Chaplain creates blessing for each hole at Royal Dornoch

Highland Rev Susan Brown teeing off. Picture: Contributed

Highland Rev Susan Brown teeing off. Picture: Contributed

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GOLFERS at one of the world’s most prestigious courses are being given spiritual advice by a Chaplain to Her Majesty the Queen.

Rev Susan Brown, who also wed Madonna and Guy Ritchie, has written thought provoking reflections for each of the 18 Championship Course holes at Royal Dornoch Golf Club in the Highlands to help inspire players and “exercise the body, mind and spirit”.

The 57-year-old walked the course at different times of the day to capture the unique feel of the stunning landscape to create the so-called “Holy Round” as part of celebrations to mark 400 years of golf in the area.

Royal Dornoch Golf Club general manager Neil Hampton described the “inspiring and uplifting” reflections in the Champion Course guidebook as an “tremendous asset”.

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Mrs Brown, minister of 13th century Dornoch Cathedral, said the “thoughts”, which are part advice on how to best tackle the links course, were designed to help quieten the minds of golfers and give them a sense of perspective on life.

“Royal Dornoch is a stunning course and golf, for many people, is a spiritual experience,” said the Chapel Royal in Scotland member.

“As the local minister I wondered how the Church could participate positively in the 400 year anniversary celebrations so I came up with the idea of creating a Holy Round.

“I went out at different times of the day and walked the course to get a sense of the uniqueness of each hole and then from what I saw, created a simple ‘thought’ for all 18 holes – plus another for the obligatory 19th which is the club house.

“The thoughts are not designed to provide people with the perfect excuse to go golfing instead of to worship, but offer an opportunity to help the game be a more complete experience that exercises body, mind and spirit.”

Mrs Brown said she believed that the Celtic notion of “thin” places, where the gap between heaven and earth seems to narrow, applied to Dornoch, a community that has been shaped by the twin influences of the Church and golf.

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Royal Dornoch Golf Club has two courses and the Par 70 Championship Course was ranked number five in the world and number one in Scotland by Golf Digest 2016.

The glossy course guide entry for the first hole states “In the beginning… draw breath and enjoy the clean score sheet and all the possibilities that lie ahead.

“Choose now to take one step at a time and enjoy what that step holds.”

The entry for the sixth hole says: “Be warned! A bunker with a magnetic draw awaits you. Choose your club carefully and think of the choices you have made in life. You have to live with the consequences!!”

In regard to the 12th hole, Mrs Brown, a past LPGA Thistle Brooch and Grant Cup club champion, says: “A path crosses the fairway. Reminisce and share with your partner, how the path of your life crossed with a significant other in your life. Think of how wonderful is the gift of love”.

The entry for the 16th hole states: “Onwards and upwards! From sea level at the tee take yourself over to the bench at the left of the green and enjoy the panorama. It puts your golf into perspective and brings to mind Psalm 8 which talks of all God has made and asks the question – what is mankind, that you are mindful of them?

Mrs Brown, who has been a club member for nearly 20 years, said the Holy Round had been favourably received by golfers.

One man wrote to her: “Thank you so much for making my visit to Dornoch so memorable as I was so pleasantly surprised by your comments in the golf course guide which are so apt to the extent that I could relate perfectly, making my round even more pleasurable.”

Royal Dornoch Golf Club, which attracts around 12,000 visitors a year of which 50% are from North America, is one of 37 golf courses in the UK that has a Royal Charter.

It was awarded the title in 1906 by King Edward VII.

The earliest concrete evidence of golf being played in the area can be traced back to 1616 but a journal written by St Andrews University student James Melville, dated 1574, recounts that Robert Stewart, Bishop of Caithness whose seat was at Dornoch Cathedral, was a keen golfer.

Mr Hampton said Church of Scotland ministers had a very long association with the club and former Moderator of the General Assembly and minister at Dornoch Cathedral, Very Rev Dr James Simpson, is a past captain.

