Ross gave up playing and teaching golf to focus on golf design, it is estimated that Donald Ross was involved in 413 courses between 1900 and 1948 with thirty different US states claiming to hold Donald Ross golf designs. Ross was incredibly influential in developing the golf industry in America. Over 100 U.S. national championships have been played on his designs. According to Jack Nicklaus, "His stamp as an architect was naturalness" & “He was, and still is, considered the Michelangelo of golf.” His most famous designs are Pinehurst No. 2, Seminole, Oak Hill and Oakland Hills.

In December 1947, at the Pinehurst Golf Resort the American Society of Golf Course Architects was started and Donald Ross was awarded the role as Honorary President. Donald Ross died on April 26th 1948 while completing Raleigh Country Club North Carolina. As a mark of respect for lifetime’s efforts Donald Ross was inducted in the Golf Hall of fame in 1977.

Click here for Donald Ross Society Website

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In March 1899 Donald left Dornoch and arrived in the United States with seven dollars in his pocket, his task was to build and run the Oakley Country Club in Watertown, Boston, Massachusetts. His move to the USA followed advice from Professor Robert Willson of Harvard University. Willson had spent many summers playing golf in Scotland and he prevailed on Donald to consider a move to the United States of America believing Donald could command $60 a month, plus 50 cents an hour for lessons, three times his earnings in Dornoch.

By 1900 Donald Ross had successfully redesigned the course at Oakley Country Club and James Walker Tuffts, a local land owner, offered Ross the opportunity to take sole responsibility for the development of the Pinehurst Golf Resort for which he would later be the Professional. Donald would be responsible for designing and rebuilding four courses at Pinehurst with his masterpiece being course No.2. Drawing upon his extensive background in turf grass management, he revolutionized southern green keeping practices when he oversaw the transition of the putting surfaces at No. 2 from oiled sand to Bermuda grass.

During his summers, Ross started designing and building courses throughout New England. Eventually, his practice spread into the Midwest and down the Southeast coast. In association with design assistants J.B. McGovern and Walter Hatch, Ross maintained a summer office in Little Compton, Rhode Island and satellite offices in North Amherst, Massachusetts, and Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.

For the rest of his life, apart from the considerable time he spent travelling as he designed courses, he would follow the pattern of spending the winter season in Pinehurst and the spring and summer in the north. Donald was granted American citizenship in 1921 but he remained loyal and supportive to his relatives and friends in Scotland, returning on summer visits to Moniave and Dornoch.

When Donald Ross had spare time he still enjoyed playing the game of golf, competing on both sides of the pond. His best finish in his career was 5th in US Open at Baltusrol 1903. Other notable achievements were winning three North & South Opens (1903, 1905, 1906), two Massachusetts Opens (1905, 1911) and finishing eighth in the 1910 British Open at St Andrews. His younger brother and apprentice Alec won US Open in 1907 at The Philadelphia Cricket Club.


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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 1940's 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 centers 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.

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If you wish to donate to the project then please contact Neil Hampton or click here.

Next year, in 2016 Dornoch will mark four centuries of golf being played in the area with the earliest concrete evidence of the game known to this point dating back to 1616.

 However, few records have been explored from the period 1600-1800 and this exciting project has started to bridge the gap in knowledge in the lead up to the town’s 400 Years of Golf in Dornoch celebrations. This academic study exploring the golfing history of Dornoch in the Highlands of Scotland which is home to one of the world’s most revered links courses has already started to produce some interesting facts.

Wade Cormack, the Royal Dornoch PhD funded student, Wade's research explores the history of sport and culture in the Moray Firth region from the 17th to the 19th century. His research looks at the cultural factors that influenced sporting practices and does so by examining sports on the links. Golf, as one of the main sports on the links, garners a large amount of attention in his research. He examines history of golf alongside other links sports such as archery, horseracing and shinty, and does so while considering sport's place in festival celebrations. Working closely with the Royal Dornoch Golf Club, Wade's research will contribute to the celebration of 400 years of golf in Dornoch, which is set for 2016. See him in action at the Royal Dornoch Golf Club during one of his engaging public lectures.

To catch up on Wade’s research his presentations can be found here.

