Royal Dornoch holds a special place in the history of golf and in the hearts of all who love true links golf. It is the quintessential “classic,” one that especially deserves to be celebrated this year, the 400th anniversary of golf having been played on this same strip of land along the Dornoch Firth in far northern Scotland.
From the four-century-old shifting “course,” a nine-hole layout emerged, then some 200 years later, in the 1870s, Old Tom Morris was asked to make it 18. As he did, he was watched by an impressionable local youth named Donald Ross, who went on to apprentice under Old Tom in St. Andrews before bringing the domed greens and other Dornoch traits to many of his U.S. designs.
So what makes it classic? The remote location makes it feel like an exclusive club, but it is not: You just have to get there. It also is not on the Open Championship, or any other, rota, adding to its mystique.
Royal Dornoch runs straight out and back along land that is as natural today as it was eons ago. The front nine sits on high ground, the back lower and closer to the water. It is at the mercy of the climate, especially winds that can turn fierce and make navigating the slightly angled fairways and holding the crowned greens all the more difficult.
What it ultimately comes down to is that over-used phrase, “pure golf.” The game here is as simple as can be, the golfer trying to take the measure of the land, the weather, and himself. Here’s to another 400 years, at least.