Skibo Castle
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Skibo Castle
Skibo Castle shimmers in the morning sun. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle
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The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle - aerial view
An aerial view of the Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle shows its stunning setting. Courtesy photo
The Carnegie Club - sixth green
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The Carnegie Club - sixth green
Director of Golf David Thomson putts on the sixth green at The Carnegie Club. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle - drone views
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The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle - drone views
The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle is sandwiched between the Dornoch Firth and Loch Evelix. Courtesy photo
The Carnegie Club - pro shop
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The Carnegie Club - pro shop
The Carnegie Club's pro shop is stocked with merch. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
The Carnegie Club - lounge
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The Carnegie Club - lounge
The Carnegie Club clubhouse is a great hangout for golfers during the day and sometimes serves dinner at night. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
The Carnegie Club - locker room
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The Carnegie Club - locker room
Don't you wish your club's locker room looked like The Carnegie Club? Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
Skibo castle clubhouse view
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Skibo castle clubhouse view
The view outside of The Carnegie Club's clubhouse reveals a gorgeous setting for a golf course. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
The Carnegie Club - dune bunker
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The Carnegie Club - dune bunker
Sandy areas in the dunes give The Carnegie Club's front nine a rugged look. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
The Carnegie Club - hole 6
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The Carnegie Club - hole 6
The green of the par-3 sixth hole at The Carnegie Club sits on a dune shelf. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
The Carnegie Club - hole 7
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The Carnegie Club - hole 7
The seventh hole of The Carnegie Club features a split fairway finishing at an elevated green. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
The Carnegie Club - views
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The Carnegie Club - views
The Carnegie Club is sandwiched between the Dornoch Firth and the Loch Evelix. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
The Carnegie Club - hole 8
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The Carnegie Club - hole 8
Chris Mailley, the head greenkeeper at The Carnegie Club, tees off on the eighth hole. Its fairway slants severely toward the Dornoch Firth. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
The Carnegie Club - back nine holes
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The Carnegie Club - back nine holes
Several of the back nine holes of The Carnegie Club play along the Loch Evelix. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
The Carnegie Club - comfort station
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The Carnegie Club - comfort station
The Carnegie Club features a comfort station stocked with complimentary snacks and drinks that golfers pass twice during the round. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
The Carnegie Club - hole 15
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The Carnegie Club - hole 15
Chris Mailley, the head greenkeeper at The Carnegie Club, tees off on the par-3 15th along Loch Evelix. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
Skibo Castle - walking The Carnegie Club
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Skibo Castle - walking The Carnegie Club
Walking The Carnegie Club is one of the great experiences in Scottish golf. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
The Carnegie Club - hole 16
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The Carnegie Club - hole 16
A look back on the 16th hole at The Carnegie Club. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
The Carnegie Club - hole 17
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The Carnegie Club - hole 17
David Thomson, the director of golf at The Carnegie Club, tees off on the short par-4 17th, which might be the best hole on the course. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
The Carnegie Club - hole 18
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The Carnegie Club - hole 18
David Thomson, the director of golf at The Carnegie Club, sends a tee shot down the final hole as the risk-reward par 5 boomerangs left around the salt marshes of the River Evelix. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
Skibo Castle - sunset
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Skibo Castle - sunset
Skibo Castle towers over the landscape of the Scottish Highlands. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
Skibo Castle - bedroom
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Skibo Castle - bedroom
Members who stay at Skibo Castle are spoiled with elaborate bedrooms. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
Skibo Castle - windows
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Skibo Castle - windows
Stained-glass windows are part of the elaborate decor of Skibo Castle. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
Skibo Castle - lobby
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Skibo Castle - lobby
The lobby of Skibo Castle presents a magical first impression. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
Skibo Castle - room
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Skibo Castle - room
Skibo Castle is full of rooms where members can relax. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
Skibo Castle - pool
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Skibo Castle - pool
The renovated pool at Skibo Castle is impressive. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
26 Images

Life inside the gates of The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle in the Scottish Highlands

Any golfer can play the exclusive private Scottish club near Royal Dornoch.

