Kingsbarns Golf Links

The heritage of the Kingsbarns Golfing Society dates back to 1793 but the availability of golf under their name was interrupted twice over the centuries. Most recently during World War II when ground was taken by the military for defensive war purposes.

In 2000 Kingsbarns was revived under the watchful eye of a couple of Americans, Mark Parsinen and Art Dunkley, who hired Kyle Phillips to manufacture this stunning links course on 190 acres of farmland in the current location.  Kyle gave it the full high-end treatment complete with grand scale dunes, crumpled fairways, bumps and hollows galore, revetted bunkers, and sprawling green complexes with character.

They spared no expense in creating this place, tapping into the knowledge of Robert Price the author of Scotland’s Golf Courses for advice on design features and Walter Wood the retired greens superintendent at St. Andrews for guidance on local turf issues.  They created a bit of Whistling Straits in St. Andrews……to even the experienced eye it looks like it is nature’s work.  This stiff links experience is not for the faint of heart, it was built for hosting professional championships like the annual Dunhill Links and Ricoh Women’s British Open.

Click to see the panoramic shoreline view of the finishing holes

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The course plays hard and fast with generous run ups from as far out as 100 yards to accommodate play along the ground.   By no means is this a target golf course, it will punch and counter punch you during the round so you have to be ready to respond.  Plenty of swerve in the fairways so don’t be surprised if your ball is not as obedient to your commands as you expect.  Bunkering is not overdone but it can be severe around the greens where the revetted faces are quite steep.  Further sculpted ground contours can gather balls without sufficient intent into the bother.  The greens have robust engineered undulations so a sharp short game and focused putting are very important to success out here.

Appreciate the severity of the greenside bunkering and green surface undulation

The day begins temperately enough off the side of the clubhouse to a high fairway overlooking the sea.  The approach into a green complex with deep face bunkers and the steeply undulating green set the tone for the day.  The story continues to unfold as you look down the short downhill Par 3 2nd where the North Sea crashing into the shore behind is a breathtaking sight to behold.  A little out with a long par 5 at sea level followed by a pair of difficult par 4s turning back just above will get your game to full throttle.

The backdrop of the North Sea seems to be everywhere

Stepping on the high tee on the wondrous short Par 4 6th you get a stunning panoramic view of all the holes along the sea.  This is a little downhill 300 yard shot that tempts your mischievous side but it will take a perfect strike with the right curve to get the reward they are dangling in front of you.  From the teeing round, if your eyes are 20 x 15, you can just make out the clubhouse at the Crail links down the coast.

#1 handicap 7th presents a stiff challenge, especially if the breeze is in your face

What follows is the challenge of the #1 Handicap hole on the course which, to add insult to injury, often plays into the wind. You get a bit of a breather on the 8th with a very technical short pitch Par 3 that looks like it tumbles right into the surf.

Another stunning Par 3 against the sea at the 8th

It is a long trek back up the 9th to the clubhouse and a chance to catch some replenishment at the Halfway Hut before taking on the very difficult inward half.

The second nine begins with a pair of tumbling par 4s that bring you back down to the sea next to the 8th green.  Both of these holes have severe downward elevation change and lots of side contours as well.  A couple of pars would be good for the scorecard storehouse before getting to the technical part of the course ahead.

The sequence of the 12th through the 15th will leave you breathless

Now you venture around the corner to a spur of land that holds four breathtaking holes that will challenge your full skill set.  As Malcolm Campbell says in his descriptive of the course, “It is a gentle walk to the 12th through a woodland…..where the ocean is stolen from our gaze.  When it is given back at the top of the incline at the tee, the assault on the senses is often difficult to believe.  The spectacular view ….is the one instantly recalled by many long after they leave Kingsbarns.  Here we find not only one of the most memorable …three-shot holes but one that cunningly conceals iron within the velvet glove”.    Hitch up you pants, aim at focused targets, and play away with abandon.

The 13th proves that three-par challenges your skill set in a different way

The Par 3 13th is a lovely short pitch down to a well guarded green complex wedged into a hill with a harsh stone wall covered with foliage.  Sorting out the wind effect and the elevation change makes this an elusive target.

After a scoring opportunity on the 14th, you meet face another windblown postcard Par 3 that completes this section of the course.  This requires a difficult uphill shot into a precipice green sitting on a jetty overlooking the raging sea.  Aim at the pot bunker nestled in the left third of this green in that the forced carry over the rocks gets much longer as the breeze blows the ball out to sea.

Managing the approach to the Par 5 16th is about lay-up positioning

If you got through this section with minimal scorecard damage what comes next are three strong finishing holes where, with strong execution, good scores are there to be had.  The first of which is the 16th, an ambling five par along the shore.  Long hitters can try to cut the corner but if the wind direction is off the left you are bringing a high score into play with anything wayward right.  Aiming at the corner of the clubhouse will leave you with a layup from the left center of the fairway to a safe space between the bunkers about 75 yards from the green. Worth noting on your approach, there is a pesky burn that runs right and behind the green.

Wending one’s way on the last march up to the high ground to the 17th green

One last one along the coastline, the penultimate hole is a punishing dogleg right par four if you do not hold you intended shot lines.  The drive is into the dogleg elbow well left and what remains is a daunting uphill approach into a perched green with three tiers.  Make sure you embrace the extra club required to get up into the middle of the putting surface.

The approach shot into the 18th green is a doozy…..or could make you woozy

The day finishes with an inland par four that plays across a high ridge adjacent to the first fairway.  With a strong drive you are left with a approach carry to a very difficult green shelved into a hill below the clubhouse.  The green complex really affords no safe lay up area so if you choose not to go for it over the burn you are probably laying up outside of 125 yards to an area on level to the green.  Try to ignore all the noses pressed up against the windows of the clubhouse grill room who are soaking their bruised egos having already failed to negotiate what you are currently trying to pull off.

Once the last putts fall, I do recommend you visit the members grill for some adult refreshment.  It is a beautiful vantage point from which to appreciate the vast beauty of what they created at Kingsbarns Golf Links.

St. Andrews, Scotland

 

Architect:  Kyle Phillips and Mark Parsinen   ( 2000)

Tee                 Par       Rating   Slope   Yardage

Medal              72         73.2       136       6807

Regular           72         70.7       132       6351

Ladies             72         70.7       126       5238

Carnoustie Golf Links

Carnoustie_logoCarnoustie has had it’s share of critics over the last century, most of them said it was too boring, too penal, or had too many weak holes to hold a place in the Open Championship Rota. But in the late 1990s, under the direction of their green superintendent John Philip, an astonishing renovation/restoration of the course was done and the result is a very difficult links golf experience. Of the resultant course changes James Finegan says “A sow’s ear had metamorphosed into a silk purse. This eighteen is the ultimate golfing challenge.”

