When you think of golf in Scotland the first course that comes to mind is, of course, the Old Course at St. Andrews,
closely followed by Turnberry’s Ailsa, Carnoustie, Royal Troon and Muirfield – all venues for the British Open. If
you are a student of the game you might think also of Gleneagles, Prestwick and Royal Dornoch. And those are
typically the courses that most visitors play on their initial pilgrimage to Scotland.
Scotland’s relative small size (about the size of South Carolina) and good road system is a double-edged sword. It is
not difficult to traverse the country playing Turnberry, St. Andrews, Muirfield and Royal Dornoch in a single 7 or 8-
day itinerary, but it is so much more enjoyable and less tiring to pick a region and really discover the depth of
Scottish golf and meet the people who embrace the game.
Scotland is referred to as ‘The Home of Golf,’ not only because of the history of the game having been played
there for over 600 years, but also because in this small country there are approximately 550 courses, many among
the best in the world. And the inland courses are just as challenging and scenic as their more famous linksland
For golf itineraries Scotland may easily be divided into four main regions – Southwest and Dumfries &
Galloway, the Highlands & Grampian, Central & Fife and East Lothian & The Borders. All of these areas boast great championship courses, hidden gems and a variety of accommodation choices to suit every lifestyle and budget.
No, you do not have to play the Old Course in order to experience Scottish golf at its finest, and I would go so far
as to suggest that you’ll appreciate the experience all the more if you play it late in your schedule or on a second trip
so as to learn to execute the shots that make links golf unique. Getting on the Old Course is more difficult than
playing it many days. There are several ways to secure an advance tee time; one is through a tour operator. There is
no play on this hallowed ground on Sundays by act of Parliament. But you will not have any problem finding other
places to play while you wait. Within town are the other St. Andrews Links Trust courses -New (1895), Jubilee &
Eden; above town is the Duke’s Course, and just outside of town are the Devlin and Torrance Courses at St.
Andrews Bay Resort and Kingsbarns Golf Links. Slightly further afield in Central & Fife, but within an hour’s
drive, are Carnoustie, Gleneagles (Kings, Queens & PGA Centenary), Crail (Balcomie & Craighead), Scotscraig, Ladybank, Elie, Leven, Lundin Links, Panmure, Blairgowrie (Rosemont & Lansdowne), and Downfield, among others. In fact, you could play 36 holes a day for several weeks from a St. Andrews base. And the medieval town itself – ‘The Old Grey Toon’ – deserves more than a passing glance. In town base out of the Old Course Hotel or St. Andrews Golf Hotel or just up the road at St. Andrews Bay Golf Resort with two on site courses and a practice facility.
The Highlands is the heart and soul of Scottish culture – clans, tartans, highland games, kilts, and whisky. In fact
sampling the many single malts at historic distilleries is as varied and pleasurable as playing the variety of courses.
Traveling up from Fife through the Grampians to the Highlands you encounter magical courses such as Royal
Aberdeen, Murcar, Peterhead and the marvelous Cruden Bay – a true roller coast ride of a layout. The highlands
themselves are home to some of the world’s most spectacular scenery which makes a perfect backdrop for storied
courses such as Royal Dornoch, The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle, Brora, Golspie, Boat of Garten, Lossiemouth,
Tain, Nairn, Nairn Dunbar, Fortrose & Rosemarkie, and Wick. You may base out of any number of small intimate
hotels in the region. In Grampian – The Marcliffe at Pitfodels in Aberdeen. In Nairn – The Golf View, Newton
Hotel, Culloden House, Windsor Hotel or Claymore House. In Inverness – The Glenmoriston. In the Highlands –
Morangie House, Royal Golf Hotel, Skibo Castle, and The Links Hotel or Marine in Brora.
South of Edinburgh is the cradle of Scottish golf – the East Lothian region. The game of golf is attributed to the
St. Andrews area, but the men of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (Muirfield) and others did much to
grow the game. Don’t despair if you can not secure a tee time at Muirfield (staying at Greywalls is one way on to the
very private course), there are plenty of courses in East Lothian and the borders as challenging and fun to play – the
classics – North Berwick, The Glen (East Berwick), Dunbar, Gullane #1, #2 & #3, Kilspindie, Luftness New (1894), Longniddy Musselburgh Old, Braidhills, and the newer courses – Craigelaw, Whitekirk, Cardrona, and The
Roxburghe. Base out of The Golf Hotel in Gullane, The Marine in North Berwick or The Roxburghe in The
On the other side of the country in the Southwest there is no shortage of quality championship courses either –
Turnberry’s Ailsa & Kintyre, Royal Troon & Portland, Prestwick, Kilmarnock, Belleisle, Prestwick St. Nicholas, Southerness, Machrie, Machrihanish, West Kilbride, Largs, Irvine Bogside, Glasgow Gailes, Western Gailes.
Shiskine, Southerness, Powfoot and Portpatrick. To enjoy the majority of courses that are clustered around Troon
and Ayr settle into The Westin Turnberry Resort, The Marine-Troon, or Enterkine House. Southerness, Powfoot,
Portpatrick and even Siloth-on- Solway (actually in England) are further south and Cavens Hotel makes a cozy base.
Machrie is on the island of Islay and Machrihanish is located at the tip of the Mull of Kintyre – and while they may be reached by ferry and you can drive to Machrihanish, you might consider even taking a helicopter to these remote
gems if time is at a premium– they are worth the trip.
Although almost all Scottish courses allow visitor play, they are for the most part private clubs and may have
restricted visitor times, even public play courses such as the Old Course may be difficult to schedule, therefore using
a tour operator is highly recommended. And while the roads are very good in Scotland and it is easy to drive, getting
used to driving on the left when trying to make a tee time at an unfamiliar destination is stress you do not need on a
golf vacation of a lifetime. Tour operators may also arrange for driver transportation on special golf coaches
throughout your journey. The knowledgeable and friendly drivers are also invaluable resources for restaurants, pubs
and local lore.
For more information on traveling to Scotland you can go to Visit Scotland (www.visitscotland.com). You will
surely have the golfing vacation of a lifetime.
Dove Jones of South Carolina is a long-time member of the Golf Writers Assn. of America and a frequent visitor to
Scotland doing public relations work.