Photo: The Royal Dornoch team which featured in this year’s match with the County Club of North Carolina. Captain David Bell led the Royal Dornoch team.
THE ties between Royal Dornoch and the Country Club of North Carolina have been nurtured over the last 40 years.
Now, American freelance golf writer and historian Lee Pace has delved into the fascinating backstory behind the relationship which sees teams crossing the Atlantic every year to enjoy Ryder Cup style matches.
It all dates to 1971, when a Royal Dornoch member gifted a plaque and flags to CCNC in Pinehurst, a golfing community which has long enjoyed an affiliation with the Highlands through Donald Ross.
The son of Dornoch and one-time club greenkeeper and professional made his home in North Carolina and famously designed the Pinehurst No2 course, which is regarded as his finest work.
By 1919 Ross had built seven courses for Pinehurst owner and golf pioneer James Tufts.
Fast forwarding to 1971, the plaque signed by Royal Dornoch captain W.B. Alford and presented to CCNC read: “With this message of greeting goes our hope that Dornoch, Sutherland, and Dornoch, North Carolina, may continue to have close and increasingly friendly relations for many years to come.”
Pace noted that Raleigh accountant Richard Urquhart was the driving force to develop a private club and residential community in Pinehurst in the early 1960s.
He loved the golf-centric environment of the area but sought to create a venue for successful North Carolina businessmen and power brokers to gather for weekends and holidays.
Richard Tufts – of the Pinehurst founding family – suggested the club, which opened in 1963, might be named Royal Dornoch.
Urquhart, however, settled on the Country Club of North Carolina, although the surrounding residential development was called Royal Dornoch Golf Village.
And the strong Scots connection has endured for more than half a century.
Lake Dornoch, for instance, sits to the left of the fourth hole of the Dogwood Course, and the main road through the community is called Lake Dornoch Drive. There is a restaurant in the club called the Dornoch Grille.
It was in the late 1990s that a more formal arrangement came into play, when CCNC member Ziggy Zalzneck and Royal Dornoch’s Roly Bluck became firm friends after meeting during one of the former’s trips to Scotland.
Pace’s research recalls that during Bluck’s 2008 visit to Pinehurst, Zalzneck drove him to Raleigh to visit an ailing Urquhart, who was to pass away in October that year.
“Mr Urquhart was dressed in pajamas but had his CCNC blazer on. I thought that was fabulous,” said Zalzneck.
Pace writes: “They talked golf, Pinehurst and Scotland, and when it was over, Urquhart put his arm around Zalzneck and said, “Ziggy, I want the club to have matches with these guys. Will you work it out?”
Twelve players from Dornoch made the trip to CCNC in 2011 and the matches have been held ever since – bar the Covid years – on either side of the Atlantic.
At stake is an antique, wooden putter now named after Bluck, who died in 2014.
Neil Hampton, general manager at Royal Dornoch, admits the players relish the annual matches, with home advantage again working in favour of CCNC this year.
“Visiting Pinehurst is lovely. It’s so different for us. We have to adjust our game, the ball doesn’t run and bounce like it does at home,” he said.
“Each club seems to have the advantage on their home course. Does somebody win? Yes. But it’s a friendship thing. It’s a social event with golf involved. It’s all about like-minded people enjoying a bit of fun.”
Royal Dornoch club captain David Bell told Pace: “Royal Dornoch members relish the annual contest with their friends from the Country Club of North Carolina. While they may leave some of that friendship behind in their quest to win the Roly Bluck putter, it is soon restored over one or several glasses of whisky in the bar.
“This is a competition which embodies the comradeship and sportsmanship which make golf such a great game.”
One man who has played in every match over the past 12 years is former Royal Dornoch captain Hamish Macrae.
“The trips are all about catching up with old friends, making new friends, experiencing true Southern hospitality and having competitive matches played in the best spirit,” he told the US journalist.
“The Dornoch members have enjoyed visiting Donald Ross’s house beside the third green of the No. 2 course, the Tufts Archives and having the opportunity to play other courses of renown in the area designed by Donald Ross.”
Around the same time as the autumn matches, Provost Patrick Murray, of Dornoch Community Council, and Pinehurst Mayor John Strickland signed an agreement honouring Ross and strengthening links between the two communities.
The agreement involves “providing awareness and tourism opportunities surrounding the sport of golf, the history of golf course architecture and the work of Donald Ross.”
There will also be opportunities for Dornoch’s award-winning Historylinks Museum and the celebrated Tufts Archives in Pinehurst to co-operate under the banner “Donald Ross: Birthplace to Workplace.”
Hamish said: “Our relationship with CCNC is centred around Donald Ross and the Pinehurst area.
“The recent arrangement between the Royal Burgh of Dornoch and Pinehurst will provide even more opportunities for the two communities to share their history through golf and friendship.”