Brora golf course in Scotland will blow you away
Get down into this wobbly, frumpy thing and one becomes lost. Gloriously so.
But what's most surprising is the color. Up the road from Dornoch, Brora is so far north, so tantalizingly close to the Arctic Circle, that one expects something relentlessly bleak.
On a clear day the hues are shockingly stark. The opening drive is straight north against a sapphire blue sea. The turf is vivid green. Even the purple hillsides across the coastal road are unexpectedly bright.
This is golf at its most elemental, a spartan links where sheep and cattle roam freely. The feel of the course is ancient. You half-way expect to be hauled away for playing "gowf" instead of practicing your arrows.
Largely unprotected by dunes or native growth, Brora, like so many Scottish links, is a gale waiting to happen. Or a sudden, piercing rainstorm from over those hills to the west.
Blowy - and perfect
As it happened, conditions that day at Brora were what a northern Scot would call "blowy." A blast from the north Atlantic was pulling a fearsome wake behind it.
It was the kind of day where the tee wouldn't hold the ball, nor would the greens. A shot that presumed to take the breeze head-on was pitiably overmatched. The tailing wind made things crazier still, propelling the ball so scandalously off-line that even the sheep seem amused.
It was perfect. I went around twice.
Back in the day, post-Tom Morris, if a budding Scottish golf club was flush with cash it called an artiste like Tom Simpson or Herb Fowler.
If it needed something done on the cheap, it called the ever-ready James Braid.
Around 1924, Braid made a trip or two to Brora and laid out the course for the princely sum of 25 pounds.
Braid could run course design circles around most of our millionaire hacks.
The first hole at Brora is a fine little start: 300 yards. You're kidding, right?
Tee to green it's a straight shot, but the fairway skews to the left, so a slice is darn-near guaranteed. So you find yourself hitting from thigh-high seaside gunch to a green that slopes chaotically right to left. Leave it above the hole and you can putt it down into the fairway.
Welcome to Brora.
Brora's sixth hole, 174 yards, is a par-3 called "Witch." Into the wind it's a bitch. I hit driver. I took nine.
Brora has but one par 5, the 501-yard eighth, which this day was playing straight downwind, and I got there in two with an 8-iron. This course will make you crazy. A lot like a lover that way.
From the back tees, which you can play if you don't get caught, Brora only goes about 6,100 yards.
But try the inward nine into the wind. My "approach" at the 435-yard 10th, a 3-iron, flew a good 90 yards before it blew backward. Pretty much the same at the 412-yard 11th. Bring your knock-down, for sure.
To play Brora costs but 30 pounds, and the final four holes are worth the price of admission alone. A decent drive at the 430-yard 15th will find a plateau, from which to slash an iron over that oblivious livestock to an inviting tabletop green.
Brora's 16th is one of those muni-type holes, short but quirky, where if you're still keeping score you can run up another big one.
Unlike much of the rest of the course, the 17th hole feels positively sculpted, a roller-coaster par 4 over islands of native grasses to another elevated green.
And true to Brora's iconoclastic bent, the wild ride ends with a par 3, an uphill monster at 201 yards.
So, yes, let's play two.
Brora is so remote it's barely on the map. It is about as far north as any visiting golfer might venture, which the more adventuresome may find alluring. I sure did.
And for straight-up fun on a golf course, there can't be much to match it.
The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle is a private members club. Non-members are permitted to stay at Skibo Castle only once. Members pay an initial joining fee and an annual membership fee, which entitles them to visit Skibo as frequently as they wish.
February 13, 2006