Scotland is the birthplace of golf, the holy seat to which golfers owe their thrilling sport. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews commanded over the world golf etiquette for a long time. Their royal abode is in Scotland too. To anybody who loves golf as much as we do, visiting Scotland for golf is a pilgrimage. And to help out the worthy seekers, we have listed 10 best golf courses in Scotland. The classic Scottish landscape and the golfing energy of the place are bound to enthrall you. We are name-dropping these 10 courses because we want you to have the best of the golf crusade.
St. Andrews (Old Course): The Royal Course
W Sands Road, St Andrews, Scotland
The Old Course at St Andrews is where the magic was first brewed. It is one of the oldest golf courses of the world. Legend has it that golf was first played here in the fifteen century. After a brief interlude when golf was banned by James II of Scotland for being ‘too engaging’, King James IV pooh-poohed such madness and lifted the ban. Overlooking the first tee is the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. The land belongs to the common people of St Andrews.
Situated in Fife, Scotland, this 18-hole course commands 6,721 yards and par 72. This used to be a 22-hole course. However, four holes on either end were combined to form one hole each. This set the precedent for 18-hole golf course. Old Tom Morris, a Scottish golfer, created the double greens so that incoming and outgoing players have separate holes to play. Other courses followed the lead of this golf club and led to the establishment of 18 holes in a game. The Old Course also hosts the oldest major championship, The Open Championship.
The 1st, 9th 18th and 17th holes have their own greens while the rest share large double greens. This Scotland course has 112 bunkers, the most notable being the Hell Bunker and the Road Bunker. The latter is a sand trap ahead of the green. You can play both clockwise and anticlockwise at St. Andrews subject to their rules. The Swilcan Bridge near the first and 18th holes is something of a celebrity itself. A number of victory moments have been captured near this 700-year old bridge. St. Andrews old course is usually closed on Sundays for play but open for sightseeing.
The Championship Course, Royal Dornoch: Manmade Wonder
Royal Dornoch’s Championship course is another old course, having seen golf play since the seventeenth century. This golf club commands two courses. The Championship Course, which is a links course on Dornoch Firth, and the Struie Course. Both are 18-hole courses. But Championship course, designed by Old Tom Morris, has all the challenges that you would expect from an authentic links course. The natural dunes, hillocks and ridges make their game way too exciting.
With Dornoch Firth, you enter into a trance-like indulgence of the nature. There’s no denying how beautiful the experience on this course is. For a thrill-seeking golfer, it is even better with all the difficulties the course throws at you. Inclement weather conditions will add to the challenge if you arrive on a foggy day. It spans 6,772 yards. It sets a par 70. The par has been distributed equally over the two halves. The real stunners are the plateau greens lying like convex formations of grass.
The course at Royal Dornoch continues to feature in the top golf courses lists bagging ‘6th’ in the overall rankings according to golf digest. The legacy since the late 1660s and its royal status bring the rightful sense of playing an ‘elite’ game when you are here. The holes have unique approaches. As remote as the course looks, it’s quite easy to reach, so we suggest you definitely make a stop here when in Scotland.
Muirfield: The Course For Women And Men
Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland
Muirfield is a golf course that has tried to evolve continuously with the changing trends in golf, at least geographically. Home to The Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Muirfield was selected after the club moved from course to course. The course here has also seen lengthening, the latest changes occurring in 2011, which brought the course to a total of 7,245 yards.
Muirfield, currently a par 71 course, was overhauled on the suggestion of Martin Hawtree who redesigned 15 holes. This was to make sure that it offered suitable challenges to the championships it frequently hosts. The greens have been further secured with greenside bunkers. New bunkers were also created in drive areas. The work was highly praised in that it retained the inherent nature of the course while making it more stimulating for the golfer.
The greatest scandal of Muirfield has been the denial of membership to women. This rule was recently changed in 2017. Until this, it was a men’s only club although women were allowed to play here as guests or visitors. The Neanderthal rule was put through a vote in 2016. Although well-supported, the vote fell through. After this, the organizers of The Open championship removed Muirfield as a hosting venue. As a course that has hosted this tournament 16 times, they faced a big blow. So, they put the issue to vote again and this time it got the required 2/3 majority to pass. This is a classic links course, something every avid golfer needs to experience irrespective of their gender.
