Golf in the north of Scotland did
not flourish as early as that in the south-east of Scotland. Before
the nineteenth century, golf was a winter game
played when the grass was naturally
short through grazing and there was
no agricultural work or sea fishing to be done.
The weather in the north is not as clement as in the south. Landowners in the 18th Century went to
Edinburgh, not just for warmer city living,
but also to deal with their children's education and legal affairs.
From 1717, the St Andrews University term began on 20th
October, so that 'gentlemen who had legal business in Edinburgh would be
able to put their children to college beforehand'.
However, more humble golfers
would have stayed and played in the north. Court records of 1614 tell of soldiers stealing golf balls in Orkney,
which are islands 10 miles north of the mainland of Scotland.
Throughout the 17th Century, there are mentions in Court records of golf related
incidents elsewhere on the north-east coast of Scotland including Banff, Elgin and Fraserburgh.
However, these may relate to the 'short' form of golf discussed on the
Oldest Golf Sites.
on Dornoch links is reputed to have started in 1616.
Certainly in 1619, there is a record of £10 being spent for golfing
equipment for the young Earl of Sutherland ‘ for bowes, arrows, golff
clubbes, and balls with necessars for his L[ordship’s] exercise’.
His tutor and guardian was Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun,
who won the
Silver Arrow archery competition in 1617 at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. In
1628, he wrote the ‘Genealogy of the Earls of Sutherland’, in which he
enthused that the links at Dornoch were ‘the fairest and lairgist links (or
grein fields) of any part of Scotland’ and ‘They do far surpasse the
fields off Montrois or Saint andrews’. (sic)
This is first recorded instance of a golf travel
Dornoch is an hour to the north of Inverness.
Golf tourism arrived when the railway line from Aberdeen to Inverness opened in 1858, though it did
not reach Dornoch until 1903. This coincided with the
growing popularity of summer golf made possible by mechanical grass
cutting devices and by the dedicated golf courses and hotels which were being
The Dornoch Golf Club held an inaugural meeting in the autumn of 1876, as a
successor of the Sutherland Golfing Society, whose members also played at
Golspie, further north up the coast. With the aid of Old Tom Morris, the
first nine holes were laid out in the spring of 1877 and this was extended
to eighteen holes in 1887.
An early supporter of the golf club
was the renown American Scot, Andrew Carnegie. In 1867 he bought Skibo Castle, 4 miles from Dornoch,
where he laid out his own
9 hole golf course. He had
been a member of the one of the first US golf clubs, the St Andrews Golf Club of
Yonkers, widely known as the 'Apple Tree Gang', because of the apple orchard
where they played.
The Royal accolade was granted to
the Dornoch club in 1906.
Photograph of Royal Dornoch
Donald Ford Gallery, from whom prints of
many Scottish golf courses can be obtained.
Details of the Championship Course and the Struie Course are available on the
official website of the Royal Dornoch Golf Club.
Local accommodation and attractions available on the website of the
Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board.
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