This is not a course you can play gripping it and ripping it, you have to play almost every shot with proper forethought and flawless execution. There are no breather holes out here-play with absolute resolve on every hole or your scorecard will be punished. Sound of report of shooting range gunfire from the nearby military installation early in the round should remind you that you are in a full contact skirmish out there.

Famous people have left their mark in over 85 years as a championship venue

Carn Hogan SignBuilt on about as flat a piece of land as any links layout you will ever see the excitement had to be made in the strategic layout of fairway landing areas, green complexes, and the extensive use of burns and OB to cordon off reckless shot execution. As you experience in Florida they incorporated heavy dosages of burns (water) and Barbasol bunkering to make this place very punitive-especially when the wind is present.

A proper Scottish burn….not much water but significant scorecard pain

Jockies BurnThe closely shaven surrounds to the burns and bunkers give the hazards an especially strong magnetic attraction to a ball hit without sufficient resolve. There are many times when you think you hit the perfect approach and you are scratching your head in disbelief at where it ends up.

Greens that pitch and yaw even without the ever present wind

Carn 5 Green

 

To add more intrigue the greens are sprawling, oddly shaped with tiers and elevation transitions that make getting the ball close to the day’s pin a big challenge. Without any topography to block the breeze the putting is very wind affected which makes downwind, downhill putting particularly treacherous.

The typical hurdles you must negotiate on the way to the greens

Carn 3The scorecard reveals much of the difficulty of this course in the yardage alone. Close to 7000 yards from the white tees with a par of 72 with only three par fives on the shortish side there are a bevy of brutish par 4s that add up to that yardage total. From the yellow tee at 6600 yards two of those five pars on the inward nine become punitive par 4s as well.

Crossing the Spectacles Bunkers on the 14th takes extra focus

SpectaclesThe last four holes are the most difficult finish you have ever encountered with a manly par three close over 235 yards and the three par four holes all approaching 450 with serious diversionary hazards everywhere you look. The result is a slope rating of 144 and 142 respectively off the white and yellow markers which tells you all you need to know about the challenge at hand.

I will leave the details of this trek to the hole-by-hole description below but suffice it to say that this is the most excruciating test of recreational golf you will ever play. It needs to be experienced once simply because of it’s place in Open Championship lore where the likes of Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Tom Watson, and Padraig Harrington have claimed the Claret Jug.

Simpsons Golf Shop…one of the kitchy treasures in town

Simpsons Golf ShopTell the women and the kids to enjoy the day walking the quaint fishing town of Carnoustie and make sure they visit Simpsons Golf Shop across the street, they will have a much more delightful day than you have had.

The Frenchman’s epitaph etched over his watery grave

John V Carn 18The place is infamously known as the graveyard of Jean van de Velde’s Open Championship dreams. His nightmare finish on the 18th is commemorated by an inscription of his name on the top of the burn wall where he arrogantly tried to play one of the silliest recovery shots in major championship history. I don’t see you rolling up your pants legs and playing anything standing in the water on the last hole but I am pretty sure that once you are sitting in Calder’s Bar with an Irn-Bru in your hand there will be many wounds to salve from your walk around these links.

Carnoustie, Scotland

Architect: Allan Robertson, Old Tom Morris, James Braid (1840)

Tee        Par      Rating      Slope     Yardage
White     72         75          144        6948
Yellow    70         74          142        6595
Red       72         72          132        6144

(Click here to review the complete Carnoustie Links hole-by-hole descriptions)

For more pictures click to review Northern Scotland-Day 7: Carnoustie Golf Links

Crail Balcomie Links

Balcomie Links SignThe thing I love about Scotland is that there are links courses with little reputation that are must plays for the true golf addicts. The Balcomie Links at Crail sit about a half hour south of famed town of St. Andrews and does not carry any of the reputation of the courses in that immediate area. But in some ways Crail, perched high on the rocks above the North Sea, with a unique combination of three par fives, six par threes, and nine par fours measuring a mere 5900 yards is one of the most fun filled afternoons of links golf you can play. The vistas this course presents all through the round will have you repeatedly grabbing for your camera to capture another digital moment.

The Crail Golfing Society was instituted in 1786 and is the seventh oldest golf club in the world. Old Tom Morris laid out the holes of the Crail Balcomie Links in 1895 exposed across rugged and hilly terrain where the wind will batter your ball without compassion requiring you to play an unusual diversity of approach shots where the ground is your friend. Tidbit, I have read that this first known course on record to use iron cases as hole liners.

The ominous quarry wall makes it's presence known throughout your walk today

The ominous quarry wall makes it’s presence known throughout your walk today

 (Click on any picture to get an enhanced view of the image)

The golf shop is a small, quaint affair perched high atop the Craighead ridge overlooking the course below. The separate clubhouse replete with all sorts of memorabilia has an equally stunning view of the North Sea and the last four holes. No practice facility I could find so it will be a couple of putts and then unleash it off the flight deck of the first tee.

What really makes the Balcomie Links unusual is the sequencing of holes which was clearly determined by the ground that nature presented to Old Tom. It begins with a relatively easy downhill par four followed by a routine par 5 that climbs back up to a ledge overlooking the North Sea.   The golf challenge picks up quickly as the next three holes are played on the most exposed land on the links. This is no time for heroics take the prudent land line on all shots.

There are no shortcutsyou want to take on the seaside holes

There are no shortcuts you want to take on these seaside holes

From six on you are working back in the direction from whence you came. The eighth, one of the longest par fours of the day, wanders back up the steep hill into the prevailing wind to a double green it shares with the eleventh. From this green you can probably make out the Netherlands.

From the double green of 8 and 11 you can just make out The Hague

From the double green of 8 and 11 you can just make out The Hague on the horizon

Three billy goat down, up, and down holes follow setting you up for a most interesting finish. This part of the course the holes are so tightly configured that you will swear there are groups of eightsomes in front of you but it is likely just a second group playing up the adjacent hole. Better check your Titleist carefully on every shot or you might find it has changed unexpectedly to a Srixon.

Now it gets really funky as you will play four par threes in the last six holes. It seems Old Tom struggled to fit in the full 18, but do not be fooled by that because this is one of the hardest scoring stretches of the day.

The view off the flight deck on the 14th tee is spectacular

The view off the flight deck on the 14th tee is spectacular

Mystical interlude: Michael Murphy found enough intrigue in this place that he chose it as Burningbush, the fictional playground of Shivas Irons, in his famous book “Golf in the Kingdom”. He used the Craighead hole (#13) and the quarry and caves beside it for the memorable scenes where Shivas Irons introduces the young traveler to the mystic truths of True Gravity and the perfect golf swing. You too can pay homage with a visit to the caves as you make your way around the quarry path between the 14th green and the 15th tee.   If you listen closely you may just make out the shuffling steps of Seamus MacDuff in the crevices behind you.

