1616-2016: 400 years of Golf at Dornoch

In 2016 Dornoch will celebrate 400 years of golf and it promises to be quite a year

Royal Dornoch Golf Club Championship Course Pictures
Royal Dornoch Golf Club Championship Course Pictures
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The earliest evidence of golf in Dornoch dates from 1616 meaning 2016 marks 400 years of the sport in the town. The anniversary is to be suitably celebrated.

Scotland is blessed to have a number of golfing towns; places where the sport is part of the very fabric of life. Dornoch is one such place. Most days (summer or winter) you’ll see people walking through town with golf bags on their backs, or hear conversation of a recent round on a street corner. With one of the World’s best courses on their doorstep, there’s little wonder why golf plays such a significant part in the days of Dornoch residents.

An hour’s drive north of Inverness, this beautiful former Royal burgh, nestled on a stunning stretch of sheltered coastline, is steeped in history and, for the last 400 years, golf has been a feature on the timeline. Royal Dornoch Golf Club was founded in 1877 but evidence of golf being played on the links goes back to the early 17th century. Researcher Wade Cormack discovered expenses from 1616 covering the cost of John 13th Earl of Sutherland’s golf clubs. The young aristocrat had been sent to Dornoch to be educated. Next year Dornoch will celebrate 400 years of golf. And it’s set to be quite a celebration. Fittingly for a town where a real symbiosis between golf and community exists, the year long festival will involve schools, local organisations and businesses, churches and, of course the famous golf club.

On the playing side of things, the season will begin on the 2nd of January when the captain will drive in using a specially made hickory club and featherie ball. Following that, there will be a Stableford competition for members and visitors on the links.

Galvin Green Links Masterclass, Driving:

From the 20th to the 22nd of May the club will welcome teams from the Country Club of North Carolina, Atlanta Athletic Club and the Donald Ross society to play a series of matches to celebrate the connections of Dornoch to Donald Ross. Later in May, (the 26th,) there will be a match against the British Golf Collectors Society, played using hickory clubs.

In the week commencing Monday 20th June, the prestigious Northern Open will be contested at Royal Dornoch. It will be the first time the competition, won in the past by the likes of Brian Barnes, Harry Bannerman, John Panton and Chris Doak, has visited Dornoch since 1994. It's a chance to see some of the best domestic players in action.

On Tuesday 5th of July, the club will host an exhibition match featuring top players and a gala dinner to which golfing dignitaries from around the world will be invited. There will also be a ladies 400 Year inter club match on the 1st of July.

The famous Carnegie Shield will culminate on Saturday 13th of August and, once completed, all those participating and watching will join a street party in town.

In September (8th and 9th) four representatives from the 68 Royal clubs around the world will travel to Dornoch to play both the Championship and the Struie courses. Finally, the weekend of the 15th/16th of October will mark the end of the season of celebration when the captain will putt out on the 18th green using the featherie ball he struck off with in January.

Besides the golf, a series of events will take place in Dornoch through the year. March will see a celebration of tweeds, tartan and crafts, there will be an international conference titled “Firths and Fjords” in April looking at Sutherland’s historic Norse links. There will also be music and ceilidh events, a book festival, a celebration of food and a whisky festival to look forward to.

It promises to be quite a year so why not get involved. Keep an eye on royaldornoch.com for updates.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?