Discover the Home of Golf
Scotland’s courses are found in five major regions: St. Andrews, East Lothian, West Ayershire, Aberdeen & the Highlands. Fortunately, Scotland is small & easily navigable, so it is possible to play courses in two, three, four, or even all five of these regions on one tour. Here is a closer look at the major offerings in each region:
ST. ANDREWS & VICINITY
THE OLD COURSE
The biggest draw is the Old Course, continuously played since the 1400s. Walking its timeless fairways (or being captured in one of its 112 named bunkers) connects you with all those who have come before. There are few better golfing experiences than striking your tee shot on the first hole. With West Sands Beach (site of the opening sequence of Chariots of Fire) immediately adjacent & the beautiful grey town looming over your shoulder, even mediocre shots can be enjoyed. Truly, a game of a lifetime.
THE ST. ANDREWS LINKS TRUST COURSES
Visitors often make the mistake of overlooking the other gems of the St. Andrews Links Trust, including the: New (a favorite of locals), Eden, Jubilee (the toughest of all the Links Trust courses), Strathyrum, Castle (located up the road with scenic views from bluffs looking down on the town) & Balgrove courses. These storied links share a common clubhouse which serves as a mecca for traveling golfers grabbing lunch.
Nearby, Carnoustie is a big brawler that will put a smile on your face even as it beats you up & takes your lunch money. When the wind is up, there are few more difficult courses in the world. But the brilliance of the course is not in its difficulty, but rather in the green complexes that are among Scotland’s best & in the burns that cut mercilessly through the closing holes. A course that should not be missed on any tour near St. Andrews.
Just down the road from St. Andrews, a newcomer (certainly by Scottish standards), Kingsbarns has taken the world golf community by storm. With 18-holes positioned on bluffs overlooking the North Sea, it is a simply gorgeous course. But it doesn’t depend on its looks alone – Kingsbarns plays like a fully-mature natural links course with rolling fairways & uneven lies, sod bunkers & strategic greens. The movement of the turf, so in keeping with the spirit of the Old Course, is all the more remarkable considering that the course was constructed on flat uninspired pasture land. Renowned architect Kyle Philips has built a modern classic which often receives the highest grades from our tour participants.
From St. Andrews, travel west into the foothills to play at the luxurious 5-star Gleneagles Hotel. Boasting three championship courses, Gleneagles is a perfect destination for those groups seeking high-end accommodations, award-winning cuisine & wonderful parkland golf. The King's Course has been welcoming golfers for over 90 years. Both the King's and its little sister, the Queen's Course, offer elevated greens & unspoiled fairways winding between corridors of pine and birch. The Centenary Course, built by Jack Nicklaus on "the finest parcel of land" he had ever been given to work with, is a brawnier challenge. Host to the 2014 Ryder Cup, the Centenary Course plays to 7,300 yards from the tips.
OTHER FIFE GEMS
Then, there are the traditional clubs that stretch back to the dawn of popular golf – many of which still occupy the same footprint and fairways they have nurtured for over 150 years. Nor are these courses footnotes to history. Even today, these links offer exceptional conditions, beautiful seaside golf & storied clubhouses. Our favorites include: Leven Links, Crail & Lundin Links. Play these classics & add your story to golfing chronicles which date back centuries.
Located just southwest of Edinburgh, Scotland’s “Golf Coast” is renowned for its turf & deep collection of storied links. Home to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Muirfield is the jewel in the crown of Scottish golf. Nowhere in the world will you find a fairer links that tests every aspect of your game. Stick to the fairways as heavy rough will punish an errant shot.
Regardless of your score, lunch in the resplendent Muirfield clubhouse is a delight. Relive (or forget) your morning shot-making over roast beef, pork, lamb, or haddock with dozens of fellow golfers. Then, head back out for another 18 holes of alternate shot. Both the golf course & lunch are not to be missed.
NORTH BERWICK GOLF CLUB
If we could only play one Scottish course for all eternity, it would North Berwick Golf Club -- West. Beautiful, historic & quirky, the course & the club captivate you immediately upon arrival. A hearty welcome is followed by 18 holes of golf woven through a tapestry of dunes, stone walls & hillocks. The North Sea & the looming Bass Rock accompany you the whole way.