The shot up the gorse face on the 1th will test your nerve and patience

The shot up the gorse face on the 1th will test your nerve and patience

The final four holes are an eclectic finish to this unconventional track as they wind up and down the hills on a sliver of beachfront below the massive quarry wall facing the North Sea. Once again the exposure to the wind makes the distance of the holes irrelevant to determining the difficulty of getting to the bar with a scorecard in tact. It is a real thrill ride right to the end.

The finishing hole

The finishing hole from the high tee, across the gorse, to the enigmatic green below

Once you have had a chance to reflect on it, the Balcomie Links will remind you of the favorite rumpled sweatshirt you love to throw on for the yard work on Sunday mornings. It is without pretense, comfortable, and has witnessed many of your most unheralded accomplishments without feeling a need to pass judgment. Balcomie Linkes presents an opportunity you don’t want to miss, a memorable windy walk along the coast of Scotland with a baffin’ spoon in your hand.

Crail, Scotland

Architect: Old Tom Morris (1895)

Tees                 Par    Yardage      Rating         Slope

White               69        5861          69.7             122

(Click here to review the complete Crail Balcomie Links hole-by-hole descriptions)

For more pictures click to review Northern Scotland-Day 8:  Crail Balcomie Links

Royal Aberdeen Golf Club

Royal Aberdeen LogoDating back to the formation of the Society of Golfers at Aberdeen in 1780 Royal Aberdeen is the sixth oldest golf club in the world. A sense of golf legacy is felt everywhere you go on the property. For the first hundred years golf was just played on ground within the town but in 1887 the land just north of the estuary of River Don at Balgownie was leased and the Simpson Brothers helped bring this historic links to life. Willie Park Sr. and Tom Simpson later took their part at shaping these links.

The simple but stately clubhouse is full of evidence of tradition

The simple but stately clubhouse is full of evidence of Scottish golf tradition

The first nine holes are considered by some among the very best in Scotland as they wind through the full rapture of links features-towering dunes, rolling fairways, gorse, heather, and tightly textured seaside turf. You cannot help but be caught up in the course’s beguiling solitude and seclusion. As you often see from courses of this era Royal Aberdeen is the classic out and back links arrangement.

The Par 3 third is typical of the enveloped look of the front side holes

The Par 3 third is typical of the enveloped look of the front side holes

The second nine is shorter and runs along the high plateau overlooking the front nine. You are likely to see an opposite direction in the wind influence over the inward nine. Some say this side lacks many of the features that make the front so memorable but there is an array of blind tee shots, hidden troughs, and very difficult putting surfaces to keep the challenge fresh.

Sea is over the dune behind the Par 3 8th-just a postcard moment

Sea is over the dune behind the Par 3 8th-just a postcard moment

What I enjoy about this place is that the links design gives the greens keeper the latitude to make the course playable each day as the wind changes. The greens are sufficiently long to allow for back pins down wind and front pins when the gale is in your face. Plenty of options to use the ground as your friend on approach shots. Take careful note that often the fronting green side bunkers are not at the green but well short of the putting surface to accommodate this option to feed approach shots onto the green.

A typical approach #15..bunkers need to be avoided

A typical green complex approach #15..bunkers set off the right-passing access from the left

Covering the Wailing Wall from the green side bunker on #15 is intimidating

Covering the Wailing Wall from the middle green side bunker on #15 is intimidating

The greens have lots of undulations which again provide the creative player with ways to carefully maneuver pitch shots to snuggle up to the hole. The game inside of fifty yards at Royal Aberdeen may provide some of the most lasting memories of the day.

The back nine climbs to the plateau and gives wind a maximum chance to affect your game

The back nine climbs to the plateau and gives wind a maximum chance to affect your game

As mentioned tradition is on display in troves throughout the clubhouse. You will see documents that show the first interclub tournaments held in the late 1800’s with guys from St. Andrews, Dornoch, Prestwick, and others. Those away games must have been a hoot. In 1783 the folks at Royal Aberdeen were responsible for establishing a five minute time limit on search for a lost ball. The Royal and Ancient adopted this practice shortly thereafter.  Other concepts Royal Aberdeen introduced include that the winner of a hole is entitled to the “honor” of playing first on the next hole and that the ball furthest from the hole is played first.

Here is one we found in the gorse within the allotted five minutes

Here is one we found in the gorse within the allotted five minutes

There are elaborate uniforms of the membership, endless pieces of competitive memorabilia, and wonderful pictures of the recognizable champions who have played and won in competitions contested on these links. Make sure to lunch in the grill room that overlooks the first tee it provides one of the great panoramic views of links golf in Scotland.

Last look up the 18th you see the clubhouse in the misty distance

Last look up the 18th you see the clubhouse peering at the green through the mist

The golf shop is a kitchy little building just below the first tee. Nooks and crannies full of stuff you will be temped to buy. As is often the case in Scotland, no practice area is evident. Hit some putts on the practice green and just soak in the gestalt of this place to prepare to play. If you are a discerning player this is a links experience you will never forget. Don’t say you were not warned……..the devil is in the details so make sure to read the hole-by-hole descriptives below.

Aberdeen, Scotland

Architect: Robert and Archie Simpson (1890)

Tees      Par     Yardage     Rating     Slope

Blue       71         6861         74.3        145
White     71        6497          72.7        142
Yellow    71        6214          71.3        140

(Click here to review the complete Royal Aberdeen hole-by-hole descriptions)

For more pictures click to review Northern Scotland-Day 6b:  Royal Aberdeen Golf Club

Trump International Golf Links

Trump International LogoIntroducing a new championship links course in Scotland is a rarity these days and for someone like Donald Trump to adopt this as a project made it’s realization even more unlikely.  As with all things Trump the creation of the Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland bruised a few egos, ruffled a bunch of feathers, and alienated a lot of locals.  But in the end a first class links course got built on a marvelous a piece of links real estate.  The quality of the result is attributable to the creative genius of Martin Hawtree who drew from this narrow strip of coastal dunes a memorable collection of 18 holes for the ages.

The Aberdeen region of Scotland has a rich history of great links golf with iconic courses like Royal Aberdeen and Cruden Bay as well as lesser known gems like Murcar and Fraserburg among others.  The addition of Trump International simply ups the credential a notch and probably increases the likelihood of this neighborhood becoming a regular stop for prestigious events like The Scottish Open or other European Tour championships.

It is all about the dunes at the Par 3 6th.

It is all about the dunes at the Par 3 6th..Pat Ruddy would nod his approval.

Hawtree was blessed with a stunning piece of land abutting the North Sea with sea grass covered sand dunes the size of office buildings.  Places like Enniscrone, Ballyliffen Glashedy, and the European Club in Ireland come to mind as you stare out at the expansive range of these imposing dune fields.  If must have been a challenge for Hawtree to simply decide where to begin.

