Golf Extras
Golf Travel
By Donald Crawley, Golf Contributor - Archive - Email
Travel to the Home of Golf
Royal Dornoch golf course in Scotland has absolutely stunning scenery and rugged lies.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - When you think of the home of golf, you have to be thinking of Scotland. A lot of people think St Andrews, which is an absolute must to play, but there are, in truth, many other great old courses to visit in Scotland.

I recently took a trip to the utmost Scottish Highlands, some 200 miles north of St Andrews and Edinburgh, the Scottish capital. Three of my friends/clients who wanted to experience 'rugged,' even 'savage', along the lines of famed William Wallace, as depicted in that blockbuster movie, Braveheart. After some research I chose Royal Dornoch and two nearby golf courses that offered history and fantastic, genuine links golf. Links is the area of land that 'links' the town to the ocean. That links land was used as a recreational area for the town folk, dating back hundreds of years. Many of the famous Scottish links land, that are now established golf courses, were used for the King's army to practice their archery.

Upon my arrival to the Royal Dornoch golf course, I found a plaque on the side of the clubhouse stating that golf was played on this land before 1614! That year King James of Scotland banned 'gowf' so that his archers would practice their archery and not whack a rock around the links with a stick. How much golf was played between 1614 and 1877 is unclear, but nine holes were officially laid out in 1877. In 1886 Old Tom Morris was invited up from St Andrews to design the full 18-hole course that we play today. However, with the invention of a rubber core ball in 1901, which went farther than the old feather gutty, the course was lengthened to the 5th longest track in Britain. Now it is a par 70, 6711 yards long with a 139 rating. Those numbers are misleading. It is a monster! I would declare it as, perhaps, the best and hardest course that I have ever played. Some polls rate it as #4 in the TOP 100 courses outside of the U.S. I rate it right up alongside the Royal County Down in Northern Ireland, which usually holds the #1 spot in the world. The front nine plays 'out', heading north, with most holes running parallel to a beautiful view of the ocean, the Dornoch Firth, which is an inlet of the tormentuous North Sea. The back nine plays 'in,' back to the clubhouse, alongside the ocean and dunes. Absolutely stunning scenery, rugged lies, and possible savage results.

Royal Dornoch golf course - 1st green

Royal Dornoch golf course - view of the sea

After being humbled by the Royal links in Dornoch, we headed 15 minutes north to Brora. A small village and a newer course built by the famed Scottish professional, James Braid, in 1923. This is a 'true links' as quoted by 5-time British Open champion Peter Thomson. The fairways are narrow and undulating, challenging you with many uneven lies. Brora is rugged, and a jewel. Because it is relatively unknown, the rates are half of Dornoch's. It is great value and offers a nice hotel next door, the Royal Marine Hotel.

I based my group in a unique B & B hotel, which is owned and operated by North Highland College, and is the training ground for students studying the hospitality business. Offering only six guests' rooms that are spacious and comfortable, this former hotel gives you a VIP service experience. For evening dining, the village choices are limited but the Castle, a 4-star full service hotel, provides an outstanding gourmet meal. Sutherlands, another local establishment, and the Royal Golf Hotel adjacent to Royal Dornoch Golf Course, are very acceptable.

By day three we were ready to travel 75 minutes south toward Aberdeen, to match our skills against Nairn Golf Club that has hosted both the Curtis Cup (earlier this year) and the Walker Cup in 1999. This course dates back to 1887 and the first seven holes are played alongside the firth, aka inlet of North Sea. The rest of the course plays more like a 'heath land or moorland' course, found more inland in Britain. It is very good and very hard, but level compared to Brora! I noticed that the bunkering design is very similar to Dornoch, which makes sense as they were built in the same era.

Brora Golf Club

The Nairn golf club

We went back to Dornoch to finish out our week, and took local caddies for our last round, adding some local flavor, humor and advice. Both Dornoch and Nairn have a second course, previously known as the 'ladies course.' They are shorter and less demanding and a good place to start your week before you get your links legs, or for a few extra holes to work on your game at the end of the day. Practice facilities are limited and not full service. Warm-ups, prior to your round in Scotland, usually contains a few putts and only a handful of practice swings on the first tee.

What is amazing to me is that these fabulous courses were built 125 years ago, and are not outdated. Each club does a good job to maintain and promote and, depending on the weather, offers a good challenge with beautiful scenery. Think Pebble Beach on steroids!

I took on the role as tour operator and planned this entire trip for my three friends/clients from Phoenix. It was a huge success and they had a blast. They showed up and I took care of all the transportation, tee times, accommodations, meals, and a little bit of coaching on the course. They plan on doing it again in the future. If you have an inclination to experience and enjoy one of the best golf trips you could ever have, and visit the home of golf in the Scottish Highlands, contact me through my website I plan on taking a few small groups next year, but need to book, block and reserve in advance.

On a side note, although I had played several times in Scotland and Ireland in years past, I wasn't prepared for the shots required to really handle these rugged links. In the future I will recommend practicing uneven lies, low running bump and run shots, and what caught me completely off guard was the extremely soft sand in all the pot bunkers surrounding and protecting the greens. Once you are in these pot bunkers you need a sand wedge with a lot of bounce, and have to play the shots with the face wide open and the swing approach shallow as opposed to the traditional steep swing. I will be ready for next year and get in golf shape to help myself and those traveling with me!

Recently voted Top-10 in Best Teachers in State of Arizona by Golf Digest. Also, contributing Golf Writer and Director of Instruction for The Boulders Club Voted as a TOP 100 Teacher in Golf Magazine, and Director of Instruction at the Boulders Golf Academy, Carefree, AZ.

When Scottsdale beckons and golf awaits, a call to Donald Crawley at The Boulders is a must.

Donald Crawley, Director of Instruction at the Boulders Golf Academy at the Boulders Resort & Golden Door Spa in Carefree, Ariz. Crawley, a veteran of 35 years of teaching experience, is the newest contributor to The Sports Network with regular features that range from tips on improving your game to etiquette at the course. He has established 40 golf school sites in the United States since 1980,previously as vice president and director of instruction at John Jacobs' Golf Schools.

Crawley is recognized among the "Top 100 Teachers in America" by Golf Magazine and one of the "Best Teachers in Arizona" by Golf Digest. As both a Class A U.S. PGA member and a British PGA member, Crawley has been recognized for his outstanding teaching abilities. In 2002 & 2005, he won the Southwest Section PGA's Teacher of the Year Award. He also received the Horton Smith Award for education in 2000. In addition to teaching over 60,000 students, Crawley has co-authored video instruction tapes with John Jacobs and BBC/ABC golf telecaster Peter Alliss.

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