On the 14th hole, your approach must fly the ancient stone wall that has guarded the green for generations. Make your par & you will move onto the most copied hole in the world – the par-3 “Redan” 15th hole – with its brilliant green that slopes front-to-back & right-to-left. Similar to the Old Course, the 18th hole takes you back into town where a pint surely awaits.
Do not overlook Gullane, which boasts three golf courses aptly, if unimaginatively, named #1, #2 & #3. All of the courses ascend & then descend Gullane hill (with its expansive views of surrounding countryside & the sea). The length of the courses decreases as one moves from #1 to #2 to #3, but not the merits. Our golfers enjoy spirited debates on their preferred Gullane course. All are worthy inclusions on any trip to East Lothian. Try your hand & let us know which one you favor.
OTHER EAST LOTHIAN GEMS
Still in the mood for another 18 holes? We recommend timeless classics like the Glen Golf Club (also known as North Berwick East) which commands views of the North Sea at every turn, Dunbar Golf Club which is laid out over a tiny sliver of perfect links land that produces a thrilling round every time, and Archerfield Golf Links which offers 36 holes of pristine turf running adjacent to Muirfield. You cannot hit a 9-iron in East Lothian without landing on a quality golf course.
The most photogenic & dramatic of Scottish links is Turnberry. Twice revived from its use as a war-time airstrip, the Ailsa course at Turnberry is famous for its iconic lighthouse, bold tee placements & association with Tom Watson. Having recently completed a large-scale renovation, the course has never been better. The same can be said of its surrounding resort – a true 5-star experience.
Just 30 minutes north of Turnberry, along the very edge of the Ayershire coastline, lies Royal Troon. Its “Postage Stamp” 8th green is the smallest played in the Open Championship & is less than 125 yards even from the championship tees. But anyone who has been in its coffin bunker (or any of the other four bunkers surrounding its green) will attest that this hole is no pushover. The course plays firm, fast & fair with cross bunkers that need to be played around if not over. Be sure to experience this 9-time Open Championship venue.
PRESTWICK GOLF CLUB
And then be prepared to go back in time. Prestwick Golf Club, which abuts Royal Troon, is the birthplace of the Open Championship. Very little has changed since Wille Park defeated Old Tom Morris by 2 strokes in the inaugural Open. Playing Prestwick is a history lesson in course design. Blind shots, looming railway lines, bold bunkering, and dramatic green complexes are hallmarks of this one-of-a-kind links. Courses like this are no longer built – and walking off of Prestwick, you will join us in wondering why not. Be sure to pour a pint or take a meal in the clubhouse. It is a de facto museum of Scottish golf and Prestwick’s history as 24-time host of the Open Championship.
For the adventurous & discriminating golfer, we highly recommend a ferry trip (complete with restaurant, lounges & bar) across the Firth of Clyde to Campbeltown. There, you will find one of the best links courses in Scotland -- Machrihanish. This classic tract starts with one of the most iconic first tees in golf – played over the ocean to a sliver of fairway running right to left. How much you bite off is up to you, but realize that there is no land to the left until you reach Canada. The magnificent dunes will beguile you as you weave your way across this spectacular seaside course.
Only a few minutes away from Troon and Prestwick stands Western Gailes. Long neglected by American golfers in favor of better-known courses, Western Gailes may have the finest layout in all of Ayershire. There are no mediocre or weak holes to be found on this superb links. Each succeeding hole offers consistent excellence and demands no less from those who play it.
OTHER WESTERN GEMS
While visiting Machrihanish, be sure to play a loop at Machrihanish Dunes. It is another newcomer that has been seamlessly woven into the Scottish countryside. It is a roller coaster ride from start to finish. Wait until you see the bumps and hollows of these rumpled fairways. If you are staying in the Ayershire area, Glasgow Gailes will test your driver (keep it out of the ever-present tall grasses), but reward approach shots better than most links courses.
