days in the Dornoch area. One day we’re playing Dornoch and the next we’re playing Brora. Brora is that good.

Reay Golf Club

If Golspie and Brora aren’t rural enough for you, make the drive to Reay. Reay is the most northerly 18-hole course on the British mainland and it’s just under 6,000 yards in length. The course has a small clubhouse and an honesty box to pay greens fees when nobody is there. I was the only golfer on the course when I played Reay, and I wandered the dunes taking photos and exploring the land. You feel like you’re on the edge of the world up there! Read the full Reay Golf Club Review here.

Durness Golf Club

Durness is a 9-hole course designed in 1988 by three local golfers. The course is located in the northwest corner of the British mainland and sections of the course feel like you’re in the Lord of the Rings. The hole that you’ll automatically photograph is the 9th, which is a par three (pictured below) that plays over the water and cliffs. The small clubhouse is just uphill of the 9th green and it provided shelter from the wind and rain on the day that I played. There is an honesty box for greens fees when the clubhouse isn’t staffed. I could say much more about Durness, but I suggest you read the full review: Durness Golf Club Review. If you have a moment, I also strongly suggest you watch Ru Macdonald’s video on Durness embedded below. Ru got some amazing footage on a sunny day!

Gairloch Golf Club

Gairloch oozes with charm. The nine hole course was busy (by rural Highlands standards) on the day that I played it, and I was lucky to be guided by a local. The course has holes that criss-cross one another on four occasions (in nine holes!), so it’s easy to get confused or even lost on the course. Much of the course plays alongside a sweeping sandy beach with crystal-clear blue water. Two different sets of tees allow players to create 18 different holes for a total yardage of 4,499 yards. It would be a perfect place to play with hickory clubs, though I enjoyed it thoroughly with my modern sticks. Read the full Gairloch review here.

These courses that I’ve highlighted are only a few of the terrific hidden gems in the Highlands. If you have other favorites, add them to the comments below!

4 Comments on “Lesser-Known Golf Courses Of… The Scottish Highlands”

  1. Here are four I have played and enjoyed: Traigh, Arisaig; Isle of Skye, Sconser; Spean Bridge; Killin all 9-holers but none the worse for that.

  2. On my last trip (2022) to the highlands I played the less known courses such as Tain, Golspie, Fortrose & Rosemarie and Brora. Even though I played Castle Stuart and Royal Dornoch, the feeling at the smaller courses gave me a more local, intimate feeling that was most enjoyable.

    I would highly suggest taking time to get off the beaten path!

  3. Played Tain, Golspie and Brora on a trip to Royal Dornoch, and was ever so glad I did. Those courses, while they may not have the name recognition of some of the top-100 offerings, are fantastic and such a joy to play, and the people you meet along the way are wonderful. It’s made me seek out more under-appreciated courses on subsequent trips to GB&I.

    FWIW, Brora may be some of the greatest linksland I’ve ever seen.

  4. I’ve been to Scotland three times for golf, but never to the Highlands. I can say that I have played all of the big Open courses, and I’ve played most of the hidden links around Fife and Dundee. You never forget your great drive over the rail shed on the Road Hole, or your par out of a fairway bunker on 18 at Carnoustie, but the most memorable overall rounds I’ve played have been at lesser known courses: Montrose, Panmure, Elie, Crail, and the greatly underrated St. Andrews Castle Course.

    The hidden links aren’t as crowded, feel more relaxed, and offer more opportunities for average players to score. And some of them are just sublimely beautiful (10, 11, 12 at Elie, for instance). If/when I eventually go to the Highlands, I plan to play all of these course, as well as Royal Dornoch.

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