Photo: Royal Dornoch’s past captain Willie MacKay (right) welcomes James Skelton, captain of the Oxford and Cambridge Golfing Society, during a recce to the club.
IT’S the oldest team event in amateur golf.
But this year the 134th annual Varsity Match between Oxford and Cambridge Universities is heading for Royal Dornoch, with Brora also featuring on the students’ Highland travels.
While the match has been played three times in Scotland, at Muirfield, the March head-to-head will be breaking new ground.
Royal Dornoch general manager Neil Hampton is preparing to roll out the welcome mat to the teams and their supporters.
“We are delighted to be just the second club in Scotland to host the historic Varsity Match,” he said.
“Our visitors can be assured of a warm Highland welcome on and off the golf course, with the town enjoying an economic spin-off in the spring.
“Last season we hosted the R&A Women’s and Men’s Senior Amateur Championships and this year we are looking forward to the Scottish Amateur Championship and the Vagliano Trophy and Junior Vagliano.
“The Varsity Match comes earlier in the season but the changes made to the 8th hole over the winter will be in play and in the spotlight.”
James Skelton, captain of the Oxford and Cambridge Golfing Society, which dates back to 1898, is confident the Championship Course will provide a memorable examination of the low handicappers’ abilities.
Last year Oxford were victorious at Formby and recent venues include Rye, Aldeburgh, Royal Porthcawl and Ganton. The match is held at Rye every fifth year.
“The Cambridge captain, Calum MacKenzie, chose Royal Dornoch for 2023, as he was very familiar with the majestic links,” explained James.
“It is a great experiment to bring the Varsity match this far north in its traditional month of March, and aided by the significant improvement in transport links and accommodation options.
“I joined my good friend Martin Ebert, whose partner Tom, in golf architects Mackenzie and Ebert, is a Royal Dornoch member, in a visit to the club last year.
“We met with then captain Willie MacKay and others to support Calum’s request for the 2023 Varsity Match.
“The reputation of the golf course speaks for itself and I know the students are excited by the prospect of testing themselves on one of the world’s finest links, in late wintery conditions.
“The teams arrive on Monday, March 20 for practise and friends and family are sure to travel to support later in the week.
“The match is on the same day as the Twickenham Rugby Varsity match, and followed by the Boat Race on Sunday, so it’s a big weekend for Light and Dark Blues, and their supporters.
“The Society has around 800 members worldwide, all of whom have played Varsity golf. Supporters and locals will be very welcome to spectate and join in the Royal Dornoch experience.”
The Cambridge Stymies play the Oxford Divots at Brora on Wednesday, March 23, in the second team match.
The six-a-side ladies match is at Royal Dornoch on the 23rd and 24th, with the Blues match on the 24th and 25th.
Both are traditional 36-hole foursome matches followed by 36-hole singles matches.
Oxford have won 14 of the last 20 Blues matches but still trail their rivals 65-60 in the series (with 8 tied matches).