Scotland’s’ far north is remote, beautiful and home to a surprising number of outstanding golf courses. The jewel in the crown is majestic Royal Dornoch – a must play for any serious golfer. Throw in a backdrop of stunning Highland scenery and it’s easy to see why Scotland’s north country has a special place in the heart of so many golfers.
Royal Dornoch Championship Course, Dornoch
Par 70, 6,748 yards
The course: How did one of the world’s great courses come to be built in a sleepy village on the same latitude as southern Alaska? Who knows? Who cares? Royal Dornoch is golf’s ultimate hidden gem.
Dornoch’s remote location means it will never host major events, but no golfer who makes the journey doubts its quality. Ask Tom Watson – a vocal Royal Dornoch fan.
The layout is a classic ‘out-and-back’ links. The outward nine is traced along higher ground, while the back nine skirts the shores of the Dornoch Firth.
One of Dornoch’s features is the raised greens, which will only accept a purely-struck approach and emphasise the penal nature of the greenside bunkering.
While the links feels entirely natural, Dornoch is also less idiosyncratic than many of Scotland’s great courses; there are few blind shots or forced carries and the golfer is always presented with options as to how to build a round.
Signature hole: The short 6th from a raised tee to a tiny, well-guarded green.
What makes it special? Everything! A visit to Royal Dornoch feels more like a pilgrimage than a mere round of golf.
Castle Stuart Golf Links, Inverness
Par 72, 7,009 yards
The course: Opened in 2009 and co-designed by Mark Parsinen and Gil Hanse, this highly acclaimed modern links set on the Moray Firth affords striking views of the Kessock bridge and Chanonry lighthouse. It has, despite its infancy, hosted the European Tour’s Scottish Open on a number of occasions, and is well-placed as one of the world’s best new courses.
Signature hole: At 305 yards, the third hole plays straight towards the water’s edge. Throw in a couple of well-place pot bunkers and you have one of the finest short par 4s in the UK.
What makes it special? Alongside spectacular views, the wild looking waste bunkers give clear definition to a wonderful test of golf.
Nairn Championship Links, Nairn
Par 72, 6,774 yards
The course: Nestling on the shores of the Moray Firth lies one of Scotland’s finest links. Home of the 1999 Walker Cup and the 2012 Curtis Cup, the course comprises over 100 bunkers guarding subtle greens and gorse lined fairways which demand accurate ball striking.
Signature hole: The 435-yard 13th has deep trouble lurking both sides of the fairway in the shape of gorse and out of bounds, an accurate approach is played into an elevated green with plenty of subtle undulations.
What makes it special? The waters of the Moray Firth can be seen from every hole making for an enviable setting.
Moray Old, Lossiemouth
Par 71, 6,717 yards
The course: A traditional 9 holes out and 9 holes back course at the end of the Morayshire whisky trail offering wonderful views of the Coversea Skerrie lighthouse. The revetted bunkers, running fairways and fast greens make it exactly what links golf should be. Previously hosted a Walker Cup and numerous professional golf events.
Signature hole: A round over the Moray Old culminates with a classic finishing par-4 demanding an accurate tee-shot to a heavily bumping and rolling fairway and then an approach to a deep and raised plateau green guarded by a gaping bunker.
What makes it special? The course is memorable and so too is the hilltop granite stone clubhouse that overlooks the rugged links and the contrasting beautiful coastline.
Boat of Garten, nr Aviemore
Par 70, 5,876 yards
The course: Set alongside the River Spey in the heart of the Caringorms National Park, the ‘Boat’ is unequivocally one of Scotland’s hidden gems. Braid’s design features 18 completely individual holes set against birch trees, heather and broom.
Signature hole: ‘Avenue’, the par-4 sixth hole, requires a good drive down a narrow tree-lined fairway, leaving a mid-iron approach to a plateau green guarded by bunkers on both sides.
What makes it special? Aptly named the ‘Gleneagles of the North’ . Great scenery and a fair test of golf.
Carnegie Links, Dornoch
Par 71, 6,833 yards
The course: This relatively modern links is part of the exclusive Carnegie Club complex near Dornoch. Architect Donald Steel was handed a gorgeous pocket of land between Loch Evelix and the Dornoch Firth and created a subtle gem which grows in reputation with every passing year. A well struck shot is almost always rewarded while poor golf is routinely punished.
Signature hole: The 17th is a short par 4 where eagle is a distinct possibility – but a threatening combination of beach, bunkers and a cleverly-contoured green could destroy a good round, too.
What makes it special? A relatively modern links in a spectacular coastal setting, the Carnegie Links is refreshingly subtle and immaculately presented.
Brora Golf Club
Par 70, 6,211 yards
The course: So many modern courses are carefully sculpted to look as ‘natural’ as possible but Brora is the real deal. Sheep patrol the fairways (electric fences keep them off the greens) while the course itself feels as if it has been laid out on gently undulating linksland with barely any earth-moving or landscaping. While short by modern standards, any kind of wind increases the challenge considerably.
Signature hole: The 13th, ‘Snake’, is barely 120 yards long but is a real test of touch thanks to five pot bunkers and a winding burn which gathers anything short.
What makes it special? Communing with nature has never been so much fun.