The Warnocks prepare to take Dornoch
DORNOCH, Scotland -- Todd Warnock fell hard for Royal Dornoch Golf Club the first time he visited.
"It's just so magical, so lyrical," he said. "It's a thinking-man's golf course."
Over the years, Warnock, a former managing director of investment banking at Credit Suisse First Boston, would return, sometimes alone, to Dornoch. He'd spend his days playing the great Scottish Highlands links, then retreat to his room in The Royal Golf Hotel, just left of the first fairway, to read and write.
About six years ago, he got curious about an old Georgian house on Golf Road, just behind Royal Dornoch's clubhouse and less than 100 yards from the first tee. He now owns that house, which dates to 1843, and is almost finished what appears to be a magnificent renovation, converting it into an eight-bedroom hotel.
The Links House at Royal Dornoch is scheduled to open June 1, and the American tour operators with whom I toured the property were generally wowed by what they saw.
"It's going to be something unique and special," said Debbie Bussey of Absolutely Golf & Travel. John Murray of Golf Travel Etc. predicted "it is going to be easily the best accommodations in Dornoch."
"It really fits a need in that part of the world – a five-star experience up there," said Bill Hogan, president of Wide World of Golf.
Links House (linkshousedornoch.com) actually is composed of three buildings. The main house has five bedrooms, a 24-seat dining room, sitting room and library. A new addition, the Mews, has three bedrooms. A separate building has been set aside for storing and drying golf clubs and other gear.
Room rates during the peak season, June 16 to Sept. 15, top out at 295 pounds (about $460) per night. Groups can rent out the entire Links House for 2,000 pounds (about $3,115) with a minimum two-night stay.
Warnock – now a senior adviser to Chicago-based RoundTable Healthcare Partners, a firm he helped form in 2001 – is trying to create intimate, boutique accommodations for golf groups.
"We're trying to have that manor-home feeling," Warnock said.
There is a scotch honor bar in the library. Each bedroom is named for a Highlands salmon river. Warnock and his wife, Liz, designed and commissioned special fabrics for the furnishings, and stocked Links House with antiques, many acquired in Edinburgh. Best of all, a putting green, maintained by Royal Dornoch's greenkeepers, occupies the space between the main house and the Mews. The tour operators saw that amenity as a slam-dunk for guests who want to wind down with scotch, cigars and a putting contest.
Warnock's hope is that guests use Links House as a base to play Royal Dornoch, explore surrounding golf courses – such as Brora to the north and Castle Stuart to the south – and also take advantage of some of the Highlands' popular sporting activities, including hunting and fishing.
Graham Spears of Sterling Golf Tours called Links House "much-needed" and added, "I think he will kill it with (Dornoch's) international members."
Links House can accommodate eight couples, though it might be a better fit for golf-intensive groups.
"For eight guys taking a single room, it is the perfect establishment," said John Gosselink of Fore Seasons Golf Tours.
While the tour operators were impressed with what they saw, one of their chief concerns was availability.
"I think it's going to be difficult getting accommodations in there from May through September," Hogan said. "I think they're immediately going to start thinking about adding another eight or so rooms."