Defying the traditional out and back approach to links design he placed the clubhouse in the center of the property and tracked four holes south with the sea on the left and five holes back on the inland side.  The back nine does the opposite with four holes working up the inland side to the north before the last five meander up and down among the coastal sand dunes coming back.  Though you rarely see the sea it’s proximity provides a steady wind influence lurking over top of the high dunes.

Trump wanted a stout championship course so he could woo a major championship but something playable enough for the retail golfers who would foot the bill for it’s existence every day.   To this goal there are six sets of tees and 112 tee boxes which might seem like a bit of  design overkill.  In reality this volume of teeing grounds allows the greens keeper to set up each hole to play to the same level of challenge for every caliber of player.  It also affords a flexibility in daily course set up to match the prevailing wind direction and intensity and make the severity of the challenge consistent in all conditions.   You just may need a GPS device to assist in the location of your tee box.

Full challenge at the 2nd-forced carry, burn, and a tuck-away green complex.

Full challenge at the 2nd-forced carry, burn, and a tuck-away green complex.

From the tips the measure is close to 7500 yards but if you pick the appropriate tee you should find a manageable golf challenge.  First glance at the blue tee scorecard reveals three of the four par fives are 500 yards or less and only five of the par fours are 400 yards or more.  But the devil is in the details (see link at the bottom for hole-by-hole detail) because the routing vis-à-vis the prevailing wind can make the effective playing length much longer.   Hope is that once the course sets in a few years they let the fairways firm up and this lengthening will get mitigated as it does on all links courses.

The first impression you have after you get over the scale of the dunes is how green this place is for a links course.  The quality of the grass in the walking areas between greens and tees would be the envy of the highest end country club in the states.  The emerald color actually takes away from the links character and Americanizes the course but again I am sure this is what the boss wanted.

Bunkering is the next thing that will capture your attention.  Cluster bunkering in some fairways and green approaches makes a number of those holes appear like an arcade game.  But in fact there are a greater number of holes with very sparse bunkering, often a single bunker at the green’s edge, so the use of sand is by no means overdone.  Having said that, the bunkers out there are fierce.  Many are funnel deep, revetted bunkers that can exact a full stroke toll where a sideways escape is the only way out.

The green at the Par 3 12th is protected by it's own contour...the nasty bunkers are an extra.

Greens protected by their own contours…tightly mowed surrounds make bunkers into ball magnets.

As with many links courses the greens are massive to provide the opportunity to make approach shots more manageable based on the day’s wind direction.  Hawtree segmented these greens in a way that there are often three greens within the green so the proper angle of approach requires forethought based on the day’s pin location.  Raised surfaces with fall offs, collection hollows, and a few nasty bunkers demand approaches with conviction or else you can spend the day inventing recovery shots you never imagined.

The Hawtree genius on full display in the look off the plateau tee on #5.

The Hawtree genius is on full display in the look off the plateau tee on #5.

The good news is that everything you encounter, driving areas and green complexes is right in front of you.  No blind shots, very few severe uphill shots, and plenty of bail out room where you need it.  But as discernable as your targets are many are fraught with existential topography and hazards that can have their way with your best intent.   You will encounter the full array of mounds and hollows, severe bunkers, furry sand dunes, and even marshy wetlands.  The wetlands seem a bit onerous and out of character on a links course and may be where he stepped across the line.

The course opens with a relatively straight forward five par that puts almost all of the above into play out of the gate.  The pressure ratchets up quickly with a burn bisecting the second followed by the postcard par three third-the only place you witness the sea first hand all day.    When you get to the perched tee at the par four 5th you are sure you have stepped into a J.R.R. Tolkien novel….there have to be trolls and hobbits lurking in these surrounds.  The 6th makes you feel like you have been transported across the Irish Sea to European Club south of Dublin-this hide-n-seek par 3 is pure Pat Ruddy.  From 7 to 9 you get the full challenge-a short technical par four and two brutishly heroic par fours before you get a chance to catch your breath and an Irn-Bru at the turn.

Nestled in the dunes the 14th is pure eye candy.

Nestled in the dunes the 14th is pure eye candy.

The inward nine follows a similar pattern with a straight forward five par followed by a couple of manageable par fours and a very linksy par three.  The wow meter jumps to double digits when you step on to the tee box at 14.  What rolls out beneath your feet simply will take your breath away.  A beautiful midrange par four brings to mind Royal Country Down, fairway swaddled between dune ranges with the North Sea peering over the top.
Another tantalizing short par four before you turn back south for the final run.  There is no let up from here to the house you have to play your best golf of the day because you are likely playing into the wind.   The par three 16th will test your trajectory and distance control with a well protected green that is 45 yards long.  In spite of it’s handicap designation, the 17th into a two club wind may be the hardest hole to par since the Road Hole at The Old Course.  There is one last Kodak moment is ahead, walk to the top of the back tee on 18 where the hole measures 651 yards and a sea of 18 bunkers, count em, stands between you and the final green.  Maybe there is a bit of Trump showmanship in this one but it is a very interesting finishing hole.

The last 9 of the 18 bunkers on the approach to the finishing hole must be avoided.

The last 9 of the 18 bunkers on the approach to the finishing hole must be avoided.

Trump did not cut any corners in the creation of his golf nirvana and the fare you pay will indicate that. Unlike most venues in Scotland there is an elaborate practice ground with a full driving range, wonderful short game preparation area, and expansive practice putting greens at your disposal.  The Trump Links clock overlooking the range, the black and bronze signage throughout the course, the classic stone bridges that cross the burns, and even the cherry wood trash cans with the Trump International Crest remind you that this is a Trump creation.  The Donald would have it no other way.

Aberdeen, Scotland

Architect:  Martin Hawtree (2012)

Tees       Par      Yardage     Rating      Slope
Blue       72        6602         73.8         140
White     72        6329         72.3         133

(Click here to review the complete Trump International hole-by-hole descriptions)

For more pictures click to review Northern Scotland-Day 5: Trump International Links

Cruden Bay Golf Club

Cruden Bay Golf Club LogoAt the end of the 19th century the great railway expansion took place in Scotland which provided a mode of transport to a string of new links courses established in that era.   Cruden Bay,  just north of Aberdeen, came on line in 1899 and one more magnificent links venue was within reach.  Nestled amongst some of the tallest dunes on the east coast of Scotland Old Tom Morris staked the original Cruden Bay course in Aberdeenshire and it fast became a favorite destination for holiday travelers.  It was updated and expanded by Tom Simpson and Herbert Fowler in 1926 to take on the unique character that we enjoy today.

The clubhouse sits on a hill overlooking the sprawling links below.  As you step out of the golf shop the panoramic view is a strong hint at the special day of links golf that lies ahead.  James Finegan describes this view, “Below, in all its turbulent splendor, lies one of the most awe-inspiring stretches of linksland ever dedicated to the game….sand hills rise as high as sixty feet, their shaggy slopes covered with long and throttling golden grasses.  For sheer majesty of setting, no Scottish course surpasses Cruden Bay”.

