Royal Dornoch; Struie and Championship course, May 2019
The first week in May is a quiet time to play the courses between Tain and Brora. A great range of courses and Dornoch, hosting a Cathedral, is a great city base. Though I should imagine it surprises a few Americans to find such a quaint cathedral city. The tourist trail was already scattered with a dozen or more nationalities support a wide range of hotels and restaurants and keeping the cultural heritage alive.
Quaint is perhaps the right word to describe the Struie course. At nearly 6300 yards off the white tees it is not short but it does not have it’s big sister’s rough. A little like Trevose of a few years back where the rough was well enough shorn to get anyone round in 4 hours this allows a little more latitude for the errant. Frustratingly, perhaps, I failed to take advantage of this and kept on striping it down the middle for there was little wind either.
Whilst the rough may not be penal the crafty greens are testing. The first, fourteenth and eighteenth are classic examples where the approaches are steeply banked at an angle to the fairway followed by significant slopes on the actual green. It would not be difficult to top and tail your round with a 3 putt.
It is all immaculately maintained, no doubt drawing on the combined team experience across the two courses. The caravan park is more visible than would be perfect but as you move towards the firth, particularly at 9 and ten the views are serene with the latter being a particularly fine dogleg.
The afore mentioned fourteenth is a memorable hole especially with the pin on the right and is part of a tougher back nine which slightly, for me, fizzles out at 16 and 17, before making you pay attention on the last.
Either the conditions were too benign or I was uncomfortably at ease with my game but I managed only 6 bogeys and the rest in par. The swing thoughts stayed the morning but did not stay on for the afternoon on the Championship course
The Championship Course
The championship course is one of the mythical temples of links golf from whence golfing greatness and legend alighted on other parts of our shores. Surprisingly for such a Parnassus our bedroom overlooked the first tee so I had already played the shot a few times and managed to keep it under control for the first two holes. The third is the first in the great valley of the gods where everything is laid out before you. So why bury your tee shot in the gorse? I am a man not a god. Lovely smell of coconut but no ball.
My wife had joined me and was oblivious to all but the view which was Carribean for a moment. As a good tennis player she would make a tidy golfer but she just doesn’t get it. Anyway she enjoyed the walk and the views and the social media.
I gained ground with a bogey and a par at 4 & 5 to catch the group ahead at Whinny Brae. They stood to the side of the green as I knocked a six iron to six feet over the flag and sank the birdie putt as casually as I could. And floated up to the next tee on gusts of barely disguised euphoria and pride. I am not sure my wife understood the significance of the moment.
The course is being changed at the 7th so instead of a long and straight-ish par 4 it will become a dog leg right to cling to the top of the valley and give the best views. I am sure it will be an improvement but: I felt that the course generally is pandering to the tourist market and pushing players round, without too many lost balls in as short a time as possible. And I think I like my courses to have a bit of natural ruggedness and not be too tidy.
I have spent enough time being miserable losing golf balls. I have complained about the five hour round. I have lamented the loss of money to preserve these wonderful links courses. So we have to make choices whilst guarding against compromising the essence of what we came for. The balance is held for now.
I caught the next group at the dramatic Dunrobin after a five wood caught the bunker and the sandy par lipped out. How often when the group ahead stand aside do you duff it? Fail to make the Ladies tee? And how satisfying is it to drill one into the heart of the green when you know they are muttering about whether it is worth letting someone through. Singletons have no standing etc. Three Australians and I teed off on the ninth on top of the waves. They were playing a great many links courses in not many days so I admired their endurance and wished them well as I made a Horlicks of that hole leaving one in the bunker to boot and eased ahead with par on the next two.
I kept it together through 12 and 13 before facing the mighty Foxy. Uphill, stroke index 1, and the dread bank running aslant the green. I hit a nervous second right and not sure of it’s position stroked a provisional ball onto the green. If only one could buy boxes of provisional balls in the pro shop. I found the first and made a bogey. It’s fierce reputation was asleep that day.
I am afraid that the creeping cold and building wind on my second round of the day was starting to rough up the edges of my swing and there was some rather tired golf. A group of Chinese tourists took ten minutes walking up and down the path across 18 taking pictures of us not playing golf and an American with a caddy who was moving at the pace of a three ball dimmed the memory. A bogey on the last, after a disastrous tee shot was the highlight of the closing holes.
Some not bad golf at a very special place that will never lose it’s reputation as shrine to links golf. Appropriately enough the new plans for the clubhouse give it the look of an austere kirk. I played on a fairly gently May day so the course defences were not bristling and the summer grasses had not matured so maybe I am being picky. I shall just have to come back and play it again in different conditions and times of year. A happier golfing destination you could not find.
The club were happy to support my Alzheimer’s appeal and it was interesting to discuss with them the Alzheimer’s training all the staff undertake and the mornings they host local sufferers at the club. Thank you Royal Dornoch.