The Appeal of Autumn in the Highlands

October in the far north can always provide great golf and, typically, fine weather too

“The end of the summer is not the end of the world. Here’s to October.” A.A. Milne

In a challenging year, the appeal of throwing clubs in the back of the car, hitting the road and heading for the Highlands on a golf trip is surely one to savour this autumn?

The Appeal of Autumn in the Highlands
Paul Lawrie on the 7th tee. Courtesy John Paul/ Royal Dornoch GC

With the clock ticking down on the traditional, Covid-19 affected golf season, the month of October in the far north of the country can always provide great golf and, typically, fine weather too. If travel allows in those school holidays, where better to go for autumnal air…

The list of quality venues is certainly endless, from championship tests to charming 9-holers, with a traditional Highland welcome always provided – more so this year than ever before.

Royal Dornoch, regularly ranked one of the best courses in the world, is on any visiting players’ wish-list, while The Nairn GC, Nairn Dunbar, Fortrose & Rosemarkie, Boat of Garten, Tain, Golspie, Muir of Ord and Brora are also among those to enjoy. Traditional links golf and superb inland experiences that offer you tranquillity, freedom and outstanding natural beauty. Indeed, take your pick from 31 courses in the Highlands, even stretching to the Isle of Skye!

Focusing on three venues, start your journey at Nairn Dunbar, just east of Inverness – the Highland capital. Only recently, Russell Knox, the three-time Tour winner, hailed the club’s course improvements as Nairn Dunbar celebrates the arrival of 80 new members since golf’s return during the pandemic.

The Appeal of Autumn in the Highlands
The 8th par 3 during spring 2019. Courtesy Nairn Dunbar GC

As the club looks forward to co-hosting The Amateur Championship with The Nairn in June next year, it has worked hard to improve and upgrade the course by unveiling as much of the natural dune systems and undulations as possible. Through sustainable management under the leadership of course manager Richard Johnstone, the club have also worked hard on producing more firm and fast greens for links golf and undertaken a rough, gorse and tree management programme.

US-based Knox has watched on with pride, given the Scot is an honorary member at the club and developed his game on the links as a junior, going on to win three club championships.

The 35-year-old said: “I’ve actually bumped into Richard a few times over the last few years as he has come over to the US to volunteer at some of the Majors. So I’ve got to chat to him a little bit and I follow him on Facebook. I see the pictures posted and updates on the new holes – it looks amazing.

“I guess holes 9, 10 and 11 probably did stick out a little bit, they weren’t really anything like the rest of the course, so if they are now a little more ‘linksy’ and more natural to the land there, that is only going to make the course better. Good on him for getting on with that. I would love to go back and play the course again. It’s just a great course.”

Play The Nairn and Nairn Dunbar in October using the Nairn Ticket, priced at £195.

Returning to the A9 and travelling further north, the magic of Dornoch comes into view. On an autumnal night, with the sun fading across the Dornoch Firth, there are few better places to be on the planet.

Continuing its proud history of hosting notable tournaments, Royal Dornoch recently staged a Tartan Pro Tour event, an initiative the brainchild of former Open champion Paul Lawrie to provide more playing opportunities for aspiring professionals in this difficult year. On the eve of the event, Lawrie officially opened the stunning new 7th hole on the Championship Course – simply further enhancing the global appeal of a famous links.

While the par-4 hole, known as ‘Pier’, has been in play since the end of last year, the pandemic put paid to Royal Dornoch officially unveiling the hole until now. The changes were proposed by Tom Mackenzie of renowned designers Mackenzie and Ebert.

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The new hole – which measures 485 yards from the blue tees – has been pivoted to the right so the sea is in view for the entire length of the hole. It also features a green with only the sea and sky beyond it, a replica of the previous one. Lawrie, who made birdie on his first playing of the hole, said: “It’s a really, really nice golf hole and they have done a great job with it.

“The old hole was further left, so it’s gone further right with better views of the sea, which is beautiful. It is similar kind of length, there are two nice bunkers down the left-hand side which are in play and there is a nice little false front at the start of the green. Royal Dornoch is one of the best courses in the country – it always has been and always will be.”

Golf architect, Mackenzie, added: “The view from the 7th tee is one of the most famous in the world of golf. Is there a first-time visitor to Dornoch who has not taken that photo down over the course?

“It seemed frustrating that once down off the tee, the sea disappeared until the green on the highest part of the course. There was plenty of room to the right so, logically, it made sense to rotate the hole that way, so the entire hole enjoyed the same glorious view with a new sea vista behind the green. It adds wonderfully to the Dornoch experience.”

To allow more golfers to sample the new 7th hole and more, Royal Dornoch have a number of exclusive added value offers available throughout October, together with the support of their partners.

These include ‘Play, Shop and Dine’: For £195 play one round on the Championship Course then receive a £25 voucher to spend in the Pro Shop and £10 voucher for the bar and restaurant. Scottish Golf club members can also take advantage of a 25% discount off a standard green fee for tee times throughout October.

The Appeal of Autumn in the Highlands
The 17th fairway and 2nd green. Courtesy Brora

Dornoch’s neighbours up the road at Brora have enjoyed welcoming visitors back to their links in recent months, after an incredible show of support from across the world safeguarded the future of the renowned links.

The new-found love for the James Braid-designed course saw the club raise a six-figure sum through new membership categories, advance tee time bookings, merchandise sales via PGA pro Malcolm Murray’s well-stocked online shop and website donations.

Five-time Open winner Tom Watson, an honorary member, was among those to tweet his support, with social media influencers No Laying Up donating money through an exclusive towel sale.

Given Brora only boasts a small number of local members in a remote part of Scotland, bringing in visitors is vital – and the beauty of the location and the course is always worth the drive.

Brora – which was founded in 1891 and was a favourite of another five-time Open winner Peter Thomson – has being growing steadily in recent years, investing in staff and the golf course itself.

President Andy Stewart said: “It’s almost like the world now understands what we have here at Brora and people realised we have a club worth saving. We offer our thanks to all who have supported us and look forward to seeing more members and visitors enjoying Brora again.”

Play 18 holes at Brora and Golspie for only £140 in October. In the Highlands, the choice is yours…

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