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  • Neil White

Royal Dornoch

There was haar and a bit of a hoolie but Royal Dornoch still offered the greatest golfing experience of my life so far.

The mist may have hung over the edge of the Dornoch Firth but we could still see far enough to admire the beachside views.

But this spectacular course has much more about it than wonderful vistas

Importantly, it challenges but, at the same time, gives the golfer a chance and, while there can be perils off the tee (both Mrs W and I lost balls after errant drives into pricky bushes), Royal Dornoch is a stern short-game examination.

The clues came before we began – the practice green is the biggest I have ever seen and accurately replicates what is to come. Time understanding pace versus distance is well spent.

I benefited as early as the second hole when I nailed a 40-footer for an unexpected but very pleasing birdie two.

But anyone who thinks they have cracked the complex borrows is deluding themselves. Every hole has individual subtleties and a drop in concentration is bound to end in a three-putt or more.

The opening holes are a taster for the Dornoch experience. The first is a straightforward par four into the wind which was strong enough for me to revert to driver for the par-three second.

But over the brow comes the breath-taking view of the course laid out in front of us and the beach and sea beyond.

The brilliance of Dornoch is that every hole could steal hearts and lay claim to being the best.

The fifth is a stunner, requiring a decent carry from an elevated tee and careful avoidance of an alluring bunker range down the right. The approach initially seems uncomplicated but sand traps are guarding a very long green.

The par-three six is a gem and where Mrs W and I finally paid heed to the tip from the club professional to use the putter when we would usually turn to short irons.

Both of us narrowly overshot the green having clubbed up because of the wind. The balls had run down the valley of sin but instead of chipping, we putted up the steep slope back towards the flag.

We employed that tactic regularly throughout the round – Mrs W’s longest putt was 74 yards onto the 15th.

I digress. The seventh was arguably the best par four of my life – 464 yards, off yellow tees into the wind. I was in the rough with 205 to go after a duff tee shot and wild second and struck a four-iron to 15 feet and nailed a curling putt.

I highlight these successes because Royal Dornoch feels as if it wants golfers to have them and not wander off thinking they have been beaten up.

However, there were failures, particularly early in the back nine when the wind was suddenly behind us and we had not realised just how much we had to club down.

Consequently, my nine-iron into the par-three tenth was 30 yards past the green. Yep, I putted back on to it.

As said, every hole is a delight but I ought to mention the 17th and 18th which must be among the best final holes in golf.

The 17th is a blind tee shot into a valley before a dog-leg to a green which initially appears raised but is actually in a bowl. Incredible.

Then there is the 18th – a real sting-in-the-tail long par four with the most amazing series of hollows and swales in front of the green. I can testify clearing them with what may seem like a perfect chip, could still see the ball fire over the green.

And then it was over. Four hours of pure magic. During my top100 quests, I hope I visit another course as great as this one but if I don’t, it doesn’t matter. We have played Royal Dornoch and nobody can take that away from us.

We followed our round by staying at the Royal Golf Hotel, just yards from the first tee so we could eulogise about the great course while overlooking it, eating dinner. Fantastic.

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