Located at the north end of the city, Royal Aberdeen is a traditional links in a dramatic setting. Your tee shot at the first takes you downhill from the elevated clubhouse directly towards the North Sea and the massive off-shore supply ships that lie at anchor. From there, neither the fun nor challenge abate over a layout that continually skirts the sea. A classic "pure links" that is a favorite of our clientele.
Just 30 minutes up the coastline, Cruden Bay beckons all golfers seeking adventure. Do not judge this book by its cover. As you pull in, the exterior of the clubhouse is unimpressive. The furnishings inside are worn and tired. What can be seen of the course below appears confusing and uninspired. A first-timer would be excused if he wondered whether he was in the right place. Any such fears are forgotten by the time the golfer reaches the third hole. The masterpiece that is Cruden Bay is revealed behind massive dunes (largest on any course we have played in Scotland) that shield it from sight of the clubhouse. Rankings do not do this course justice – it is one of Scotland’s very best. It combines old world charm (back-to-back blind par 3s!), incredible sweeping views from atop the dunes, and a layout that rewards boldness.
Closer to Aberdeen, newcomer Trump International occupies a splendid parcel of land & its routing makes the most of the encircling dunes. The property boasts the rarest of Scottish links amenities -- a driving range – making it a great first stop on a tour of Aberdeen golf (or a place to reclaim your swing if you left it on the plane). A wonderful layout accented by some of the best greens in Scotland, Trump International is a must-play for anyone traveling near Aberdeen.
STONEHAVEN GOLF CLUB
Why stop there? Travel a bit south of Aberdeen (perhaps on the way to St. Andrews) & try something completely different at Stonehaven Golf Club. While it may not be a “championship course,” it is an undiscovered gem. Situated on (and playing across) magnificent cliffs on the North Sea, this par 66 layout plays only 5,100 yards from the tips. Fairways overlap & criss-cross. A train runs not just near, but through the golf course. Stonehaven exudes mirth even as it wows with the best views found in Scotland. Too many visitors overlook this treasure – don’t be one of them.
Occupying pristine coastal dunes in the far north, Royal Dornoch is the best-known of the Highland courses. Consistently ranked as one of the top-10 courses in the world, Royal Dornoch tests every club in the bag. But for two impossibly difficult par-3s, the front nine (when playing downwind) can be had. But we better score well before turning into the wind on the back nine. At least we have the adjacent ocean views to console us when our tee shot is knocked down (or astray) by 35 MPH headwinds. The course has no weaknesses – stern, fair & fun from start to finish. As Herbert Warren Wind wrote, “No golfer has completed his education until he has played & studied Royal Dornoch."
CASTLE STUART GOLF LINKS
Just outside of Inverness, Castle Stuart Golf Links is just 10-years-old, but has already taken its place as one of Scotland’s great courses. Similar to Kingsbarns outside St. Andrews, Castle Stuart appears timeless – woven into the surrounding landscape so skillfully that you would guess it was built a century earlier. Only its post-modern clubhouse gives it away. This is an adventurous course with a great deal of movement from its raised tee boxes to its massive greens. Castle Stuart presents a wonderful mix of short and long par 4s. Any match on this course is bound to experience great swings of momentum. Like Kingsbarns, it is usually rated very highly by our golfers. Join in the fun.
For those that appreciate ocean views and perfect greens, Nairn is a perfect stop. Commanding views of the sea are found on all 18 holes. Nairn prides itself on having the fastest and truest greens of any links course in Scotland. Good putters should double their wagers. This Old Tom Morris classic is finally getting some of the recognition it deserves. Located less than 30 minutes from Inverness, Nairn is a convenient & necessary destination for any exploration of Highlands golf.
OTHER HIGHLAND GEMS
Longer trips to the Highlands should include classics like Brora (located close to Dornoch, this beautiful coastal links employs electrified fences to keep sheep off of its superb greens), Fortrose & Rosemarkie (located on a narrow peninsula jutting into the impossibly scenic Firth of Moray), and Tain (on the road to or from Dornoch where sea and mountain combine for a remarkable golf setting). Relocate these courses anywhere and they are featured draws rather than complementary courses to the big-3 in the Highlands. Extend your Highlands stay and see for yourself.