Royal Dornoch edges out Turnberry in my Scotland "Best Of" golf courses
They say good things come to those who wait.
In the case of Royal Dornoch, located in the Highlands of Scotland, good things come to those who drive.
When is the last time you were truly sad to finish a round of golf, and was it 50 degrees, windy and rainy? That was the case for me this afternoon at Dornoch.
Royal Dornoch can be forgotten, it seems. Despite being internationally recognized as one of the best courses in the world, its remoteness leaves it off the British Open rota and many touring golfers’ itineraries.
In a way, that’s a good thing. Officials aren’t always tweaking with the layout (it’s largely the same since WWII) and greens fees are far cheaper than other Open venues.
And despite wind and rain (naturally, my drive day up to the Highlands was clear and calm), it’s jumped to the top of my midterm “Best of” list in Scotland so far, edging out the Ailsa course at Turnberry - set to host the Open in 2009. This course is tricky but fair and easier to get around the first time than Prestwick.
Manager John Duncan loves giving this quote full of flair to visitors:
“I would say that Royal Dornoch very rarely puts a gun to your head but it does put its arm ’round your shoulder, gives you a cuddle and picks your pocket when you’re not looking.”
Coming in 3rd is the Gleneagles King’s course followed by Prestwick.
In Dornoch, the Royal Golf Hotel is located right off the first tee and provides awesome views of the course and firth and has a stylish little lounge, dining area and spacious rooms - some with panoramic windows as well.
I can’t play ALL the courses while I’m here, so I’ll throw out some “Word of Mouth” Awards: courses I keep hearing from locals that are the real deal. They are:
- Kingsbarns in St. Andrews
- Brora (north of Dornoch)
- Blairgowrie in Perthshire
- Leven Links (Open Qualifier near St. Andrews)
Royal Dornoch is currently leading a strong field in Scotland
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Turnberry, while a great experience, is a more Americanized course. But to walk up the 18th fairway with the sun starting to go down, and hearing the somber bagpipes echo around you is a near-religious experience.
Prestwick is old-school at its craziest. When I played there, we teed off behind an 80 year old member...and his dog. If a course was built like this today they would call it "tricked-up", but the fact that it has been like this for so long makes it a unique treat unlike any other. But you MUST take a caddy, or you won't have a clue which dune, bush, or giant hill to hit the ball over next.
(I lost a sand wedge late one night at Dornoch, and figured it to be gone forever since we were leaving the area the next morning. Our second day at Troon - on the other side of the country - it was delivered to our hotel. The people of Scotland consistently exceded my expectations! It is about more than just Golf when you visit there.)
Dornoch, however, is a better golf course, in terms of challenge, conditioning, natural beauty, and any other category one can imagine except, of course, history. I cannot overstate how much I enjoyed it, from the attitude of the staff, to my classic Scottish caddie (actually a 30 year old from New Jersey named Chris), to the wonderful weather, to the reasonable price. As soon as I get through playing The Old Course again, I'm on my way back to Dornoch.
kingsbarns, cruden bay and the amazing machrihanish, where i am also a member. you can check this sublime course out at www.machgolf.com.
unfortunately, given its remote locaton (more remote than dornoch)- on the tip of the kintyre peninsula - most golfers omit it on their pilgrimage. a true pity!