Courses and Travel

Royal Dornoch remains remarkable despite a debate over renovations

Photo: David Cannon / Getty Images

The 449-yard, par-4 11th at Royal Dornoch.

Tom Watson played Royal Dornoch for the first time in 1981 and was instantly smitten. "It's the most fun I've had on a golf course," Watson gushed.

Consistent praise for Dornoch's charms dates back to '16 -- 1616, that is -- and while numerous tweaks have been made since Old Tom Morris created the current links in 1886, a recent change has sparked controversy.

Architect Tom Mackenzie realigned the 413-yard third hole, shifting the fairway 25 yards to the right, toward the sea. He built new fairway bunkers that are more visible than their predecessors and positioned them farther up the right side of the fairway, to challenge modern power hitters.

The work was performed in response to safety concerns over an encroaching housing development, and while some dislike the changes, others think it's merely a tempest in a whisky tumbler.

Dornoch remains a sensational seaside test; we rank it No. 14 in the world. It still possesses the vexing plateau greens that helped mold native son Donald Ross's design philosophy, and it boasts hall-of-fame holes such as "Foxy," the 445-yard 14th, which Harry Vardon called "the finest natural hole I've ever played."

Despite the changes, the course is still worth a round, if only to revisit Tom Watson's favorite playground.

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