Scotland is blessed with many great golf courses, so when MyGolfSpy asked Golfbreaks.com to single out ten as “must play”, it wasn’t exactly an easy task. Where do you start?
To make sense of it all we stepped back and reflected. Which courses in Scotland give you a sensational golfing experience, like no other courses in the world possibly could, when taking into account the design, surroundings, ambiance and history? Here is what we came up with… the 10 “must play” golf courses in Scotland!
1. The Old Course at St. Andrews
Avoiding Hell Bunker, playing the Road Hole, and crossing the timeless Swilcan Bridge is an opportunity to quite literally walk in the footsteps of legends.
The old course has befuddled golfers for more than 500 years. There is nothing else quite like it, and unlike many other championship venues, the course is playable for most golfers; it gives everyone a realistic chance of making a birdie, or maybe even battling out a par on the 17th to share with the folks back home. Once you’ve completed that unbeatable walk up the final hole, there is always the opportunity to toast your round in the Jigger Inn or Dunvegan Hotel, both popular establishments of visitors far and wide.
There truly is nothing else quite like playing golf in St. Andrews.
2. Championship Course at Royal Dornoch
Home to Donald Ross – who designed the likes of Pinehurst – Dornoch had been a largely overlooked masterpiece for many years, but a resurgence in popularity has visitors flocking here to experience a course that had become a mythical fable. What’s nice about the place is that it just about lives up to the hype. It is visually spectacular and striking, creatively bunkered, and in the same manner as St. Andrews, there is nothing about the course that feels manufactured. There is a rawness to the holes, which makes for an exhilarating experience.
3. Championship Course at Carnoustie
Just across the water from the Old Course, this classic Angus links has attained a reputation as being one of the most difficult in championship golf. It is fair to say that on a cold and windy day, this intelligent layout has the potential to psychologically damage golfers who dare to take it on, but isn’t that the same as any other round for most regular players? Embrace the challenge. With significant Open Championship history behind it – most notably Ben Hogan’s famous 1953 triumph and Jean van de Velde’s nuclear meltdown – and one of the finest closing stretches in golf, the course is unquestionably a must-play for anyone visiting Scotland.
4. West Links at North Berwick
This is one of the most thrillingly quirky and purely enjoyable layouts in all of Scotland. With sea views in the manner of Turnberry, a location on the edge of a town similar to St. Andrews, and an emphasis on hospitality, North Berwick is in many ways an encapsulation of what the Scottish game has to offer. Famous for the original ‘Redan’ par three and the unique 13th that features a green obscured by a small stone wall, the West Links is packed full of surprises and charm, with enough snippets of joy that will stick with you like a memorable scene from a movie.
5. Championship Course at Machrihanish
The Championship Course at Machrihanish is the definitive golfing equivalent of an action thriller, with potential danger and excitement being a constant feature. None more evident than on the opening tee shot, which is played across the beach and the fringes of the Atlantic Ocean. With its undulating fairways, Machrihanish is rugged and natural in its layout, while the remote location only enhances the experience of playing there.
6. Old Course at Prestwick
Which course hosted the first Open Championship in 1860?
There’s a fair chance that you will answer with St. Andrews. Understandable, but wrong. The Old Course at Prestwick is the real home of the game’s oldest major, hosting the event 24 times from the inaugural date to 1925. So, there is some real history to be digested on the grounds and clubhouse of this famous antiquated links.
It is also tremendously fun to play, featuring some of the best golf holes in Britain. The opening hole plays alongside the railway line – don’t slice it – and is just the first of many intriguing facets of a course that consistently brings natural undulations, deep bunkers, and occasional blind shots. And the challenge of playing the third – one of golf’s classic par fives – is sure to be a pleasant experience for better players.
7. Kingsbarns Golf Links
Kingsbarns has become the most noted and arguably best of the layouts developed in the 21st century.
Visually spectacular and generous off the tee in terms of fairway width, the course is playable for every standard of golfer, but the comparatively complex and testing greens ensure that there is just enough of an examination to satisfy visitors who enjoy more of a challenge. Consistently a favourite with international players – who watch the course annually during the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour – Kingsbarns has the ability to draw you in with its stunning aesthetics and vistas, in addition to giving your clubs a good workout.
8. Ailsa Course at Turnberry
With recent changes and improvements under the ownership of the Trump Organisation (and due to re-open for play on June 1st), the Ailsa Course at Turnberry has unquestionably progressed into a position where it now uses the famously stunning setting to its fullest extent.
Before, the holes that ran alongside the rocky coastline and iconic lighthouse weren’t quite up to standard, with the scenery often masking certain deficiencies in the layout. However, that has all been changed, and the enhanced Turnberry is now deserving of its lofty reputation as one of golf’s finest. First hosting the Open Championship in 1977 – the legendary ‘Duel in the Sun’ between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus – Turnberry has a history to go with the course improvements and stunning landscape, which makes it certainly one of the must-play venues in Scotland.
9. Castle Stuart
Designed by Gil Hanse, this brilliant course opened for play in 2009 to deservedly rave reviews. It hosted the Scottish Open in 2011, 2012, 2013 and now 2016 – which saw it being showcased throughout the United States on NBC.
Golf fans in America were able to take notice of some of the course’s best holes, such as the thrilling short par four 3rd hole, and the difficult, rolling par five 18th which is surely among the finest closers in Scotland. Relatively wide off the tee, the course is playable and entertaining, but retains enough of a bite around the greens to intrigue higher quality golfers.
It has certainly found favour with many of the game’s greatest players, with the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson all clinching the famous Claret Jug on this celebrated and intelligently designed links. However, despite being open to visitors, Muirfield is a highly exclusive club and it features a number of old-fashioned dress codes and rules that may not be for everyone. While most golfers return with positive reports on the welcome that they received, let’s be clear – Muirfield is a course for serious players.
Other must-play Scottish courses to consider: Cruden Bay, Royal Troon, Nairn, Royal Aberdeen, Brora, Gleneagles – Kings, St. Andrews – New.
So there you have our picks; ten of the best courses from one of the best golfing countries in the world, if not the best. At this point, if you are not tempted to jump on a plane to the Home of Golf, then you need your pulse checked!
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