He added: “The Holy Round is a tremendous resource for the club and really helps to make people stop and think about golf, the wonderful place that is Dornoch and about life in general.

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“People come to play at Royal Dornoch from across Britain, North America and Europe every season so Susan’s inspiring and uplifting reflections have been distributed far and wide.”

Royal Dornoch hole reflections:

Hole 1 (First)

In the beginning… draw breath and enjoy the clean score sheet and all the possibilities that lie ahead. Choose now to take one step at a time and enjoy what that step holds.

Hole 2 (Ord)

Small is beautiful – and testing. One word can build up or knock down. How can the little words we speak be more encouraging?

Hole 3 (Earl’s Cross)

The course opens up before you. Sea, hills, sweeping fairways. Pause to admire the natural beauty around you and appreciate what the Creator and humans can do together.

Hole 4 (Achinchanter)

The fairway slopes seaward and takes your ball with it. What are the things that pull you from the paths you should be taking?

Hole 5 (Hilton)

Looking down from on high, think about a highlight in your life. As you walk to your tee shot, tell your partner what for you, is one of the moments you have felt most ‘blessed’.

Hole 6 (Whinny Brae)

Be warned! A bunker with a magnetic draw awaits you. Choose your club carefully and think of the choices you have made in life. You have to live with the consequences!!

Hole 7 (Pier)

A wide and (relatively) straight fairway greets you. Yet this hole has a stroke index of 1… Sometimes it’s when life appears straightforward that we find ourselves surprised by troubles. Who is it you turn to at such times? Now turn round and look behind you… be stunned by the view…

Hole 8 (Dunrobin)

Focus on Dunrobin Castle in the distance – but don’t forget the drop! A reminder for people of faith that they have not to be so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly use! Keep your eyes open to who and what’s around you.

Hole 9 (Craigliath)

Stand for a moment and listen. What can you hear? Soak up the sound and let it re-energise you as you approach half way.

Hole 10 (Fuaran)

Fuaran is Gaelic for a well or a spring. Did you notice it? You passed a little river that otters tumble down in the early morning. Now you are at the halfway house – take (or buy) a drink and think of the simple joy of being refreshed.

Hole 11 (A’chlach)

A long hole with the chance of a seat at the end! How important is rest and relaxation? Be at peace – no matter the score!

Hole 12 (Sutherland)

A path crossed the fairway. Reminisce and share with your partner, how the path of your life crossed with a significant other in your life. Think of how wonderful is the gift of love.

Hole 13 (Bents)

Run up to the top of the dune behind the Tee and look out over the sea and beach. Psalm 46 talks of roaring seas and shaking mountains but whether the sea is wild or calm, think of the beauty and fragility of the natural world. How can we enjoy and care for it?

Hole 14 (Foxy)

Rough, no bunkers but a double dogleg. For many this is Royal Dornoch’s signature hole. Let the challenge excite you – and rise to it. Life is too short not to have times when you push yourself to your limits….

Hole 15 (Stulaig)

The easiest hole on the course – if you play it well! Select your club and know as you do that this hole, like life, is what you make it.

Hole 16 (High hole)

Onwards and upwards! From sea level at the Tee take yourself over to the bench at the left of the green and enjoy the panorama. It puts your golf into perspective and brings to mind Psalm 8 which talks of all God has made and asks the question – what is mankind, that you are mindful of them?

Hole 17 (Valley)

From the heights to the depths! But you emerge onto a green that’s big and welcoming. As you head for the final hole, you meet those only just beginning their round. Wish them well as you continue to the 18th Tee.

Hole 18 (Glenmorangie)

As you prepare to tee off, think of the number of people in the last 400 years who have stood where you are. Whether you have had a great round or a bad one, be grateful for the energy to play and for the company and the scenery. Take a deep breath. Swing slow and true and give thanks for the exercise of body, mind and spirit.

The 19th (Clubhouse)

Relax! Be at peace! And may the sun rise upon you, the rain fall gently around you and the wind blow only enough for cobwebs to disappear. Bless you!

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