Even through the haar you can see the splendid combination Finegan describes

Even through the haar you can see the splendid topographical combination Finegan describes.

 (Click on any picture to get an enhanced view of the image)

The tallest dunes dominate the north end of the course early in the round creating a mixture of elevation changes and alcove holes between the dunes to challenge your judgment and your will.  Coming off the valley floor the first four holes present a unique array of technical links shots that are a splash of cold water on the face.  Negotiating a successful approach shot to the table top green at number two demands creativity and dexterity.  The carry shot on the signature par three fourth is a blend of terror and thrill if it lands and stays on a putting surface suspended off a towering dune.

Green complex on the Par 4 #2 is downright elusive to your approach shot.

Green complex on the Par 4 #2 is downright elusive to your approach shot.

If you survived the opening volley the rest of the front side you wend amongst the low gorse and grassed covered dunes that define playing lines for each hole.  The view off the tee box of the sweeping par four fifth is mesmerizing as the hole turns left into a small subdivision of sand dunes.   Two full metal blows are required to reach the putting surface.  A Captain Hook dogear left three-shot par five follows-with the first incursion of a Scottish burn defining your lay up position and putting the vise grip on your approach shot into a treacherous green setting.

Negotiating the burn and green side bunkers on #5 is a major challenge.

Negotiating the burn and green side bunkers on #5 is a major challenge.

As you start a slow climb up to the high ground the next two are quintessential links par fours.  The seventh would feel at home at Ballyliffen Glashedy or Enniscronne in the northern reaches of Ireland.  Your tee ball requires restraint as you play into a narrowing landing area leaving a steep uphill pitch to a long putting surface that seems to shed approach shots without very distinct intention.  The driveable eighth will leave many a long hitter with tufts of hair between their fingers if they fail to make birdie on what seems to be a most gettable hole.  The steep march that follows to the ninth tee has you gasping for air as you look out over a hole draped across the ridge of one of the tallest dunes on the course.

Resplendent view from the 10th tee a the dune wall that shadows the holes coming in.

Resplendent view from the 10th tee of the dune wall that frames the holes coming in.

From the precipice tee on ninth tee take in the grandeur of the remaining holes stretching out below your feet in both directions-a gorse covered dune wall cordons one side and the low cliffs overlooking the sea the other. If you look behind you, on the bluffs in the distance you see the eerie remains of Slain’s Castle peering out over the North Sea.

The wind off the sea on #11 makes this short pitch very compelling.

The wind off the sea on #11 makes this short pitch very compelling.

Exposure to the sea breeze creates a remarkable run of holes from the 9th to 16th .  The short par three 11th reminds me of the three pars on the inward half at Royal Dornoch-there is only one line to play and it has to be with proper resolve to mitigate the wind’s effect and offer a chance to make par.

The influence of the sea is ever present throughout the back nine.

The influence of the sea is ever present throughout the back nine.

Turning back to the North you are playing to the farthest reach of the links.   The sound of the sea crashing on the rocks just over your shoulder adds to the sense of remoteness of this part of the course.   Against all macho temptations to be heroic, controlling your line and the subsequent roll outs on both the short par four 12th and the serpentine par five that follows is essential.  The green complex on the 13th is as Old Tom found it, a small blind shelf wedged between a low dune and the tall dune wall behind just begging for a putting surface.

This sunken green lurks behind the dune on your approach into the Par 4 14th.

This sunken green lurks behind the dune on your approach into the Par 4 14th.

Blind is an important operational term since it is the major factor on the next three holes.  There is so much existential fate woven into them Søren Kierkegaard would feel right at home here.  After a controlled draw up the ramp shoulder of the tall dune on the 14th your second shot is a full faith play over the directional pole where your target is a large Turkish bath of a green sunken into a hollow on the back side of a low dune.  The punch bowl effect is helpful but the green is so long that gauging distance to the pin is crucial-an important hint is provided in “the box” next to the tee.

A dogleg left par three follows-yes I said dogleg.  Totally blinded by the right scapula of the big dune you have to visualize a draw shape and trust that there is an ample receiving area round the bend.  Don’t fail to notice the engineering marvel of the bell and rope warning system provided to let the group behind you know when it is safe to hit.

You can barely make out the flag in front of your target off the blind 16th.

You can barely make out the flag in front of your target off the blind 16th.

One more blind man’s bluff in a middle sized par three on the 16th where the teenie green is hidden over top edge of a low dune surrounded by the coffins that give the hole it’s name.  Aim at the refuge house on the hill and be prepared for a birdie putt.

The chef left one of his creations in your way in the middle of the 17th fairway.

The chef left one of his creations in your way in the middle of the 17th fairway.

One last links diddie awaits you on the 17th tee as you start your descent to the valley floor from where you began.  The driving area is dominated by a huge fallen soufflé of a mound in the center of the fairway.  Trusting that you can slip it by one side to get a look at the raised plateau green is another act of faith.  The final hole is a bit mundane compared to the rest but it still has plenty of challenge if you need a par to win the third leg of the Nassau bet.

Sipping a cold one in the clubhouse bar overlooking the splendor that James Finegan described you will have a remorseful sense of a links adventure experienced that ended too soon.  A second exploratory trip around might just be in order.

Aberdeenshire, Scotland

..
Architect:  Old Tom Morris (1899)
Tom Simpson and Herbert Fowler (1926)

Tees         Par    Yardage      Rating

White        70      6263           71

Gold          70     5862           69

(Click here to review the complete Cruden Bay Golf Club hole-by-hole descriptions)

For more pictures click to review Northern Scotland-Day 6a: Cruden Bay Golf Club

For even more photos click our 2016 posting Cruden Bay Golf Club-Revisited

Castle Stuart Golf Links

Castle Stuart LogoGil Hanse and Mark Parsinen had the intention of designing a golf course with great visual impression that afforded a playability factor an average golfer would enjoy.  Standing on most of the tees a player sees an expansive and receptive landing area for their drives-not a whole lot of fuss to clog the mind-yet obvious tactical choices are available and it is easy to process them at first glance.  The result is a championship course to challenge the best players in the world that is playable by mere mortals full of memorable vistas that create pulse racing shot opportunities without the imminent doom awaiting every good intention gone awry.

For me the design has much of the look and feel of David Kidd’s creation at Bandon Dunes.  Expansive landscapes stretching along the Moray Firth with accents of gorse and heather covered dunes and rugged natural bunkering that looks like it was blown out by the seaside winds.  The bunkering is a blend of the raw appearance accented by selective landscaping, some sleepers, and hand revetting to give them a wild but finished look.  The style of bunkering belies the recent vintage of the course-it looks like it has been there for a hundred years.

