Skip to main content

Scottish Golf Hidden Gems

St Andrews, the city, and the Old Course are so much more than merely a golfing destination. For a golfer, St Andrews is quite simply a mecca. It is a pilgrimage that anyone who truly purports to love the game must make at least once in a lifetime. The aura of what has gone before you embraces you as soon as you enter the ancient city. From the massive cathedral ruins to the rubble of the St Andrews castle, each element of the city seems to be a building block of anticipation to your first steps on to the historic course. It is almost overwhelming and well worth it for a first-time pilgrim to walk the course the evening before a round, if only to confirm that your feet really do touch the earth.
However, with a reputation as strong (and well deserved) as that of St Andrews, it is easy to overlook the stunning array of great golf options available in the rest of the country. The following journal chronicles my recent travels on one such route that concentrated on the Scottish Highlands, concluding south of Glasgow.
Royal Dornach
Royal Dornach Golf Club
Royal Dornoch Golf Club:
Our first day featured a round of golf at the famed Royal Dornoch Golf Club. Royal Dornochs significance in to the history of golf course design and architecture places it in rare company on the world golf stage.
Royal Dornoch is the golf course where Donald Ross grew up, learned and fell in love with the game. It is amazing to see so many design elements at Royal Dornoch that are trademarks of Ross-designed courses today. Notably, green complexes that are built up with steep runoffs and green cupping, reminiscent of Ross Pinehurst # 2, in particular.
Perhaps equally as enjoyable as was this text book tour of the educational development of golfs early design genius was stumbling upon the humble little home in the village of Dornoch where Ross was born and raised. The house features a small, ivy shrouded plate engraved simply, Birthplace of Donald Ross 1872-1948 Golf Architect . I was surprised that a place of such significance to a person of my sentimentality was treated with such humility and simplicity (I had not yet been in Scotland long enough to realize that the Scots approach everything with prudence and humility).
We stayed at a small hotel called The Eagle, and as it was, I laid my head down on a pillow that was less than one-hundred yards from Donald Ross house. For some reason, I thought that this was really cool. The hotel was an old-world classic in which, I am certain, provided me with an experience that was nearly identical to that of a traveler in the time of Donald Ross. Aside from the television set, everything else was elegantly simple; just enough. It was classic Dornoch. Simple and subtle with its nuances quietly waiting for discovery, rather than proclaiming their existence.
Sometime, to really know a person, you have to know from where they came. In my view, to know Dornoch, is to know Donald Ross.
Brora Golf Club:
Our next day began at Brora Golf Club. I have heard golf courses described at pastures, but in the case of Brora, such an otherwise disparaging moniker is precisely accurate.
Brora is quite literally a step back in time, a delightful strole through the game as it was. To walk the fairways of Brora is an exercise in constant observation as the golf course has stubbornly refused to resign from its former primary use as a farm pasture. To this day, bovine of various sorts meander from heather to heather and sheep scurry across your path as they munch and trim the fairways as they have done since the earliest herdsman knocked a rock from rabbit hole to rabbit hole.
While not (intended) to be a part of the normal route of play, one can also observe the very origin of the bunker as the animals still burrow large sandy holes in the dunes on the far side of the predominant wind to provide some shelter from the storm. All the while, the various natives leave their calling cards to remind you that this land belonged to them well before we attempted to perform a sport that at times our efforts could best be described as approximating the slip that we were careful to sidestep.
The James Braid designed course was a thoroughly enjoyable test with the par 3s (one in each direction on the compass), and the electric-fence surrounded greens standing out for distinction.
Tain Golf Course
The blind approach shot on No. 11 at Tain Golf Course.
Tain Golf Course:
Our afternoon round was played at Tain Golf Course. This Old Tom Morris designed course has been carefully protected by its management and members, acting as curators for this classic. Much of the course (aside from modern concessions of adding length, by moving tees back), is defined by wildly rolling mounds, subtly difficult greens and distinctive character hole by hole.
Standing out was the ingenious par 4, 11th Hole, which features a green completely protected by two mountainous mounds that causes the green to be hidden behind them. One was forced to trust the red and white guide-post as your only indication that a golf course existed behind them. Impressed as I am with Old Tom Morris designs, this uniquely devious hole made me wonder if Old Tom was sometimes grumpy as he went about his work.
At times, Tain made me feel that I was golfing on Cape Cod (MA), as the unique seaside scrubs and pines seemed to lift us out of northern Scotland, if briefly.
Overall, I found Tain to be a delightful golfing experience that possessed a character all its own.
We stayed at the Heathmount Hotel in Inverness, a charming hotel that easily combined ultra-modern amenities with old-world charm. After dinner, we watched the live, final round coverage of the PGA TOURs Deutsche Bank Championship from Boston. I will admit that due to the days busy agenda and a prudent sampling of single malt, I could not stay awake to see the final putts holed. Perhaps I will tomorrow, as we play Nairn and Old Moray.
To be continued in Part II
Copyright 2007 Matthew E. Adams Fairways of Life
Email your thoughts to Matt Adams
Editor's Note: Matt Adams is a golf journalist, best-selling author (Chicken Soup for the Soul, Fairways of Life) and a golf course general manager. To view Matt's books or sign up for his 'Golf Wisdom Newsletter,'go to