ROYAL ASHDOWN FOREST members know from personal experience that a course does not have to be long to be tough as well as beautiful. Hugging the North Sea coast some 20 miles north of Dornoch lies another classic challenge of golf although only 6,110 yards long. Welcome to Brora, a James Braid design and one of the finest links course to be found north of the border.
A three-day tour taking in the Championship course at Royal Dornoch, breaking the short journey north along the A9 at Golspie before playing Brora is an historic golfing experience.
The Brora club opened in 1891 over nine holes, and was stretched to 18 by the Dornoch Secretary, John Sutherland. Braid was commissioned to redesign the course in 1923 and what we play today is still largely the layout the five-times Open Champion created.
Whether, back then, there were more cows and sheep gently ambling about the place is open to debate but they are most certainly there today which is why each green is protected by a strand of electric fence to ensure the ruminants are not tempted to sample some of the greensward. However they rarely get in the line of golfers’ shots and simply add to the quaint and quirky feel of the place.
Like Dornoch the opening hole at Brora is only a gentle tester as we head down towards the sea before turning left along the coast. But before we reach the ninth we will have encountered at the long par four fifth, although hopefully not closely, the Clynelish Burn that runs past the local distillery of that name.
The ninth is a wonderful short hole with the green sitting almost on the beach. Often covered by seaweed during winter storms a slice here will end up either wet or on the shingle. Either way it will be necessary to reload.
When the wind blows Brora can prove well nigh unplayable but, if the golfing gods are kind, we will be able to enjoy some wonderful scenery with heather coovered hills on one side and the sea on the other.
Coming home we encounter a railway line at 10 and the burn at 11 and 17, the latter being arguably Brora’s finest hole with a raised tee box and snaking fairway. Braid designed the 438-yard hole to be played with two drawn shots with the drive landing on the narrow neck of the fairway and the second avoiding the strategically placed bunker in front of the contoured green.
The last, unusually, is a par three requiring a 200-yard carry over a steep valley running back from the bunkered green (pictured above). Many decent cards have come to grief here, a double blow being right in front of the clubhouse window.
Brora has managed to dip beneath the radar in Highland golf when compared to Royal Dornoch and Nairn but is an exceptional course nonetheless. Having enjoyed a round here it is folly not to enjoy a glass of the local Clynelish single malt in the clubhouse and, whatever our score, to savour both the dram and one of the great unsung and most affordable links in Scottish golf.
With regular flights from Gatwick to Inverness and Brora being just one hour away from Inverness airport, it is also lot closer than you think.
IF THERE ARE ANY PERSONAL FAVOURITES THAT READERS WOULD LIKE TO SEE INCLUDED IN OUR ‘PLAYAWAY’ SECTION DO LET US KNOW.