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Long before a golf club was formed at Dornoch, the game of golf was played on the town lands on the links along the seashore. Sometimes it was frowned on by authority because presumably there was a need for their subjects to practice more warlike activities and good marksmen were needed more than good golfers.
"About the toun ther are the fairest and largest linkes of any pairt of Scotland." To the seafaring, marauding Vikings one thousand years earlier, it was Suderland"the Southern Land. Often these Northmen invaded Suderland, driving the Pictish-Celtic natives inland to the hills; in time they settled, intermarried, and Viking place names Skibo, Skelbo, Embo, Brora, Hehnsdale, Wick, Thurso"remind us today of our mixed Celtic-Viking blood. The northern land, including Caithness, was `the land of Catt' and it was good Bishop Gilbert, 1222-1245, who organised this land of Catt, with the purposes of the Church in view: the promotion of Christianity, religion and education. Dornoch became a Royal Burgh through a Charter granted by Charles I.
In 1877, Old Dornoch was indeed "the sleepy capital" of the most northerly highland county, Sutherland. But changes were in store. One day in 1877, the citizens of the Royal Burgh of Dornoch met together and formed the Dornoch Golf Club. The two gentlemen responsible for the foundation being Mr. Alexander McHardy, 'the pioneer of golf in the North of Scotland', and Dr. Hugh Gunn, a native of the town, who was educated at St. Andrews and there learned the game which was destined to bring the sleepy capital of Sutherland so prominently into the world of sport. The course was then only 9 holes long. In 1883 the annual subscription to the club was 2/6 and the annual income was £9.00.
In 1886, the Club invited the veteran champion golfer, Old Tom Morris, to visit Dornoch, make a survey of the links and lay out a more fully planned golf course. The basic purpose of these "founding fathers" of Dornoch golf more than one century ago was to have a golf course of first class quality in keeping with the abundant natural resources already provided in the famed Dornoch Links. For a score of years following John Sutherland's appointment as secretary in 1883, his steady purpose and that of the golf club members was to achieve a first class golf course, About the turn of the century the great Sandy Herd first played with the new rubber-cored ball and out of fashion went the old gutty. John Sutherland, the Club's Secretary who guided the fortunes of the Club for over 50 years, and his committee, had to remodel the course as a result of the faster ball and Dornoch became for a time the 5th longest course in Britain.
In 1906, through the influence of Her Grace the Duchess of Sutherland, Duchess Millicent, a good friend to the Club, Dornoch Golf Club secured the title and dignity of 'Royal' from King Edward VII.
In 1901 Mr. Andrew Carnegie presented a splendid silver Shield for open competition at Dornoch. Right from the start the August meeting, with the Shield as the main trophy, drew prominent golfers from far and wide to Dornoch Links. Notable golfing names have been inscribed upon the bosses of its silvery surface: Ernest Holderness, Charles E. Dick, Roger Wethered, J. Gordon Simpson, as well as local Dornoch names. Even today when many other great trophies are so numerous, the Royal Dornoch Carnegie Shield continues its magnetic lure as widely as ever.
Women golfers, also of a high level, regularly foregathered in Dornoch in the bright days before 1914; Lily Morrison of Dornoch; Madge Maitland, Elie, Fife; May Thomson and Ruth Thomson, Edinburgh; Joyce Spurling, London; and the peerless Joyce Wethered, are known world-wide.
The Second World War saw an aerodrome in being on the Ladies 18 hole course on the lower links and 4 holes of the championship course were lost. In the late 1940s the decision was taken to construct further holes out towards Embo and once again the House of Sutherland helped by leasing the land (later purchased) to the Club. This was largely the work of George Duncan for John Sutherland had died in 1941. A restricted 9 hole relief course was formed known as the Struie. This has now been developed to a full 18 holes.
Dornoch is far from the main centres of population and so has never been host to the most widely advertised national championships. Nevertheless it has hosted through the years the Northern Open; the Scottish Ladies; and the Scottish Professional Championships. Improved transport systems have helped international golfers and a stream of personalities visit the Club and their praise is unstinting. Tom Watson headed North in 1981, the year after winning the third of five Open Championships at Muirfield. He arrived to play 18 holes, but had three rounds and 'the most fun I've ever had on a golf course'. Tom Watson, now an Honorary Member of the Club, returned before the 1996 Open at Lytham and his view of the course has not changed. Other Honorary members are HRH Prince Andrew and Ben Crenshaw and more recent celebrities to visit the course include such notables as Greg Norman, Ernie Els, Mark Brooks and many personalities from other sports and the entertainment world.