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Stomping ground of the young Donald Ross, Royal Dornoch Golf Club is the Highlands' most coveted play.
Stomping ground of the young Donald Ross, Royal Dornoch Golf Club is the Highlands' most coveted play. (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)

Golfing the remote Scottish Highlands: Life is different, the golf courses great

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor

The Highlands are remote but with golf courses such as Royal Dornoch Golf Club, Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle, Brora and Nairn Golf Club, it's worth making this area of the country part of your next Scotland golf vacation.

INVERNESS, Scotland - Golf in Scotland is unlike golf anywhere else. And golf in the Highlands is unlike golf anywhere else in Scotland.

With its sparse population and dramatic landscape, the starkest and highest in the British Isles, the Highlands feel far removed from the metropolises of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. The pace of life is slower, allowing time to savor the many local whiskies and play golf courses like Durness, the northernmost track on the U.K. mainland.

Remote though they are, Highland courses' combination of scenery and challenge make them some of Scotland's worthiest plays.

Golf in Scotland's Highlands: Where to play

Royal Dornoch Golf Club: Royal Dornoch celebrates its centennial in 2006, but there is evidence golf was played on the site as early as 1616. Dornoch native Donald Ross worked as a greenskeeper here before embarking on his legendary course-design career in America.

When Ross said, "Give me sandy soil and slightly rolling terrain and I'll give you the best courses," he could have been talking about mentor Old Tom Morris' Royal Dornoch design. ScotlandGolf.com critic Kenneth Scott suggested the course would be a British Open site if not for its far-off location.

Though this is a coveted play for U.K. golfers, the atmosphere at Royal Dornoch is informal, in keeping with the laid-back Highlands vibe.

Carnegie Club: Located on the grounds of imposing Skibo Castle, which takes its names from a Gaelic word meaning "fairyland" or "place of peace," the Carnegie Club is indeed a secluded sanctuary of golf in a tranquil Highland setting.

Opened in 1898, the links course was heavily remodeled in 1995. Today it plays firm and fast and requires a wide variety of shots. Try to play "aerial" golf and Carnegie will eat you alive with its prevailing winds and terrain. The links is complimented by the Monk's Walk parkland course, which plays at the foot of the Castle.

Brora Golf Club: Like many of Scotland's way-north courses, Brora is considered a hidden gem only because it's too far off the beaten path to attract golfing hordes.

Opened in 1891 with an Old Tom Morris design and upgraded three decades later by James Braid, Brora opens with nine holes along the pounding North Sea shore; the back nine plays inland and toward the clubhouse. At just over 6,100 yards it's a good course to play if nearby Royal Dornoch's length seems a little too daunting. It's much easier on the wallet as well.

Nairn Golf Club: A little less remotely situated in a quaint seaside town 16 miles from Inverness, this club on Moray Firth is popular with both tourists and tournaments, hosting the 1994 British Amateur and the 1999 Walker Cup. Opened in 1897, it's a difficult test of championship golf featuring long carries, hard and fast fairways, pot bunkers and fast, firm greens.

Spey Valley, Aviemore: The Highlands is a hot region for new-school upscale courses like Spey Valley, opened in June 2006 at the Macdonald Aviemore Highlands Resort. The River Spey winds through the parkland layout, which features one of the British Isles' longest par 5s at 641 yards. Four-time Ryder Cup player Dave Thomas was behind the design.

Stay and play

If you plan to spend time in the southern Highlands, consider Inverness or Nairn as a hub. The Newton House Hotel is a four-star option with full business and conference facilities and is less than a mile from both Nairn Golf Club and Nairn Dunbar. Nearby is also the Claymore House Hotel in Nairn - which has a great reputation. For the northern leg, Dornoch is a convenient base. The Swallow Royal Golf Hotel is located right next to Royal Dornoch Golf Club; more than 20 other courses are within an hour's drive and the Glenmorangie distillery is 15 minutes away in Tain.

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

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