DORNOCH, Scotland - I drove by twice before I found the hidden paradise of the Scottish Highlands.

The gold-and-black front gate leading to Skibo Castle sits along an obscure country road so narrow that it feels like it's meant for one-way traffic ... probably because everybody wants to come and nobody wants not leave.

Did you know that most golfers - including YOU - can get inside these gates? The Carnegie Club is one of the world's most exclusive private clubs, but you can play this magical links if you're willing to jump through a few hurdles.

The first is sending an e-mail request to teetimes@carnegieclub.co.uk and planning your trip around its limited public access. The second is paying the £450 green fee, which equates to roughly $550 with the current exchange rate. That's the second-most expensive tee time in the United Kingdom behind the stay-and-play required to get on Ardfin, on Scotland's Isle of Jura, but still relatively affordable when compared to the priciest tee times in America such as Shadow Creek ($1,000) and the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass ($840). Imagine playing Royal Dornoch one day and The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle the next. That's as good as any 1-2 punch in the world, all separated by fewer than six miles.

"If you get inside the gate, we will treat you like a member," said long-time Director of Golf David Thomson.

And, boy, does membership have its privileges at Skibo Castle, a residence club of 400 memberships consisting of people from around the world. Members and their guests must stay on the 8,000-acre estate, either the elegant rooms in the castle or the nearby lodges, to unlock an incredible array of experiences. My 24 hours inside the gates this fall were, no doubt, my most memorable of the year.

Playing The Carnegie Club

Golf was first played on the estate when owner Andrew Carnegie commissioned a nine-hole course in the 1890s that eventually went fallow. The course triumphantly returned in 1995 with a design by Donald Steel - one of the 20 architects to most influence the majors - and Tom Mackenzie.

A major redesign in 2007 led by Thomson, Mackenzie and Gary Gruber (then the director of golf and now the estate's general manager) created today's 6,903-yard routing lined by fescue grasses. The Dornoch Firth and Loch Evelix frame it all, providing beautiful water views at almost every turn.

Traffic is so light that tee times aren't necessary. A piece of advice: Don't step on the first tee until your range session has your game dialed in. The course's toughest stretch comes in the first six holes. Two triples and a double later, I had learned the hard way how tightly the dunes pinch the fairways and the intimidating depth of the sod-walled bunkers. But I loved every minute of the walk.

I'll never forget the par-3 sixth green set on a dune shelf or the severely tilted fairway on the par-4 eighth along the Firth. The 340-yard seventh, featuring a split fairway, and the 304-yard 17th are banging short par 4s. The 557-yard 18th delivers the same-risk reward drama of the crescent-moon-shaped final hole at Pebble Beach. It doglegs left along the salt marshes of the River Evelix. A halfway house stocked with free food and drinks replenishes your energy for this gorgeous homeward loop.

If you're only in for the day, make sure to come early and stay late. The locker room's main area feels more like a living room than my own does. The clubhouse is also cozy and comfy, with a five-star menu of food and drinks. Some weeknights the clubhouse transforms into the place where everyone drinks and dines for dinner, so it's a versatile space. Don't forget to merch up on logos at the sprawling pro shop before returning to the real world.

Staying at Skibo Castle

As I checked in to my second-floor castle room, "Evelix", I glanced out my window to witness a guest enjoying falconry on the front lawn, one of many activities on the estate.

Once members are on site, they never have to sign a bill. An all-inclusive rate means they can eat and drink as much as they please. Breakfast in the castle is a perfect way to start the day. Afternoon tea is served in the drawing room, one of the many incredible rooms inside the fully restored castle, which has roots back to the 13th century.

If I had more time, I would have swam a few laps in the indoor pool inside a really cool steel-framed, glass-paneled building. Relaxing at the spa, playing tennis on an outdoor clay court, clay pigeon shooting, fishing, archery, renting a bike to explore or a horseback ride out of the Equestrian Centre would have been equally brilliant experiences.

If this lifestyle appeals to you, here's the bad news: Get in line. There's a wait list to join. Enjoy my photos below to give you a glimpse into this one-of-a-kind club.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Life inside the gates of The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle in the Scottish Highlands