Golf Article

Highlands Golf - The Great Escape

A Golfer's Escape:  Scottish Highlands

By Peter Hellman, Classic Golf Tours


Some times in golf and in life you just want to get away.   Fortunately, there are still a few places so remote that the thought a golf course might exist is only slightly less amazing than the discovery of some really good ones.


The first time I traveled north to the upper reaches of Scotland's Highlands, I wasn't quite sure what I would find.  Naturally, I had heard about Royal Dornoch, but my assumptions about the area included rain, cold, maybe some snow, no trees, reindeer perhaps and a dull landscape.  Wrong bogie man!


The northern Highlands of Scotland have some of the best golf and some of the most gorgeous landscape found anywhere.  Many of us have heard of Royal Dornoch, the jewel of the northern courses, but it was Tom Watson who probably did more to put Dornoch on golfer's radar screens than anyone since Andrew Carnegie in 1901.   Arriving in 1981, after a successful year including a British Open win at Muirfield, Watson played three rounds on Royal Dornoch and declared, "That was the most fun I've ever had on a golf course."


Royal Dornoch, founded in 1877, runs to 6,732 yards at a Par 70.  But golf on these links has been played a lot longer.  Written records suggest that some sort of golf was played on the Dornoch turf as early as 1616 and like many of the best links in Scotland, Old Tom Morris put his imprint of the links.  Many who have played the course consider it the finest northerly course in the world.  It offers not only a sumptuous feeling of getting away from it but a great natural sea side beauty, that is fun and can't help but give any golfer a memorable experience. 


Like many links courses, the 1st hole, a par 4, 331 yarder, is relatively easy.  After that you're in for it.  One of my favorites is the 6th.  At 163 yards it's relatively short but you had better be straight.  The green is small, sloping off the back, built into a hill and surrounded by bunkers.  It's an easy five for sure. 


But, there is a lot more available for golfers in these parts.  Not far south of Dornoch is Tain Golf Course.  Another of one of Old Tom Morris' northern jewels, this par 70, and 6,404-yard links overlooking the Firth of Dornoch is worth the visit.  It's sheltered climate (its open all year long) and location between the sea and a backdrop of mountains makes it a must of any northern swings.  The 3rd hole (Knowe) is one of the best 18 links holes in the United Kingdom and the 17th (Black Bridge) in considered among the best Old Tom Morris ever designed. 


Brora Golf Club established in 1891 and redesigned by the famous golfer and course designer James Braid is a 6,101-yard, par 69 challenge.  A traditional links course, Brora exudes an atmosphere of warmth, friendliness and welcome.  The best hole is number 17 called Tarbatness.  It's named after the distant lighthouse, which gives golfers their line.  Teeing off from the elevated tee box, the Tarbatness is one of the best driving holes in Scotland. 


Also nearby is Golspie Golf Club.  This 1889 James Braid designed beauty lies 20 miles from Dornoch and measures a short 5,836 yards and a par of 68.  But, don't let the yardage fool you.  This course is no push over.  This is tough course despite its length and combines the seaside aspects of a good links course with several inland and wooded holes.  Some of the best holes include the back-to-back par 3's, number 16 (Cairngorms, named for the distant mountains) and number 17 (Sahara Back, named after some British's colonialist exploits, I presume).  The par 4, 445 yard 18th hole (Drum Brae) with its invisible green is a great finishing hole for another great golfing day.


The last of the great northern courses is Nairn Golf Club.  Don't confuse it with its respectable neighbor Nairn Dunbar.  Nairn Old was established in 1887 and had such famous golf course designers as Archie Simpson, Old Tom Morris and James Braid add to and improve it.  Located on the shores of the Moray Firth (Firth is an old Scottish word meaning bay) Nairn plays to a par 72 and runs 6,745 yards long.  Nairn is definitely worth a stop on any northern Highlands itinerary.  In addition to being one of the Scotland's finest golf courses, Nairn is also one of the most picturesque.  This course demands accurate ball striking but rewards good play with well-kept greens that are fast and true.  The toughest holes on the course come one right after the other.  Numbers 12, 13 and 14 can surely bring any good score right back to reality.  Consider hole 13, this par 435 yard par 4 has trouble on both sides of the fairway with gorse and bushes on one side, out-of-bounds on the other and a cross wind that will make even the best struck ball hesitate and plunge into trouble. 


So, remember when you are ready to escape it all to either rediscover yourself or your golf game, consider these great northern retreats but don't tell anyone.