The beauty stretches out in front of you in the first three seaside holes.

The beauty stretches out in front of you in the first three seaside holes.

 (Click on any picture to get an enhanced view of the image)

The generosity of the driving areas are not harrowed with disaster, they provide opportunities to find your ball and figure out what to do next.  The next is full of challenge because rumpled fairways, roll offs, and punitive bunkering can put you in a spot of bother.  But Parsinen says it was not their intention to terminally punish you for a mistake, rather your fate is still in your hands if you have the imagination and courage to play the recovery available to you.  Not many “in your pocket” experiences.  Instead there are going to be some very gratifying recovery memories when you are done, true postcards for the mind of the thrill of the little challenges that add up during your round here.

Lay up position on the Par 5 2nd gives you lots of option on how to attack.

Lay up position on the Par 5 2nd gives you lots of options on how to attack this green.

The opening holes on both the outward and inward nines are literally on the sea and share an intimacy with the beach and water.  The first three holes have a tall gorse dune wall on the left and open exposure to the Firth on the right so wind behind or off your right shoulder will present an opportunity to challenge the short length of the holes .  Your position off each tee will help determine how aggressive you should be on your approach shots.  Take the bait if the reward outweighs the risk because the second part of the outward nine will not afford many scoring chances.  The key to doing well on this course is to get to the fifth tee close to par.  This may happen because of a birdie or two or simply resisting adrenaline decisions and protecting par.

The green on the 4th seems dwarfed by a castle almost a mile away.

The green on the 4th seems dwarfed by a castle almost a mile away.

From five to nine the holes sit atop an ‘old sea cliff’ and meander high above the coast like the middle holes at Pebble Beach with panoramic views of the Firth and the Kessock Bridge in the distance.  Being on the high ground the wind is more influential because you have no tall dune wall to protect one of your flanks.  Five, six, and seven are long holes with plenty of fairway contour to deflect your approach lines so navigate carefully, using the ground as your friend, to avoid roll offs into arduous bunkers or gorges of heather and seagrass.  The last two holes before the halfway house don’t scare you with length but you have to carefully manage your misses to protect par.

The contours created by the dunes play into and off of the hazards that lurk.

The contours created by the dunes play into and off of the hazards that lurk.

The halfway house is tucked in a bunker building with the starter’s station just above the first and tenth tee.  Dry, wind protected, and not a bad cup of soup will provide a welcome sanctuary.  If you are going to indulge in the chocolate bars make sure to ask for the frozen ones they are a real treat.  Eventually they will throw you out to face the elements again on the inward nine.

The back begins with holes framed by the dunes on the right and the sea on the left.

The back begins with holes framed by the dunes on the starboard side.

The first three holes are scoring opportunities of similar ilk to the opening holes just headed in the direction of the Chanonry Lighthouse to the North.     Between all the photo opps you will have to hit some shots with clear intention but if you pull them off there can be good numbers to add to your scorecard.  Be aware that the left side is not as buffered from the Firth as it was on the opening segment.  Three pars will do fine to get this side off to a successful start.

The looks do not get any better than this-the 12th green set against the Moray Firth.

The looks do not get any better than this-the 12th green set against the Moray Firth.

After a cardio climb up the face of the dune (do not ignore the water oasis station half way up if for no other reason than to rest your aching quads) the finishing six are the balcony seating in this theater where you will enjoy exhilarating views of the Moray Firth.  The next three par fours are very demanding as they traverse the high ground and provide little opportunity to make up ground.  A par and a couple of bogies would set you up for one last dash down the final three holes.

Looking back down to the tee on 13 you can appreciate how far up you have journeyed.

Looking back down to the tee on 13 you can appreciate how far up you have journeyed.

If you are hopelessly down in the match don’t despair because lots of things can happen on these closing holes.  A driveable par four, very difficult par three, and a five par with lots of options could make a 3-4-4 finish to steal the bacon a real possibility.

The Par 3 17th has intimidating look backed by serious consequences.

The Par 3 17th has intimidating look backed by serious consequences.

The key is to get through the seventeenth without serious harm-as a par three with the sixth handicap hole designation you have to blend some courage with sanity to get to the eighteenth with a chance.  From the last tee you see the entire links set against the sea below and it will take your breath away.  Cue the camera there will be a full handful of Kodak moments over this last 500-yard walk.

The upper decks of the S.S. Castle Stuart.

The upper decks of the S.S. Castle Stuart.

 The clubhouse is an art deco design which looks like the stacked deck on a cruise ship.  Full featured with a nice golf shop, casual grill room, and locker rooms from a first class private club make sure to take the time to wander about and enjoy the amenities.  The view of the sea from the deck is just astonishing-take a moment to take in this moment from the balcony off the locker room. The layered windows from each area provide sitting opportunities within for watching the golf below.

How about this look from the captain's deck at the end of the day.

How about this look from the captain’s deck at the end of the day.

A rarity in Scotland this place has a first class practice ground-driving range, short game area, and practice putting greens.  One should take advantage of this before or after a round.  The yardage book for course is supreme as it has topographical detail that helps on the shot planning and very nice color photos of each hole for some fond remembrances months later.

All in all they have provided a creative, challenging, and forgiving design for you to enjoy.  If you have spent the week getting thrashed by one course after another on your Scottish Tour this will be welcome relief if you can put together some solid shot making.

Inverness, Scotland

Architect:  Gil Hanse and Mark Parsinen (2009)

Tees               Par     Yardage     Rating       Slope

White              72        6553          71.6         133

Green              72        6153          70.2         126

(Click here to review the complete Castle Stuart Golf Links hole-by-hole descriptions)

For more pictures click to review Northern Scotland-Day 4: Castle Stuart Golf Links

Brora Golf Club

Brora FlagGolfers can be a hardy bunch but even for them a trip to Brora is a bit of a trek.  For those making it the pilgrimage to Royal Dornoch, a mere three shot par five down the road, this is one worth adding to your itinerary.  You won’t venture much further North than this for a round of golf as it sits on the same latitude as Juneau, Alaska.  But what you will find is a delightful links layout that, as James Finegan says, “is packed with shot-making demands over as rewarding an expanse of duneland-every natural contour from moderate wrinkling to fantastic billowing-as any golfer could yearn for”.

The clubhouse overlooks the links below.

The clubhouse has a commanding presence over the links below.

James Braid, a five-time Open Championship winner, laid this in the classic links in and out routine on a narrow strip of linksland just two holes wide.  The outward nine follow the contour of Kintradwell Bay with the ever present shore line on the right giving full view of the sea.

The Par 3 9th binds the sea and the stunning mountain backdrop to the links.

The Par 3 9th binds the sea and the stunning mountain backdrop to the links.

(Click on any picture to get an enhanced view of the image)

The exposure of the entire links to the sea makes for a serious wind effect almost every day.  Don’t be overconfident when you look at the yardages on this scorecard because the wind will notch up the challenges considerably.