Wade’s history research blog can be found here.

Sponsors – place this on a separate page

The Club are indebted to the following sponsors along with those that wish to remain anonymous.

William G Anderson

Andrew Biggadike

In memory of E. Ralph Biggadike

Mike Burks

Jimmy Burns

Michael Cheek

Jim & Lynne Finn

Neil, Fiona & Max Hampton

Mr & Mrs G Kacahdurian

Lindsey Kelly and Family

Donald A King Jr

Stuart McAllister

David MacLean

Doug Mitchell

Woody & Cynthia Morcott

Paddy Murray

Marc Phillips

In memory of Alastair Reid, from his family

David Reidy

James Schnell

Alex & Christine Simonini

In memory of Donnie Sutherland

E Carl Uehlein

Stephen Whale

Macauley Whiting Jr. 

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In the early 20th Century a number of Scottish golfers emigrated to the United States of America to become professionals at the many clubs that were appearing there. Among these were several from Dornoch:

Donald Ross

Born in St Gilbert Street, Dornoch in 1874, Donald Ross emigrated to the United States of America in 1899. His first job was Professional at Oakley Club, Boston. He was later appointed Manager at Pinehurst Country Club, North Carolina. He became a legendary architect of many great courses including Pinehurst No.2, Braeburn, Oakland Hills, Interlachan, Inverness (Toledo, Ohio) and Seminole. In total he was architect for approximately 500 courses.


Alex Ross

Born in St Gilbert Street, Dornoch, brother to Donald, Alex emigrated to the United States of America in 1900. He played out of Brae-Burn Country Club, West Newton, Massachusetts, having previously played out of Pinehurst and then Wilmington, Del. He won the U.S. Open in 1907 at Philadelphia and had 4 more top 10 finishes in that Open. He also won the North-South Open 5 times and the Massachusetts Open 6 times (in succession).

Bob Grant

Born in Dornoch. Bob was a Golf Professional for 53 years, of which his final 21 were spent at Kokomo Country Club, Indiana. He was a highly respected member of the U.S.P.G.A. and served many years as an officer in the Indiana section. He was said to be instrumental in the early growth of golf in Chicago.


Alex Murray

Born in Dornoch in 1891. Emigrated to the United States in 1925. Alex became the first Professional at Granville Golf Club, Ohio. Sadly, he died after only 2 years in the United States, aged just 36. His wife Grace stayed on to manage the clubhouse and sons Dick and Ken played and caddied at the club. Later, Ken (also in picture) became Secretary at Royal Dornoch Golf Club retiring in 1987.


Bob Macdonald

Born at Evelix, Dornoch. Emigrated to the United States in 1910. Bob was Professional at a number of Chicago clubs including Evanston and Edgewater and was the first winner of the Texas Open in 1922. He was a founder member of the U.S.P.G.A. and later became its President. He coached legendary U.S. golfers Gene Sarazen, Horton Smith and Babe Zaharias. His book, “Golf”, published in 1927, was a classic of its time.

Bill Macdonald

Born at Evelix, Dornoch, brother to Bob and Jack. Emigrated to the United States in 1912. He became Professional at Door County, Sturgeon Bay. Wisconsin then later at Springfield, Illinois and Illini Country Club, Illinois. Bill managed city tournaments for many years.

Jack Macdonald

Born at Evelix, Dornoch, brother to Bob and Bill. Emigrated to the United States in 1919. He was professional at Lynx Club, Milwaukee and then later, Professional at 4Gs Driving Range in Chicago, and Stop and Sock ‘Em Range in Springfield, Illinois.


Don Sutherland

Born in Littletown, Dornoch in 1910. Emigrated to Vancouver B.C. Canada in 1929 where he became Professional at Vancouver Golf & Country Club. His brother Hamish assisted Don at the club and both were made Honorary Life Members there. Reputed to be the most complete Dornoch golfer of his era, among his successes was winning the B.C. Open in 1934.


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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.

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Golf in Dornoch can be traced back to 1616, and some claim even earlier, but what we are sure of is that everyone who came to play marvelled at the wonderful links land and the challenge it presented. Have a read through our history pages to find out more about golf in Dornoch and the players it produced.

Further reading: