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Brora Golf Club: Throwback Links in the Scottish Highlands

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Steeped in history and natural charm, Brora Golf Club lies along the windswept northern coast of the Scottish Highlands, a hidden gem awaiting discovery by adventurous golfers willing to venture off the beaten path. About an hour’s drive north of Inverness, Brora is relatively unknown compared to its more famous neighbors further south, such as Royal Dornoch.

Founded in 1891 and redesigned by renowned architect James Braid in 1923, Brora is a traditional out-and-back links that incorporates the natural sand dunes and undulations of the dramatic seaside property. Short by modern standards, the course presents a thorough test of shotmaking ability thanks to strategically placed pot bunkers and sloping greens. The course’s defense is not just in its layout but also in the ever-present coastal winds that can alter the course’s difficulty and players’ club and shot selection from day to day. 

In this post, we’ll look at Brora Golf Club, starting with its origins and history. We’ll meet James Braid, discuss the accolades and critical acclaim the course has received, and do a walkthrough of both nines. Further reading suggestions and videos will help bring the course to life. As always, the images in this post are simulated to provide context and set the scene.

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Origins of Brora

Founded in 1891, Brora was originally laid out as a 9-hole course by John Sutherland, who served as club secretary at nearby Royal Dornoch for over 50 years. Sutherland’s design took advantage of the natural, windswept terrain along the coast of the North Sea. Around 1900, the course was extended to 18 holes. Further changes came in 1923 when James Braid redesigned the course to create the current layout.

Braid’s routing utilizes the seaside property beautifully, and his design philosophies of strategic bunkering and risk-reward options are on full display at Brora.

In the years since, Brora has retained its old-world charm and remains one of Scotland’s hidden gems. The club has hosted several regional events but has intentionally avoided too much modernization in order to preserve its timeless setting. Brora continues to offer a one-of-a-kind golfing experience for those willing to venture past Royal Dornoch along the northern Scotland coast.

brora origins

James Braid

James Braid was one of the most prolific golf course architects of the early 20th century. Along with Harry Colt and Alister MacKenzie, Braid was a founding member of the British Golf Architects Association in the 1920s. In his decades-long career, Braid designed or remodeled over 300 courses across the UK and Europe, leaving an indelible mark on the game.

Among Braid’s most notable designs are courses like Gleneagles, Royal St. George’s, and Walton Heath, which have all hosted major championships over the years. He won The Open Championship 5 times himself between 1901-1910, which ranks tied for 4th all-time. Braid was made a Freeman of the City of London in recognition of his golfing achievements. He even had a flower named after him – the Braid Burnet Rose.

At Brora, Braid arrived in 1923 and redesigned the site into the memorable links it is today. He expertly incorporated the natural dunes and undulations into a strategic, wind-swept test of golf. Brora Golf Club is also the headquarters of the James Braid Golfing Society, whose motto is to “honour the player, the character and the course architect that was James Braid.”

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Critical Acclaim

Brora is considered one of Scotland’s hidden gems among golfers willing to travel to the northern Highlands. While not ranked on major lists, the course receives consistent praise for its beautiful, windswept setting along the North Sea coast with spectacular views overlooking the Moray Firth and the Scottish Highlands.

Enthusiasts appreciate how Brora has retained its old-world charm over the years, intentionally avoiding too much modernization to preserve the timeless, natural links landscape.

The few modest buildings scattered near the course enhance rather than infringe upon the windswept landscape, where the ever-present North Sea breeze and cries of seabirds fill the air. For 5-time Open Champion Peter Thomson and many others, Brora was touted as the purest and finest traditional links course in the world.

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Did You Know?

What makes Brora truly unique is the presence of wooly “greenskeeping assistants” – a flock of sheep who roam the links year-round. These sheep graze the course and act as natural lawnmowers, keeping the grass neatly trimmed.

Seeing sheep peacefully grazing the fairways and rough between holes adds to the charm and ambiance of Brora. The sheep blend seamlessly into the landscape, enhancing the feeling of harmonizing with nature.

Electric fences surround the greens to prevent the sheep from accessing these areas and protect the manicured putting surfaces that require special care. The fences strike the right balance – the sheep tend most of the course while the greens remain pristine.