Kingsbarns: Play Into Ethereal Beauty
Kingsbarns, St Andrews, Scotland
If you are visiting St. Andrews, Kingsbarns isn’t far off. The small, scenic village where it is located became a beehive of activity when the Kingsbarns Golfing Society formed here in 1793. The course laid on leased land and was returned to other purposes a number of times. But in 2000, Kingsbarns golf links came into being right from the plans of renowned course architects, Mark Parsinnen and Kyle Phillips. And now it’s here to stay. Not just that, it has rapidly found its way into the best golf courses lists.
Although man-made into a links course, this course bears all the signs of natural links like Royal Dornoch. It is so flawlessly executed that you would have trouble believing that the lay of the land has been altered by men. The biggest perk of playing here is the view. No matter where you take the shot from, you get a good glimpse of the North Sea. Given how much was invested into the course, it is meticulously maintained. Its unusual design is great fun to play. The signature holes lie at 12 and 15. The clubhouse itself is another attraction with a warm welcoming ambience.
The Kingsbarns experience does not come cheap. But it is worth every penny. The beautiful scenery is a soothing experience for any golf vacation. It has been hosting the Dunhill Links Championship along with St. Andrews for 15 years now. It is slated to host the Women’s British Open this year.
Carnoustie Golf Links: The Brutal Championship Course
Links Parade, Carnoustie, Scotland
Carnoustie Golf Links can also date back to the dynasty of oldest courses in Scotland. Old Tom Morris had a hand in designing this course too, along with Allan Robertson. This course is known to be one of the most vicious courses you could encounter in golf, especially when the weather does not support you. The Championship course is Carnoustie’s crown jewel. It is the most brutal out of The Open venues.
This course has hosted 7 Open Championships. Along with Kingsbarns and St. Andrews, it is used for the Dunhill Links Tour as well. Golfers are already dreading its use in 2018 for The Open. It has also played host to a Ladies Open and a Senior Open. The Championship course is 6,941 yards long. It expects a par of 71 for tournament play. Wind can seriously hamper your progress on this course. Narrow fairways and dangerous greens bring much-needed agitation into the game. From the par 5, the course starts testing you like a dictator at every hole. For many people their enjoyment lies in this challenge. However, for some this has spelled a total meltdown.
Carnoustie is famous for taking down the French golfer, Jean van de Velde. He almost emerged victorious in the 1999 Open Championship, only to be upset by water. Except the wet weather, the course remains in top condition. The caddies and the staff here are very helpful, in stark contrast to the course. Be prepared to scheme and trick through every moment of your gameplay against your most formidable competitor here, the course.
North Berwick West Links: A Historic Destination
Beach Road, North Berwick, Scotland
North Berwick has 400 years worth of golf heritage behind it. The course was being used for golf long before it was officially opened in 1832. This course is used by four golf clubs including the notable North Berwick golf club. Originally starting with only six holes, the course expanded in 1877 to 18 holes. Today, the course spans 6,420 yards and remains same in all other aspects.
The North Berwick golf course is situated by the Firth of Forth. This is a true links course that has hosted many Championship events. When The Open Championship is held at Muirfield, this course serves as the qualifying venue. The signature hole at the course is 15, named ‘Redan’. It is a par 3 coming up to 190 yards. It is situated on a plateau-like structure which hides the bunker between itself and the greens. You get varied experience on this course with deep bunkers, stonewalls, burns, undulation etc.. This is a perfect place to enjoy golf in a genial way, unlike Carnoustie which is harsh and for the more capable golfer.
The North Berwick Golf Club(NBGC) is the oldest golf club to use the course, going back to 1832. It was one of the first clubs to allow ladies to play. The club house is located near the 18th green. You also have the Tantallon club close by. The NBGC has been striving to level up their clubhouse facilities for modern use. It’s a place where you will truly enjoy golf, no matter what your capability is.
Royal Aberdeen Balgownie Course: Swinging Toward North Sea
Bridge of Don, Aberdeen, Scotland
Your golf education is incomplete unless you have visited the Balgownie golf course of Royal Aberdeen Golf Club. Although, also home to the Silverburn course, it’s the Balgownie course that Royal Aberdeen really flaunts. This is the subtly beautiful stretch of land, known to be the best links course. Thankfully the striking scenery serves as an enthusiastic spectator to the many challenges of the course. They test your ability of a golfer in every aspect.
The front nine holes of this course are unbeatable by any other links in the world. They cut through dunes along a plateau. No two holes have the same challenges to them. The signature hole at 8 is guarded by 9 bunkers. Greens are protected by tricky obstructions. It would require the golfer to depend on mental tactics rather than brute strength to scale this course. All greens are so naturally undulating that you find yourself in true pleasure of enjoying a links course.
