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The Darling of Dornoch

There are few courses in the world that have a following like Royal Dornoch. A drive just one hour north of Inverness and along some glorious highland roads leads to this golfing Mecca. In this part of Scotland you are near some of the best courses in Scotland and this is a region where James Braid was prolific. We’re not here to talk about him today though. This article is about a humble greenkeeper and club professional, the darling of Dornoch, Donald Ross.

Born in the town of Dornoch in November 1872, Ross grew up in the dunes of the links land. The rugged rolling links was a part of him. His formative years were spent playing the course and he went on to become a greenkeeper. This allowed him to learn what it takes to keep a golf course in great condition. It is said that he actually hated his work as “keeper of the greens”, however he would later realise how important that training was to his career.

Artists often talk about finding their muse. Finding the inspiration that helps him or her create the great works that people celebrate. With Donald Ross it is very clear to see that Royal Dornoch was his muse.

Ross would go on to work as an apprentice carpenter under Old Tom Morris in St Andrews. This is where he learned about clubmaking. He was one of those golfing polymaths that could do pretty much every job that helped keep a golf club running. He honed his greenkeeping skills at Carnoustie before he made his way home to Dornoch to become their first club professional. This story goes beyond Dornoch though, Donald Ross was a revolutionary.

One thing that Ross is well known for is his attention to detail and his ability to make a golf course that is beautiful whilst moving very little land. It has to be assumed that his love for natural looking courses came from the classic links courses of Scotland. He grew up around one of the best in the world so it stands to reason.

It is around the greens that Ross designs get trickiest though. At Royal Dornoch you find many greens perched on natural plateaus. This creates demanding approach shots with reduced margin for error. Shots that are just off target can find themselves in tough spots and leaving you with a testing up and down for par.