Sometimes you look forward to something so much that when said timeframe or event eventually hoves into being it can be something of a disappointment, failing to live up to your, potentially inflated, expectations.  I am happy to report that that is most definitely not the case as far as my latest jaunt is concerned.

I spent the early part of the week roaming around sunny Dornoch, sometimes with golf clubs in tow, and sometimes sans clubs but frequently on a bicycle.  Well, you DO have to earn the right to all the fine dining and drinking we like to do, hence the reason for the copious amounts of exercise.

It could only be glorious Dornoch and Gill Stewart showing why she won her third Scottish title here.

It wasn’t my first visit to this golfing mecca by any manner of means – have I told you about Wales winning the women’s home internationals in Dornoch in 1999?  “Only a hundred times,” I hear you cry.  For those of you who may not know the story, I was along as the Welsh coach and the team made history by becoming the first Welsh side ever, male or female, to win the home international series at full international level.  The junior Welsh side had won their title the previous month so an historic double was completed.  What a party we had in the clubhouse that night to celebrate that little piece of history!

And Dornoch is veritably awash with history in general and the history of the game in particular.  You really can feel it as you wander round the ancient town.  Without doubt one of Dornoch’s most famous golfing sons was Donald Ross, born in 1872, who went on to become the first golf professional at Dornoch Golf Club, now known as Royal Dornoch.

Donald Ross’s home in Dornoch – complete with blue plaque.

Donald must have had a bit of wanderlust in him because he upped sticks and set sail for America in 1899, a monumentally hazardous journey, seeking fame and fortune as so many before him did.  His first job was at Oakley Country Club near Boston in Massachusetts and this was the first course in the world to receive the magical touch of the course design genius that was Donald Ross.  Modern golfers will be familiar with Ross creations such as Oakland Hills in Michigan and his Pinehurst courses, particularly No 2, in North Carolina, but many will be unaware of just how prolific a designer he was.  More than 500 courses in an era when travel wasn’t particularly easy is a very large number indeed.

Ross obviously took crossing the Atlantic in the early 1900s in his stride because he frequently returned to his native Scotland, perhaps just taking a wee break from creating those golf course masterpieces stateside.  On one of his trips home he renamed his childhood home “Oakley Cottage” to remind himself of his first job in America.  His home in Pinehurst, where he died in 1948, was named “Dornoch” after his birthplace.  So, he was born and died in two different “Dornochs” thousands of miles apart, an indication as to how much the wee Scottish town was in his soul throughout his life.  Golf owes him a great deal.

Donald Ross went on to become a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame and continues to influence course designers to this day. [Photo from Historylinks museum, Dornoch.]

Not all the history that abounds in this wee place is palatable.  It was rather sobering to discover that a mere 150 yards from our cottage door stands the “Witch’s Stone”, a gruesome reminder of Scotland’s fondness for burning those accused of witchcraft up until the early 18th century.  Scotland alone burned more than 3000 women which was five times the number of executions in the whole of the rest of Europe.

The not-so-happy resting place of Janet Horne.

It was in Dornoch in 1727, on the site of the “Witch’s Stone”, that Janet Horne, the last person legally to be executed for witchcraft in the British Isles, met a very grisly end indeed.  This is unlikely to have been her real name as Janet, or Jenny, Horne was a generic name for witches in the north of Scotland at that time and it’s more than feasible that her real identity has been lost in the mists of time.  Often it took no more than unfounded accusations from neighbours or mischief-makers to result in a burning, so thankfully the Act allowing these executions was repealed in the British Isles in 1736.  Alas, nine years too late for Janet Horne of Dornoch.

Let’s finish on a slightly more upbeat and optimistic point.  This week saw longtime friend and colleague Sarah Bennett come in as vice-captain of the PGA (the Professional Golfers’ Association).  In doing so Sarah becomes only the second woman to hold that position, following in the footsteps of her great friend and mentor, the late Beverley Lewis.  Never one to be a “yes woman”, Sarah will, I’m confident, bring clear vision, empathy and dedication to her role as vice-captain this year and, subsequently to her role as captain of the PGA next year.

To say I’m proud of you, Sarah, is such an understatement.

Sarah flanked by outgoing PGA captain Peter Hanna (left) and incoming captain Bernard Gallacher – a formidable trio; top, trailblazer Sarah; and below with fellow PGA stalwart Tracy Loveys, chair of the Women’s Professional Golf Association [Photo – Sarah’s facebook page.]