Honor boxes, single-lane roads and epic views: Golf on the northern tip of Scotland
Here we are on a trip to golf’s Mecca, Scotland, and we’re already in one of the golfiest parts of the country: the Highlands.
What would make us drive an extra two hours north on tiny, single-lane roads for just nine holes?
Durness Golf Club was worth every bit of the journey.
Located about three hours north and west of Inverness, the Highlands’ largest city and cultural capital, a sign outside the golf course proudly proclaims Durness as mainland Britain’s most north-westerly nine-hole course. Its story begins with one thing: the drive.
They say it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey and Durness was no exception.
We started our drive from Dornoch, our home base on this Scottish vacation, and about 30 to 40 minutes into our two-hour jaunt, we turned onto road A838. One lane from there on out.
There were passing turn-offs every couple hundred feet, but some of the corners on this road made the hair on the back of your neck stand up out of fear. Who knows if another driver is whipping around in the opposite direction.
As hard as it was to give the road your undivided attention, the surroundings demanded it equally (thankfully, I was not driving.) The biomes ranged from rocky mountains to grassy plains to lakes to sand beaches.
I’ll be honest, it might be my job, but it’s very difficult to capture the beauty we saw on that drive in words and even some pictures. I encourage you to click through the photos above.
Durness is a small village with a population of less than 350 people, according to Scotland’s 2011 census.
But on the day we arrived, the road (singular) was packed for the Durness Highland Games. We didn’t stay long enough to spectate, but there’s always next year.
The golf course was a stone’s throw away from town. At the base of a big hill and along a rocky cliff sat the small clubhouse, no bigger than a two-bedroom apartment, with the words “Durness Golf Club” adorning the side.
The view from the clubhouse was spectacular, staring straight to Balnakeil Bay Beach and farther out to the North Sea. The peninsula to the north and slightly east looked like it could one day contain a larger, 18-hole course. But such a construction effort seemed herculean in this remote locale.
At the front door of the clubhouse was an honor box, the first one I had ever seen in my life. There was no one inside the clubhouse which housed just two locker rooms and a small dining/picnic area.
The instructions written on the “honesty box” were as follows: “Lift the Lid! Inside you will find green fee tickets, plastic envelopes and scorecards (with map of course on back). Fill in a ticket, put in an envelope with appropriate fee and post through the Letterbox (That is the slot above box!) Many Thanks. Enjoy your golf.”
Later, we met the club secretary, Lucy Mackay, who, when onsite, runs a small merchandise operation out of a closet in the clubhouse. And these aren’t the £40 hats and £100 shirts you might see elsewhere in the U.K. I purchased a very snug beanie for just £15.
The club’s website instructs visitors to email Mackay to arrange tee times. How simple is that?
Durness Golf Club is just nine holes, but there are two sets of tees for each color on every hole for when you loop the course a second time. Some are just a little shorter or longer. Others completely change the angle of the hole and make for an exciting twist.
When you play the 1st hole, it might give you the impression the trip to this course really was more about the journey than the destination. It’s a short par-4 that plays around a large hill to a green that’s significantly uphill.
The next eight holes, though, could be on any other top course in the world and no one would bat an eye.
The course is just 2,753 yards from its longest tees and features six par 4s (none longer than 408 yards), a par 5 and two par 3s. Despite most holes being inland, the incredible rolling terrain made the perfect setting for a golf course. This was a course that was more so found than designed. No major earth-moving operation here.
The most impressive hole from the bunch was the 8th, a short par-4 which played straight back down the hill, toward the water with the green perched just feet from a cliff. Following it came the 9th, a 150-yard par 3 that played over the cliff to a green just below the clubhouse. The 9th’s alternate tee stretches to nearly 200 yards, and often plays into a breeze.
Mackay said the course was designed by three locals and opened for play in 1988 on land now owned and leased to the club by the Scottish Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
For those who make the trek, it’s well worth it — not only for GOLF’s No. 12 nine-hole course in the world — but the entire journey itself. We were exhausted by the time we turned back toward Dornoch, another 18 holes in our future. Our only regret was leaving town without enlisting in the Highland Games.