Bandon Dunes Owner Mike Keiser to Build Course Near Royal Dornoch

If you’d like to know where Donald Ross developed the design genius for crowned greens he displayed at Pinehurst No. 2, check out Royal Dornoch, where he grew up. The first course I ever played in Scotland, in 1992, Dornoch boasts par-3s where it’s easier finding the greens with your tee shots than it is with your second shots.
Pete Madden

It doesn’t take long for Mike Keiser to get over disappointment. Exactly four weeks after announcing that his new Gil Hanse-designed, Bandon-area project couldn’t go through as planned, Keiser is back in the headlines with a bold, positive step forward in the spiritual home of golf. As first reported by Ru Macdonald, Keiser has teamed with architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and co-developer Todd Warnock to craft a new layout in the Scottish Highlands called Coul Links Beach. The prospects are tantalizing.

While only in the initial stages of planning and permitting, Coul Links Beach would occupy hallowed golfing ground, on rumpled seaside linksland three miles north of fabled Royal Dornoch, ranked Number 14 in GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 Courses in the World.

Coore told Keiser that the land was spectacular—perhaps the best ever. That’s saying something, as Keiser is no stranger to jaw-dropping, on-the-ocean spreads, having created or co-created Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Cabot Cliffs and Barnbougle in Tasmania.

While the groundbreaking appears to be at least two years away, you can’t help but anticipate greatness, given the site and the development and design teams. Royal Dornoch occupies some of the most remarkably varied terrain ever made available for golf. It combines that variety with unparalleled vistas. After Tom Watson played Dornoch prior to his Open defense in 1981, he remarked that the experience was “the most fun I’ve ever had on a golf course.” Donald Ross grew up here and you can see his affinity for Dornoch’s raised plateau greens on his American masterpiece, Pinehurst No. 2. The new course will face inevitable comparisons, given that it has “roughly the same footprint as Royal Dornoch,” according to Keiser. And of course, the men who restored Pinehurst No. 2 to Donald Ross’ vision: Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.

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Regardless of how it winds up comparing to Royal Dornoch, Coul Links Beach will undoubtedly provide one more compelling reason for tourists and purists alike to make the pilgrimage to the region. As recently as the 1960s, Dornoch was considered too remote to be worth the bother. With the recent re-discovery of hidden jewels such as Brora and Golspie, and with the addition of Trump International Golf Links Scotland and Castle Stuart (both with second courses in the planning stages) to the south in Aberdeen and Inverness, respectively, northern Scotland is poised to be a breakout destination all its own.