Amazing Dornoch, Scotland: Once is Not Enough

Amazing Dornoch, Scotland: Once is Not Enough

Sometimes when you travel, you find extraordinary places you’ll want to return again and again, places where once just isn’t enough. Such is Dornoch, Scotland, an hour’s drive north of Inverness. The championship course there — Royal Dornoch — holds a prominent place in golf history in America as well as Scotland. Dornoch is the town where the prolific golf course architect Donald Ross grew up and was a golf pro before emigrating to the United States. The list of courses that Ross designed over his decades in America is incredibly long and illustrious. From Seminole in Florida to five great courses in my home of Minnesota alone (two of which were sites of historic Bobby Jones victories), to Jack Nicklaus’ boyhood course of Scioto in Columbus, to Ross’ greatest masterpiece, Pinehurst #2 in North Carolina.

And it all started in Dornoch. For golfers who know Ross courses, playing Royal Dornoch is like meeting a long lost relative with a striking family resemblance. There were times when I had an eerie feeling that I’d been there before. Standing on the 9th tee and looking toward the home nine layout along the North Sea, with the beautiful beach running the whole distance on the left and the gorse bushes and town on the right, I knew I’d seen that same view in paintings and prints in countless places where golf history is revered. The course is amazing. No wonder Golf Digest has it ranked #5 in the world.

Frasier, majordomo at the Links House at Royal Dornoch

But the course wasn’t the greatest part of Dornoch’s charm. An American named Todd Warnock is the force behind a fabulous guest inn just about 100 yards from the 1st tee. Having fallen in love with Dornoch over several trips there to golf with his father, Todd bought an old building and turned it into a five star inn, which he named (appropriately) The Links House. The rooms there are extremely well appointed, the on-site restaurant is award-winning, and the über-friendly and excellent service is among the best I’ve ever encountered. Everything down to the last detail is incredibly top notch. After dinner, our eightsome retired to the inn’s living room for an enchanting conversation with Frasier (pictured) the majordomo and a “wee dram” of single malt, both of which were particularly memorable.

Todd is giving back to the quiet town of Dornoch, too. He has redeveloped the old stone Dornoch Courthouse across the central square from the cathedral to freshen up the town and help attract more visitors to that part of very northern Scotland. He’s now also a partner in developing a new championship course — to be designed by today’s leading links designers (and Ross admirers) of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. That course, called Coul Links and located just two miles up the North Sea coastline, will make Dornoch even more enticing.
If you like links golf, or are taking a tour of the gorgeous Scottish Highlands, you owe it to yourself to visit Dornoch. While you’re there, visit the cathedral to find out why the town emblem includes a horseshoe. It’s the kind of Knight’s Tale that makes Scotland incredibly fascinating for history buffs. Who knows, I might see you there.