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The Course

The course plays to 6,211 yards with a par of 70. The layout features undulating fairways and large, sloping greens that require players to get creative and utilize the ground game. Strategically placed pot bunkers and dunes frame the holes, creating a thorough examination of shotmaking ability with risk-reward options.

Outward Nine

The course begins by hugging the contours of Kintradwell Bay, providing golfers with stunning views of the Sutherland Hills and Ben Bhraggie. As players progress through the outward nine, they encounter a series of holes that require precision and thoughtful shot selection.

The first hole is a short, risk/reward dogleg-right par-4 with a tricky green but a fairly benign start to the round. Things get tougher at the par-4 2nd, where an elevated tee provides a spectacular view. The short par-4 4th, “White Post,” presents a birdie opportunity for those who find the fairway. Aptly named “Long Hole,” the par-5 8th is the longest hole on the course but reachable for longer hitters.

The outward nine treats players to a variety of par-3s playing in different directions, thanks to the out-and-back routing of the course. Most notably, the tricky uphill par-3 6th, “Witch,” rises slightly towards the green, playing between bunkers, with trouble in front. Any approach shots that do not reach the green properly risk rolling 30 yards back down off the front, so club selection is key. The ninth, aptly named “Sea Hole,” is a mid-length par-3 with the beach to the right and trouble left.

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Inward Nine

The inward nine features sloping greens, strategic bunkering, and burns that come into play. It starts with “Greenhill,” the 435-yard, par-4 10th hole, which runs alongside a railway and features a challenging, sloping green. The 11th is a 497-yard par-5 with a burn running across the fairway. The green itself slopes away at the front and is protected by a bunker on the left, requiring precision on the approach.

The 362-yard 12th hole, “Dalchalm,” is considered by many to be the best hole on the course. With an undulating fairway, OB on the right, and a small green guarded by bunkers and Clynelish Burn behind. “Snake,” the short 13th, is a one-shotter surrounded by bunkers and the burn, which meanders in front.

Par is a great score at the penultimate par-4 “Tarbatness,” regarded as the best driving hole on the course. The ideal drive flies straight through the narrow section of the fairway, setting up an approach from the right side. This vantage point provides the best angle of attack to the sloping green, protected by a strategically placed bunker at the front. The round concludes with “Home Hole,” a long par-3 that must be carried due to a valley in front of the green, which is protected by bunkers left and right.

Visit Brora online at https://broragolfclub.co.uk.

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Further Reading

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Classic Golf Links
by Donald Steel

Summary: Classic Golf Links of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland by Donald Steele is a guidebook featuring 75 spectacular links golf courses in the British Isles, covering their history, design, and challenges. The book includes scorecards, hole maps, photos, and playing tips for each course, providing key information for golf travelers while celebrating these revered seaside tests.  With writing by Donald Steel and photos by Brian Morgan, Classic Golf Links is considered an essential reference for experiencing the best of links golf.

This book is a must for anyone with an affinity for links golf. I bought this book years ago and still return to it often. The pictures are amazing and they alone will make you fall in love with these courses.

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Sand and Golf
by George Waters

Summary: “Sand and Golf” explores how sandy terrain uniquely suits golf, studying similarities and differences between courses worldwide with sandy features. It examines all aspects of the relationship between sand and golf, from the sport’s origins in Scottish coastal dunes to its global spread onto sandy sites. Written by golf architect George Waters with a preface by renowned designer Tom Doak, it details through examples and illustrations why firm, rugged, windy sandy terrain makes creative shot-making integral to the game. The book appeals to knowledgeable golfers interested in course design and architecture, analyzing the art and science behind why golf belongs on sand.

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True Links
by  Malcolm Campbell & George Peper

Summary: True Links by Malcolm Campbell and George Peper profiles over 240 of the world’s top links golf courses across the British Isles and beyond, examining their history, design features, and status as an authentic “true links.” Organized geographically, the book offers photos, maps, scorecards and playing tips for renowned seaside tests like Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Cabot Links, Barnbougle Dunes and others that meet the authors’ criteria.  For links golf aficionados, True Links serves as an illustrated guidebook for experiencing the unique joys and challenges of the game’s most revered coastal courses.

Videos

Brora – Random Golf Club
Brora – Cookie Jar Golf
Brora – Golf Mates
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