Royal Dornoch Celebrates its 400th Anniversary

Royal Dornoch holds a special place in the history of golf and in the hearts of all who love true links golf. It is the quintessential “classic,” one that especially deserves to be celebrated this year, the 400th anniversary of golf having been played on this same strip of land along the Dornoch Firth in far northern Scotland.

From the four-century-old shifting “course,” a nine-hole layout emerged, then some 200 years later, in the 1870s, Old Tom Morris was asked to make it 18. As he did, he was watched by an impressionable local youth named Donald Ross, who went on to apprentice under Old Tom in St. Andrews before bringing the domed greens and other Dornoch traits to many of his U.S. designs.

So what makes it classic? The remote location makes it feel like an exclusive club, but it is not: You just have to get there. It also is not on the Open Championship, or any other, rota, adding to its mystique.

Royal Dornoch runs straight out and back along land that is as natural today as it was eons ago. The front nine sits on high ground, the back lower and closer to the water. It is at the mercy of the climate, especially winds that can turn fierce and make navigating the slightly angled fairways and holding the crowned greens all the more difficult.

What it ultimately comes down to is that over-used phrase, “pure golf.” The game here is as simple as can be, the golfer trying to take the measure of the land, the weather, and himself. Here’s to another 400 years, at least.


  1. One of my two greatest days while playing in Scotland. Royal Dornoch, The Old Course and St. Andrews, The Old Course. The Royal Dornoch course was more playable and the people at the club made you feel like you were a member. Still keep my golf shirt even though it doesn’t fit anymore. Played in 1999.

  2. Had the honor and pleasure of playing Dornoch twice in 2001 and twice more in 2013. One of the most magical rounds I ever played was there in 2001 when my caddie asked if he could club me after seeing me hit my tee shot off #1. We played the rest of the round without ever discussing a yardage. He would hand me a club and say things like, “take off just a wee bit”. I was one under through 15 and not even a double bogey on #16 could spoil the day. Golf the way it was meant to be played on a course not to be missed.

  3. Well worth the trip. Members actually welcome you, they assume if you took the effort to get there, you probably are a good guy and love the game.The town is charming in it’s own right.

  4. In Dornoch the chill mineral air is pure, beautiful to breathe, restorative to the body. And the championship course at Royal Dornoch Golf Club is thrilling to play, a tonic for the soul.

    Why is it special? Looking out to sea here, the Highlands and their mountains behind, most of the country below, only the wild remotest places north and beyond, you feel you are somewhere singular. If you’re here, you’ve made an effort to get here and that alone makes it important. To enjoy something you need to earn it, or at least that’s what our parents told us. You’ve travelled from London or Glasgow or Edinburgh or somesuch to Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, and it’s been a fair old trek. But then you’ve carried on, 45 miles north, over firths and bridges, past distilleries and fields of barley swaying in the breeze. You’ve crossed beyond the 57th parallel north.

    Maybe you’ve travelled from the other side of the world, spent many hours on an aeroplane? This place’s reputation is such that international voices fill the air. It’s high on the wish list for global golf connoisseurs.

  5. Once you’ve played Dornoch, it forever will be a siren song to your golfing soul. Of all the courses I’ve played, it is the one course that I must go back and play again before I pass from this earth.

  6. There have only been two courses that I have walked off thinking “was that the best course I have ever played?” Cypress Point and Royal Dornoch. Definitely best links-though there are others that are amazing.

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