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Expert Advice

Choosing which Scottish courses to play is never easy

PGA Tour website article The following article was originally written for PGATour.com by David Brice, President of Golf International. The articles represent trips available to Golf International customers.

Planning a golf tip back to Scotland, the country that gave birth to the game more than 6 centuries ago, deserves all of the time you can spare on research and attending to the many details that will make your experience a rousing success. After all, this will be an important event and how many times are you likely to be taking a trip to the Home of Golf anyway? Better make absolutely sure you get the very most out of it. No matter whether this is to be your first trip Across the Pond, or your twenty first, there will be important decisions to be made and the most important of all is selecting the courses you will be playing.

Confronted by more than 600 Scottish courses to choose from, picking out the half dozen or so layouts that most will play over a typical one week stay becomes the real challenge. And the possibility exists that you may not even be aware of all of the courses you should be choosing from.

Undoubtedly St. Andrews is already on your list, along with some of the top courses that lie in and around this historic old town, including St. Andrews Old Course, British Open host, Carnoustie and the spectacular links at Kingsbarns. You have probably already thought of Southwest Scotland where a trio of British Open venues make their homes. Turnberry and Royal Troon are on the current rota with Royal Troon scheduled to host this year’s event taking place from July 14th to July 17th. But don’t overlook Prestwick Old Course where the first dozen British Open Championships were held, then a dozen more, before this grand old timer was retired from Open duty in 1925.

Retirement came about not due to any shortcomings in the course, but because Prestwick’s visitor facilities could no longer accommodate the ever-growing crowds that were attending golf’s event of the year. Prestwick still thrives today as it has since 1851, offering visitors the warmest of Scottish welcomes and as challenging a round of golf as you will ever experience.

Have you added the Scottish Highlands to your consideration list? This is where you will find Royal Dornoch, ranked among the top 10 links courses in the world and nearby, Scotland’s no. 9 ranked course and 1999 venue for The Walker Cup, Nairn Championship Course. A far more recent addition to Highlands golf is the spectacular Castle Stuart Links, good enough to be selected by The European Tour as the venue for one of its most prestigious events, The Scottish Open Championship.

Another golf region well worth considering is Aberdeen, gateway to the most concentrated collection of whisky distilleries as well as many of Scotland’s impressive ancient castles and stately homes. But this is also an area rich in world-class links courses, headed by renowned, Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, which dates back to 1780, making it the world’s sixth oldest.

Royal Aberdeen’s Balgownie Links has hosted The Scottish Open and previous to that The Senior British Open, along with numerous other important tournaments, both professional and amateur This is simply one of Scotland’s great classics that belongs on every links connoisseurs must play list. But so is neighboring Murcar Golf Club and a short drive north, one of Scotland’s most sought after hidden gems, Cruden Bay, a masterpiece of golf architecture that has been confounding golfers since 1899.

An important golf region that is all too often, though inexplicably overlooked by visitors from the USA, is the tiny county of East Lothian, sitting less than a 30 minute drive from the center of the capital – this is Edinburgh’s Golf Coast.

More than 20 courses, mostly links, sit along a spectacular shoreline of little more than 20 miles. This is pure linksland that can only have been intended for golf. The courses are all conveniently close together, within a brief few minute’s drive of each other, it’s almost like a shopping mall of golf, but this mall has been here for centuries and included among its earlier customers was Mary Queen of Scots who frequently played East Lothian’s links, way back in the 16th century.

East Lothian’s star attraction is undeniably Muirfield, home to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, the oldest golf club of all and authors of the very first rules of golf, written in 1744. Muirfield first hosted The British Open in 1892 and did so for the 16th occasion in 2013, when The Open returned to its Scottish roots after a two year absence, south of the border.

But Edinburgh’s Golf Coast has more British Open history to show-off to visitors and it comes in the form of Musselburgh Old Course, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers home course before they moved to Muirfield in 1891. This is the world’s oldest playing course, officially dating from 1672, but most likely, at least 150 years earlier and the course favored by Mary Queen of Scots. Between 1874 and 1889, Musselburgh Old hosted The Open on no less than six occasions, quite an accomplishment for a modest 9-holer. Play a couple of rounds here, one with hickory clubs, which can be rented from the clubhouse and the second with your own. You’ll leave with a new-found respect for those golfers of yesteryear. East Lothian is filled with golfing pleasures to inspire even the most jaded golf traveler.

North Berwick’s historic West Links is only one among the many East Lothian courses that simply must not be missed. There is no other course in the entire country that has remained as close to the game’s origins, nor has been impersonated by so many architects from around the world – especially the 14th hole, a stunning par 4, and the 15th, as diabolical a par 3 as exists anywhere in this world. Impersonation, as they say, is the greatest form of flattery.

Immediately next door is the East Course, better known as The Glen. Unheralded and too often overlooked, this charmer of a links is filled with testy holes, spectacular views and one of the friendliest clubhouses you will ever find.

There’s a slice of golf history and another inspiring, historic links at nearby Dunbar Golf Club, where golf has been played since at least 1794. This was the campsite for Oliver Cromwell’s army at the battle of Dunbar in 1650 and two centuries later, the fabled designer, Old Tom Morris, was brought in to fine tune the town’s existing links — and what a job he did! This is one no golfer will ever forget, with masses of windblown water, frighteningly narrow fairways and a multitude of other defenses seldom encountered elsewhere. The sense of accomplishment once the 18th green is holed at Dunbar, is unlike anything you have ever experienced before.

And so the list of East Lothian’s golfing wealth goes on — from the trio of championship beauties at Gullane Golf Club to the brilliance of the cocktail of design talent brought by Harry S. Colt, Donald Ross and James Braid to Longniddry, to the misleadingly named, 118 year-old Luffness New Course, Edinburgh’s Golf Coast is a veritable banquet of the very best links courses to be found.

Not to be overlooked are the handful of more recent additions to East Lothian’s golfing feast and the noted British designer, Donald Steel, shows his talents brilliantly at the links at Craigielaw. Our own Tom Doak took on his very first Scottish design effort at the Renaissance Club and across the road, Archerfield offers a pair of 18 hole delights. Each of these is less than 20 years old, but they all maintain the impeccable golf standards on which Edinburgh’s Golf Coast has established its enviable reputation.

Spend an entire week in this charming and extremely accessible golf region and you still won’t have sufficient time to play every course that should be played. For those who insist on a change of scenery every few days, East Lothian combines beautifully with St. Andrews or the Southwest. Extend your one week golf trip by just a few more days and you could easily include a third region, perhaps Aberdeen, The Highlands or why not 2014 Ryder Cup venue, Gleneagles? Whatever you do, don’t overlook Scotland’s very special county of East Lothian, there’s a reason it’s called, Edinburgh’s Golf Coast.

For more ideas and suggestions on getting the most out of your Scotland trip, contact us by calling us at 1 (212) 986-9176 or click here and start planning your escape now.

©2016 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Photo courtesy of Nairn Golf Club