The history, reputation and majestic setting of Royal Dornoch Golf Club, with its two world class natural links courses, make it one of the must-play venues for golfers around the globe.
The Championship Course – ranked number 6 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 Golf Courses in the World – is revered by professionals and amateurs alike and bookings to secure a tee time are normally made six months in advance.
Royal Dornoch’s second course, The Struie, is ranked in the UK’s top 50 links courses. Officially opened as a 12-hole ladies’ course by Mrs Louise Carnegie in 1899. It was later extended to 18 holes in the 1980s and then professionally remodelled in the 1990s.
The club was formed in 1877 and was granted a Royal charter in 1906 by King Edward VII, a close friend of the 3rd Duke of Sutherland and a frequent visitor to the area.
Old Tom Morris laid out the 18-hole seaside Championship Course in 1886, extending the original nine holes and introducing the trademark plateau greens.
John Sutherland, a club secretary in that period and later known as the ‘father of golf’ in Dornoch, refined Morris’s course and helped pioneer its marketing by encouraging visitors to the far north through his writing on golf and local scenery.
Today, Major winners Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, Craig Stadler and Greg Norman are among its fans and it is often said that Royal Dornoch is the best links course in the UK not to have hosted The Open Championship.
No golfer has completed his education until he has played and studied Royal Dornoch.
Herbert Warren Wind
This distinction is partly due to its perceived remoteness – 50 miles from Inverness and just 8 degrees below the Arctic Circle. The club’s geographical situation makes Royal Dornoch a rare and polished jewel where it is possible on a June evening to play golf until almost midnight and, due to the influence of the Gulf Stream, to continue playing throughout the winter.
The steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, who built Skibo Castle some four miles along the Dornoch Firth, became vice president of the club and in 1901 he presented the members with the Carnegie Shield which was contested for the 100th time in 2013.
The club has 1,800 members, 700 of whom live outside Scotland and scattered across the globe. Many of them are drawn by the connection to the famous golf architect Donald Ross, who learned his skills on the Sutherland links before going on to design some of the finest courses in the US, including Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina.
Ancient and Modern
In 2016, the club will mark 400 years of golf being played on the town’s natural links. (In 1616, written accounts kept by Sir Robert Gordon, the tutor or guardian of the young John, 13th Earl of Sutherland, showed that the boy spent £10 on bows and arrows, golf clubs and balls!)
Modern improvements are continuous. For instance, in 2013, Royal Dornoch introduced a manned half-way house and a four-bay driving range on the Championship Course, while new course markers and signposts were installed on The Struie.