The back nine holes are based on pastureland. As wayward the front nine holes are, the back nine are more severe. The 12th to 16th holes have their own hazards of different characters. You are most likely to find 18th hole to be the most difficult on the course. It restrains you to a straight drive with bunkers on either side and Out of Bounds on the left. Bernard Darwin, the celebrated golf writer was floored by the mysteries of the Balgownie course at Royal Aberdeen. If you are planning a rejuvenating golfcation, this is where you should head.
Cruden Bay Golf Course: As Natural As It Gets
The Cruden Bay golf course’s history is not quite clear. They say a golf course existed there as long back as 1791. However, the existing course came into being in 1899 as a subsidiary of the Cruden Bay Hotel. Meant to be a recreational area for the hotel, this course still retains the fun quotient that hotel customers would have enjoyed. You should check it out for the sheer reason that it provides you one of the best value for money experience.
The Championship golf course here was jointly designed by Old Tom Morris and Archie Simpson. A golf club formed around it in 1900. In 1926, the course was given its present shape by Tom Simpson and Herbert Fowler. This links course is entirely visible from the clubhouse which is situated at some height. The view is simply invigorating and gets you pumped for playing. It has all the drama of Scottish landscape next to the Aberdeen coast. The par three 4th hole is one of Simpson’s masterpieces. The 5th hole is particularly notable for the challenge it presents. You play from the height of dunes to meandering valley.
Cruden Bay is for the truly fun-loving golfer. There are more treacherous links courses like Muirfield and Carnoustie but nothing beats the fun of Cruden Bay. The staff is extremely supportive. The breathtaking view itself will boost your mood when you get here. The facilities are clean and customer-friendly. It’s only a couple of hours drive from Carnoustie.
Prestwick Golf Course: The Seat Of The Open Championship
Prestwick golf course was the first to organize The Open Championship. It was originally a 12-hole course designed by Old Tom Morris. Back in 1882, Morris got back to Prestwick. Learning from the overhaul of St Andrews, he created an 18-hole course here as well. This course is quite approachable from Glasgow and lies close to the Prestwick airport.
Prestwick course us naturally divided by the Pow River. It offers some sand dunes, the tallest being Pow hill. Blind shots add to the drama of the game. The signature hole here is the third. The fairway here ends at the ‘Cardinal’ bunker which can successfully botch up your game if you are not careful. This is place is known as the practice ground of Tommy Morris, the son of Old Tom Morris.
It held the first Open in 1860 to find a worthy successor to Allan Robertson, the best pro golfer for almost 20 years. The winner took home the red Morocco belt. Young Tom Morris won this thrice consecutively from 1868 to 1872. By rules, the belt belonged to him and the holding of Open ceased. Prestwick has hosted the Open at least 24 times, a record beaten only by St Andrews. The course features are up to date. But because of its compact structure, it’s difficult to hold championship there without injuring the spectators. Prestwick is a private members’ club. You can play as a visitor here. The clubhouse overlooks the first tee and the 18th green.
Castle Stuart Golf Links: The Mental Game
Castle Stuart is a new links course lying in the highlands. We say ‘new’ with respect to 200-300 year old courses on this best golf courses in Scotland list. It started in 2009 with Mark Parsinnen of Kingsbarn fame as its managing partner. He designed this course with Gil Hanse. In its debut year it was named as the best new golf course. The course opens up to Moray firth and water views. The spectacular views alone draw as much crowd as Kingsbarns and Nairn to this new course. In its short life, it has already hosted Scottish Open four times.
A lot of manual work went into creating wavy geological formations or ‘rumples’ which make this golf link as tempestuous as the neighboring Scottish scenery. Mark and Gil worked outside the box of conventional thought to create different textures on the course. But they did not entirely raze down the Highland features. Rather they integrated them with the course.
In spite of the substantial human labor that went into creating the Castle Stuart Golf links, one finds it’s wonderfully natural. The sand bunkers, the fairways, the layouts have been so skillfully carved, that you would be astonished at how different the land looked before it was made into a golf course. The course forces you to think rather than swing-and-hope. It’s simultaneously easy and difficult in the fact that you can always find an easy approach to the holes, provided you strategize well.
Scotland is the place where you can play golf in its most original form. Replete with links courses, this country couples it with hauntingly beautiful landscapes. For an avid golfer, the journey is also an emotional one. Playing at courses personally tended by Old Tom Morris, playing at the home turf of King James IV, playing with the royal and the honorable, it’s a deeply moving thing. You will never feel so connected with the game as you will do at these places where golf has been played for more than 300-400 years. It’s a journey one must make, if not as part of The Open Championship.