The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle
Eleventh hole, 470 yards; This classic dogleg goes to the right, following the natural curve of Loch Evelix. The proper line varies from day to day depending on the wind. Downwind, the player is tempted into a daring drive that cuts over the Loch. Into the wind, the second shot is extremely taxing with the green hard by the Loch. If the tee ball is too conservative to the left, bunkers on the green’s left interfere with the approach.
Thirteenth hole, 150 yards; An attractive hole, especially now that the trees have been removed along the water’s edge. A cluster of front right bunkers encourage players to favor the bunkerless left side of the green, which is where the real difficulty lies with a steep drop-off. Despite the modest length of the hole, the angle of the green and the ever-present wind make the green an elusive target.
Seventeenth hole, 305 yards; The finishing two holes on the Carnegie Links are as fine a closing pair as one can ever hope for as they allow and even encourage heroic deeds to be performed. The tee on this drivable two shotter is well elevated and gives stunning panoramic views across the Dornoch Firth to the hills beyond. The fairway is littered with five deep revetted bunkers. A drive at the left of the edge green (i.e. seemingly played out over the Firth) that carries 260 yards has a realistic chance of reaching the putting surface. A drive slightly missed will find a bunker with depressing certainty. From these pits, par becomes a struggle, as the recovery splash over the high wall of the bunker forty yards to the green is no certainty. Greg Norman’s bogey to Fred Couple’s birdie on this hole sealed the fate of the Shell match. Not surprisingly, Mackenzie identified the seventeenth as one of his favourite holes:
The 17th is an obvious highlight. It would have been easy to create a par three there, but there was a great opportunity to do something a little different and to create a reachable par four that tempted and teased almost everyone. The wind funnels down the firth and on a windy day, you simply have to start the ball out over the water to have any chance of hitting the green. In the Shell Wonderful World of Golf Game, Fred Couples hit what he thought was a terrible shot because he could not see the left of the fairway and the ball came back just enough to come to rest on short grass, leaving the ideal line into the green; just as was intended.
Eighteenth hole, 555 yards; A great finishing hole that follows the sweep of the tidal bay and salt marsh. Depending on the direction and strength of the wind, the tee shot can vary from a safe shot to the right or an ambitious path over much of the marsh, given the sharp angle of the dogleg. The fairway tilt from right to left tends to exaggerate a draw on the second shot back toward the tidal bay. A bunker at the right hand front of the green must be contended with if the second shot is too conservative. The view from the green back up the hole and toward the Dornoch Firth is one to savior. Indeed, Skibo’s superb finishing two holes are a characteristic that is strangely missing in a number of the top British courses (e.g., Turnberry, Royal Portrush and Royal Birkdale).
Mention needs to be made of the rustic clubhouse, which sits behind the eighteenth green. Modeled after the original farmhouse, it is the author’s ideal clubhouse in all of golf. The stone fireplaces, library and lounge with their deep leather chairs and sofas provide the perfect environment to which to repair after a day’s golf. The unobstructed views back down the tidal bay will stay with the golfer forever. Mackenzie concurs, saying ‘The setting and style of the Clubhouse was extremely satisfying. There was an old byre (cowshed) there and the dimensions of the original clubhouse followed that exactly. The same wall heights, pitch of roof and height of ridge. It even copied the tin roof. It has since been extended a couple of times, but the spirit of the original remains and I think that it is one of the great cosy clubhouses at one with its setting, not an ego-trip. On some days, it is a wrench to go out to play.’
The Carnegie Club is a private club with a membership of golf enthusiasts from around the world. Golf is allowed at a few set times during the week for non-members. Don’t miss it just because it’s not one-hundred years old. This is a classic links, with charm, variety and diversity of challenge rarely found.