For all the hype I’d heard leading up to my round at Royal Dornoch, I was a bit skeptical. After all, I’ve played plenty of so-called amazing courses that are pretty forgettable, but Dornoch lived up to the rave reviews and then some.
As most of you know, I was extremely fortunate with the weather while I was in Scotland, so conditions were incredibly firm yet mild, though the wind did pick up a bit intermittently throughout the round, which in some respects made it more enjoyable (read: easier) to play.
When we arrived, we were greeted by the starter. I asked if there were any caddies available. What I quickly learned (but then again kept forgetting) was that unlike American clubs that offer caddies who are readily at hand, you usually have to arrange it in advance in Scotland.
“I’m sure we can arrange for one,” he replied.
He returned a few minutes later as we were still unloading the van and getting our gear ready to let me know that “William” would be helping me around the course that day.
You see, we didn’t have caddies at Boat of Garten the day before and nothing frustrates me more than hitting pure shots and then losing your ball or searching in the fescue for it because you didn’t know the line or you misjudged the wind — which takes a bit of time to learn to trust.
Since this was my FIRST EVER time playing REAL Scottish links, I figured having a caddie take me around would be well worth the cash. Turned out it was. Every. Single. Time. I swear, it saved me *at least* five shots each round.
(Aside: I asked my Scottish friend James what the proper amount to tip was and he said around “80 quid” usually, but sometimes “100 if I play really well. When I brought up the topic to a group of UK colleagues at the end of the Open, they laughed and joked, “If you’re tipping, it’s already too much!”)
Anyway, after some sandwiches in the clubhouse, I walked up to the first tee with a small gallery watching to welcome the American media visitors (we were treated like dignitaries in both Scotland and Ireland). The starter introduced me to my caddie. “This is James.”
I thought to myself, “Not William? Maybe this isn’t a good sign for reasons I can’t explain besides golfer superstition?”
Naturally, I hit probably the worst drive of the trip and grounded it like 50 yards, but it rolled for another 50 because it was so firm.
I turned bright red. And, there are no such things as these “Breakfast Balls” we take in America. Well, here we go. We found my ball in the fescue (or was it a bunker?) and I punched out to about 50 yards from the green, hit my new Mack Daddy 2 60-degree wedge — which was very handy around Dornoch’s elevated greens — to about 15 feet, and made the putt. Standard par.
The next hole, the 167-yard par-3, was quite the adventure. The plateau green has steep fall offs on both sides and the rear, so basically, if you miss it, you’re probably going to make double-bogey.
As you may know, the great architect Donald Ross was born in the small village of Dornoch and if you’ve played any Ross courses, then it’s quite obvious where he garnered some of his inspirations.
I pushed my drive on the third hole and made yet another 15-20 footer to save par. I laughed because it’s uncharacteristic of me to scramble like that. My ballstriking is usually decent — I say my driver is the straightest club in my bag — and my putting is crap. I didn’t have to wait long for things to return to “normal.”
After another slightly wayward drive on no. 4, I was getting notably frustrated, and my caddie James said, “You’re just not getting over to your right side.”
I paused for a moment and remembered I was wearing an ankle brace on my left foot, which I’d actually forgotten the day before, because it was still weak after I re-sprained it a few week earlier (regular readers know this is a once-every-few-months occurrence).
“That must be it!” I exclaimed as if James had just discovered the cure to hangovers. I took off the brace, and sure enough, on the next hole, I was back to driving it straight.
Speaking of which, the par-4 5th was actually one of my favorites. It’s a slight dogleg left with small pot bunkers lining the right side of the fairway.
(Whoops, mixed up the holes in an earlier version…)Make sure you go to the very top of the 7th tee to check out the views of the holes below and the beach. It’s stunning. (See below for pictures.)
The signature hole at Dornoch is often said to be the par-4 14th, “Foxy” — not a bad place to hit your best drive of the day!
On the 15th, I hit another great drive with the wind slightly hurting and I was shocked when I walked up and it was 10 yards in front of the green. Like I said, conditions were very, very firm, because I don’t hit it 280 yards, but it felt nice to pretend I did. I misjudged an 8-iron bump-and-iron and it went about 10 feet past the hole, and of course, I missed the putt.
Those last five holes are incredibly memorable. Funny story about the 17th. It’s a severe dogleg right with a blind tee-shot down the hill. I hit a 3-hybrid off the tee and pushed it slightly. David of Visit Scotland hit a nice draw. When we over the hill, I asked which was mine, though I assumed it was the one on the right, which was about 20 yards further back.
I hit a great 5-iron to about eight feet, and then when I strolled over to David’s ball, I realized it was actually mine! They were nice and didn’t make me take a two-shot penalty.
Going into the 18th, I knew I was under par on the back nine, so naturally, I made a really stupid bogey (it’s a par-5 for women, so it actually felt like a double). In short, I’m a mental midget, but it was still one of the most memorable rounds I’ve ever played. It’s a bit of a hike up north in the Scottish Highlands, but it’s well worth the trip.
Here are some more pictures:
Thanks to the fine folks of Aberdeen Asset Management and Visit Scotland, WUP was in Scotland last month covering the Scottish Open and playing some of the great courses in the area.