Dornoch, Scotland | There is so much to commend at the Royal Dornoch Golf Club, but one feature really stands out after playing a couple of rounds on the links here recently. And that is the collection of par-3s. They are as difficult as any in golf. But fair and fun, too, and so very well designed.
Start with the second hole, dubbed Ord. It plays 177 yards from the white tees to a plateau green fronted by a pair of sinister pot bunkers and steep fall-offs left, back and right. It is often said that the hardest shot at Dornoch, if not all of Scotland, is the second shot on this par-3, and there are generations of golfers who would no doubt agree after playing here. A bogey is worth rejoicing, and par is as good as a birdie most anywhere else.
The par-3 sixth appears to be a cupcake with a quick glance at the card, measuring a mere 161 yards from the back tees. But the green seems smaller from the tee than a shirt button and has more protection than a presidential motorcade. A deep pot bunker short and right swallows up any flares, while shots that miss a little longer to that side leave players with fearsome chips or putts up a steep hill to the green. And God help anyone who overshoots the mark from that position, for there is a merciless trio of bunkers there. Ditto the player who overcooks his tee shot and yanks it left in to those hazards.
The scorecard at Dornoch indicates that the back nine begins with yet another seemingly benign 3-par, only 146 yards from the white markers. But wind blowing off the North Sea just to the left of the tee can play havoc with shots, as can the five bunkers that guard the front and left of the two-tiered green. The club for me on this hole is usually an 8-iron, and anyplace else in the golfing world, I would be immensely comfortable with that club at that distance. But I hold it here as nervously as I might a poisonous snake.
As for the fourth and final par-3 at Dornoch, it is the 171-yard 13th hole. Again, distance is not so much the problem as the seven pot bunkers that surround the crowned green, and the grass around them is so closely shaved that all but the best positioned tee shots seem to scurry into them like frightened animals.
Animals as frightened, by the way, as many of the golfers trying to play these great yet testy holes.