Skibo Castle: a taste of extraordinary luxury and style

Courses and Travel

Skibo Castle is one of a kind. The Highlands estate, close to the golfing paradise of Dornoch, takes luxury and style to new levels, writes Dan Murphy

The Course

Skibo Castle

Then there is the golf. Quietly, because that is the Skibo Castle way, the course here has been transformed since the original opened in 1995, designed by Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie.

Not many people realise just what an incredible job the director of golf here, David Thomson, has done, along with some practical assistance from Mackenzie, over the last 10 years.

Thomson, a former tour pro, has established a close working relationship with Short, who is understandably happy to
trust his judgement. Over time, the Aberdonian has used the enviable natural attributes of the course and turned it into a true links of rare quality.

Skibo Castle

Yes, it helps that only a handful of rounds are played here on any given day but the conditioning is sensational.

The course seemingly has water all around – occupying as it does a tongue of land. The Dornoch Firth is on two sides, with the River Evelix emptying into the firth on a third.

Beyond, and a constant backdrop, looms Struie Hill, Skibo’s answer to Royal County Down’s Mountains of Mourne.

Skibo Castle

Thomson’s first challenge was to enhance these vistas by clearing out trees, foliage and gorse and encouraging the growth of fescue grasses. A course previously unsure of its own identity was therefore given a personality.

Then he set about applying his familiarity with many of the world’s greatest courses to improving the strategic challenge. Thomson is a particular fan of Muirfield and it shows.

There is little ashy or quirky about Skibo Castle as a golf course; rather the holes are technically outstanding and varied.

It is not that Skibo shuns the spectacular, far from it, just that the surroundings provide it naturally.

Skibo Castle

Thomson says that practically every hole has undergone signi cant change over time, though none more so than the 2nd, now a sublime left-to-right dogleg where the second is usually played blind or semi- blind over the shoulder of the dune that protects the angle. It would grace any Open venue.

This hole has involved bulldozers and movement of earth. Elsewhere, the changes have been subtler. Bunkers have been moved (and lovingly revetted in the old-fashioned way) into positions that force the better player into making decisions.

They accept a ball running towards them rather than being concealed in the rough, just as bunkers should.

Skibo Castle closes for business over the winter months (apart from over Christmas and Hogmanay). When members return the following spring, Thomson and his team have invariably completed surgery on another hole or two, whether tweaking a back tee or redesigning a green.

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