Looking down the third you can see the awesome beauty of the Northern Highlands as a backdrop.

Looking down the third you take in the serene beauty of the Northern Highlands as a backdrop.

The tees and green are often nestled between the dunes which increases how unpredictable the ever-present breezes will be affecting the flight of your ball.  David Brice says “Brora is a character-filled layout, brimming over with personality and an obvious sense of humor.”  The variety of the holes with full links features will make you play all the shots in your repertoire.  Something worth noting was Braid’s routing  the four par threes each facing a different point on the compass as to insist that you must deal with all variations of the wind on any given day.

There are no mild bunkers on these links and they tie seamlessly into the greens.

There are no mild bunkers on these links and they tie seamlessly into the greens.

One unusual aspect is the unpaid landscaping service of cows and sheep that wander the property greens (ergo the local rule that animal droppings are to be treated as casual water and hoof prints through the green are considered ground under repair).

The Toro sheep have a long standing agreement for lawn maintenance.

The Toro sheep have a long standing agreement for lawn maintenance.

To keep the maintenance troops in check, they have electric fences around every green so pay attention as you enter the green complexes.  As Hugh Baillie says in his book on Brora, “It has been said that Brora golfers are instantly recognizable  wherever they play….they automatically lift a leg going on to a green”.

The electric fencing is a hurdle into every green complex.

The electric fencing here at 13 is a hurdle you traverse into every green complex.

Much like Royal Dornoch Brora was a playground over 100 years ago for rich men and people with royal pedigree on their summer holidays.  One of the regular holiday visitors was the Duke of Sutherland who stayed at Dunrobin Castle north of Brora.  During a round when his Grace was apparently not on his “A” game his regular caddie, Slogger, when asked by the Duke on the 10th tee “What’s the line here?” he responded “For as much good as you’re doing here you’re as well to take the Inverness-Thurso railway line”.  Guessing that Slogger was losing the side bet of the day on his Grace’s play.    There is so much history to this place, it is the headquarters of the James Braid golfing Society whose members include the Australian Golfing Great, Peter Thomson, Peter Aliss, and Ben Crenshaw.

Sunset from the clubhouse gallery, a postcard moment.

Sunset from the clubhouse gallery presents a true postcard moment.

Brora is a great day of windy links golf awaiting.  Make the effort to get there and you will not be disappointed.

Sutherland, Scotland

Architect:  James Braid (1924)

Tee                  Par       Yardage          Rating

White               70         6211                 70

Yellow              70         5951                 70

(Click here to review the complete Brora Golf Club hole-by-hole descriptions)

For more pictures click to review Northern Scotland-Day 2: Brora Golf Club

Moray Golf Club

Moray Golf Club LogoThe old course at Moray Golf Club is a quaint Old Tom Morris original featuring deep revetted bunkers, undulating gorse confined fairways, and smooth flowing putting surfaces.  This is not going to be on anyone’s “A” list of must courses to play in Scotland but, in my humble opinion, it is a destination worth seeking out if you are traveling along the northern coast of Scotland.  It is the proud asset of this small seaside community of Lossiemouth.

The clubhouse displays a dignified stature sitting atop a hill overlooking the finishing hole and seaside links land below.  Five flagpoles and a commemorative sundial stand proudly above the practice putting green and some terraced hills creating a perfect amphitheater setting for those enjoying happy hour at the clubhouse bar.  As you finish your game you will undoubtedly get some cheers and jeers from related interested parties.

The clubhouse on the hill is a focal point from which you can see it all.

The clubhouse on the hill is a focal point from which you can see it all.

With seven par fours of 400 yards or more, only two par fives at 2 and 17, and a par of 71 there are long stretches of challenging golf without relief and this is plenty of course to chew on for the average bear.  The apparent flatness of the terrain, there are very few high dunes except Mt. Lebanon adjacent to the first and last holes, is a bit of a sucker punch because Old Tom found plenty of humps and hollows in the seaside terrain to create fairways and green complexes that impart serious movement as your ball is seeking it’s targets.  The holes are very tightly packed in and there really is not much other than fairway and gorse so any significant wandering off the playing line can mean unplayable circumstances.

The links features you see here make for some entertaining shot making.

The links features you see here make for some entertaining shot making.

The holes themselves are a wonderful collection of links offerings and you will encounter all the characteristics of washboard fairways, intrusive burns, nasty revetted bunkers, and raised greens with arbitrary runoffs.  Controlling the sideways movement of your ball is the key and enlisting the help of the given terrain is the best way to do this.

Parched like a trisquit controlling roll out into the 12th takes imagination.

Parched like a triscuit controlling roll out into the 12th took imagination.

When we played the course they had been experiencing a prolonged hot and dry summer so the course played as hard and fast as the playground out back of P.S. 84 in the Bronx.  The lack of any high obstacles means that any wind experienced at Moray will have full force since there is little in the way to obstruct it.  The parched conditions coupled with a stiff 25 mile an hour wind made it a real chess match to anticipate the roll out on even the shortest approach shots.  We would have been lost without the valued advice of a couple of caddies who knew the lay of the land.

This finishing hole setting is something that will cling to you.

This finishing hole setting is something that will cling to you.

There are not a whole lot of memorable holes on the course but I will say the last five will get your attention.  It is a strong finish that begins at the par four fourteenth that gets it’s name from it’s bearing toward the sea.  On a clear day the green is majestically framed by the sea and a lighthouse in the distance.  The par three that follows is a clever and deceptive hide-n-seek hole that calls for strong visualization off the tee.  A strong par four and a funky par five bring you to the signature hole to end your day.  This long par four may be one of the strongest finishing holes in all of Scotland.  The second shot into a plateau green complex set into the hill below the club house packed with revelers is a real adrenaline rush.  A perfect finish for a very enjoyable day of links golf.

A beautiful sunset puts a perfect accent on the day.

A beautiful sunset puts a perfect accent on the day.

Something you will notice early on is that the course sits adjacent to a Royal Air Force base next door.  You may have to ignore the screaming jet engines from fighter bombers on training runs, so don’t say you were not warned.  At least there are a number of wind socks visible over the fence to help you figure the wind and the landing light poles for the runways that appear like cactus gardens throughout the property can give you some convenient aiming lines.

Lossiemouth, Scotland

Architect:  Old Tom Morris

Tees        Par    Yardage    Rating
White        71     6572          73

(Click here to review the complete Moray Golf Club hole-by-hole descriptions)

Royal Dornoch Golf Club

Royal Dornoch LogoRoyal Dornoch holds the distinction, behind the Old Course at St. Andrews, as the second most famous links venue in Scotland.  Golf in some form has been played in this Scottish Highland neighborhood for over 400 years.  Rumor has it that the local clergy from the Dornoch Cathedral sanctioned playing the game in it’s early years and ushered in the first period of growth in this region.  The current iteration was laid out by Old Tom Morris in 1886 about 10 years after the club was officially formed.   It sponsored many distinguished competitions throughout the early 1900’s and in the 1940’s, with the acquisition of additional ground on the north end, allowed for extension of the holes on that end and the redesign of the final six holes that we play today.

The natural terraced routing flows below the gorse laden dune wall.

The natural terraced routing flows out and in below the gorse dune wall.

Click on any photo to get a higher resolution view of the image

There were many hands in this development but honestly it seems like nature and the big force are most responsible for what you will experience here.  Once you get into the heart of the course, as James Finegan says, “there is a strong sensation of heading toward land’s end.  The remoteness is total.  We feel we may….penetrate the very wilds…on this journey over ancient landscape where so little is owed to the hand of man.

John Sutherland guided the affairs of the Dornoch Club for 60 years starting in 1883.  A fine player in his own right, a knowledgeable contributing course designer, and a journalist is credited helping refine the original design and spreading the word about Dornoch among industrialists and people of influence in the United Kingdom at the turn of the century.

Andrew Carnegie, the rich American entrepreneur, bought the castle at Skibo down the road in 1900 and took up an interest in golf.  He became Vice President of the club in 1901 and his involvement brought notoriety and interest that helped proliferate the knowledge of Dornoch among his colleagues.

Finally, Donald Ross who later became one of the premier course designers in America in the Golden Age, and his brother Alec, a talented professional who won the U.S. Open in 1907, were born and raised in Dornoch before emigrating to the United States at the turn of the century.  Resultant fame of these two favorite sons added to the mystique of this place and fueled the continued growth of it’s rich golf lore.

Royal Dornoch is a course that makes you use every arrow in your quiver and then some you did not know you had.  It is not a brute but with only two par fives the long par fours will wear on you.  Throughout you will see plateau greens with sharp and shaven fall offs where low running approach shots are often called for.  The scuttling putt or rolling fairway metal up the steep slope on a green side elevation play can be very effective as well.

            The course is routed out and in on a narrow strip of sandy links land that sits between a tall, gorse covered dune wall and the beach on parallel shelves, the front eight on the higher shelf at the foot of the dune with the inward ten running lateral to the beach on a slightly lower shelf.  Unlike some out and in routings like the Old Course the tiered shelving provides distinct playing areas for the parallel holes.  You will not all that often find yourself playing out of another fairway by intention or just chance.

            The daily wind speed and direction are the most important playing parameters at Dornoch because they will change your teeing club selection and preferred lines into the greens dramatically.  Be discerning in picking your tees to play from so that you have a chance to enjoy your round each day.  Prevailing wind is downwind the first eight and upwind coming home which makes the back side a much tougher scoring challenge.  Having played it the opposite I can tell you that controlling your distances downwind on the back 11 is no piece of cake.

Seemingly innocuous Par 4 starts your round but beware.

Seemingly innocuous Par 4 starts your round but beware harm is lurking.

            After a somewhat meek opening hole, the holes from two through six make as tough a start as anything you will every play.  Your total focus is required right out of the gate if you scorecard stands a chance of not being in tatters by the time you hit the high ground.  The dune wall on the left smothered in gorse dominates your view on the early holes and forces your mind to want to play safely to the right but you have to resist that temptation since the ground pitches right toward the sea and there is plenty of sand and furry mound trouble waiting below the fairways.

The sixth is the doorstep to the transition to balcony level.

The sixth is the doorstep to the balcony level.

            After putting out on the sixth you have a Machu Picchu hike up a steep dune to a balcony above the links to play the next two holes.  The view off the back of the seventh tee is a Kodak moment you do not want to miss,  a spectacular visual of what you have already played and what will come in the second have of the inward side.  Playing the next two holes along the ridge will give you maximum effect of the day’s wind.  Plummeting back to the floor on the second shot on eight can provide a vertigo moment.

Atop the ridge on 8 you see where the course turns back on the next tee.

Atop the ridge on 8 you see green, beach and 9th tee turning for home.

The ninth turns you back in the direction of the house so your wind direction will change 180 as will your attitude of how to play the rest of the way.  Keep in mind as you play in this direction the beach on your left is kindly considered a lateral hazard so if you should turn your Titleist into fish food you can play next to where you cross the line to the beach with a single stroke toll payment.  The trail along this lower shelf is vintage links golf with rumpled fairways and creative green complexes that will require creativity and precise shot execution to be successful.

Short 10th can be a bear into the wind or a unruly cub with out it.

Short 10th can be a bear into the wind or a unruly cub with out it.

From ten to thirteen you get two really short par threes and a par five that could give you a chance for some scorecard triage.  But the four par in between is a survival moment.

The Par 3 13th is about controlling your ball in the fierce cross winds.

The Par 3 13th is about controlling your ball in the fierce cross winds.

From fourteen to the house just grab a hold of your bootstraps and pull hard, staying atop the steed the rest of the way is a major effort in this stretch of holes.  There is a symbiotic relationship between the lay of these holes and the land that is just exquisite.  The designers just needed to discover the inherent lines of play and let the land dictate the challenge.  Throw a little wind into the batter and this is a recipe for a sequence of some of the greatest golf holes you will ever play.

The 17th would make George Crump proud as it is a bit of Pine Valley.

A bit of Pine Valley the 17th would make George Crump smile broadly.

            When you are done make sure to take the time amble through the clubhouse and sit in the grill for a refreshing one so you can take in the enormous cache of memorabilia that hangs on the walls throughout.  The Carnegie Silver Plate upstairs is one of the most impressive looking trophies I have ever seen.  If it is late in the day and the sun is setting  over the golf course below, listen carefully, you will swear the walls are whispering and sharing the secrets of Dornoch with you.

The clubhouse is a museum of Dornoch lore.

The clubhouse is a museum of Dornoch memorabilia and lore.

(Note: I would like to acknowledge a useful resource I purchased in the Royal Dornoch pro shop called “Experience Royal Dornoch” by Richard Goodale.  This is a unique book with wonderful topographical photos and descriptive text of every hole which was invaluable in reconstructing and clarifying my impressions of the course in preparing this review.  You can buy it through their website at http://www.royaldornochproshop.co.uk/shop/prodtype.asp?strPageHistory=compare&CAT_ID=60 for about 20 pounds sterling.  Not sure if the shipping will be prohibitive. )

Sutherland, Scotland

Architect:  Old Tom Morris, John Sutherland (1886)

Tees                 Par       Yardage          Rating             Slope

Blue                  70          6711                74                  139

White                70         6626                73                  137

Yellow               70         6265                71                   135

(Click here to review the complete Royal Dornoch Golf Club hole-by-hole descriptions)

For more pictures click to review Northern Scotland-Day 3: Royal Dornoch Golf Club