SCOTLAND - IN SEARCH OF GOLF’S HOLY GRAIL
by David Brice
There is hardly a golfer who doesn’t dream of someday taking a pilgrimage to Scotland, the place that gave birth to the game more than 600 years ago. This would not be an ordinary pilgrimage — a trip to simply look, see and dutifully pay one’s respects — but a journey to actually experience the courses that have written golf’s history.
In the world of sports, golf encourages an active involvement of its devotees like no other. Only in golf can the player of even modest skills walk in the footsteps of the greatest names the game has ever known, playing the very same arenas that have challenged the best — Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Bobby Jones, and every other golf legend, past and present. The opportunity to play the very same world-renowned golf courses that have hosted the British Open, the Ryder Cup and other famous tournaments is a compelling attraction, exclusive to golf and available to every golfer.
Nowhere are these fabled golf courses to be found in such profusion as in Scotland, the undisputed Temple of golf. The High Altar of this temple is the ancient town of St. Andrews and its revered Old Course, where it all began in the 14th century.
Scotland is blessed with over 550 golf courses, and almost half of them are seaside links layouts, created by Mother Nature over the centuries. Plentiful in the British Isles, especially along Scotland’s coast, but rare in other parts of the globe, these links courses include both famous names and hidden gems. They hold a special attraction to golfers from around the world; in fact, most golfers will limit their trip to links layouts.
Planning a first-time golf trip to Scotland can be a confusing proposition, with many possibilities to choose from. Chances are, you will quickly discover that one trip simply cannot include all of the courses that call out to be played; and you will soon decide that this is likely to be the first pilgrimage of several. Best to seek the assistance of a reputable, professional golf travel company and use their expertise to help get the most out of any golf trip. At no time is this more important than on your first-time experience.
There are a number of do’s and don’ts that will help even the most seasoned golf traveler:
Book early. Scotland receives more golf visitors from more locales than any other country in the world, and they are usually intent on playing the most famous of courses. Experienced golf travelers know that demand for the best-known courses far exceeds the number of available visitor times, and it’s the early bird that has the better chance of being successful. Booking a year or even 18 months ahead of your planned arrival is not too early.
Plan your itinerary around the “clusters.” Valuable vacation time can be easily wasted driving from one side of the country to the other, checking into and out of countless hotels, all in pursuit of playing your wish-list of courses. Careful planning can avoid much of this. Scotland may appear small on the map, but driving times are often far longer than the inexperienced traveler may anticipate — driving that may not be necessary.
Most of Scotland’s premier links courses — including all of the famous names, and others often equally as good but less known — are concentrated in just five conveniently compact clusters:
The Southwest cluster extends a mere 40 miles along the Ayrshire coastline, from Turnberry in the south, to just beyond the resort town of Troon. The almost 20 courses in this cluster include three British Open venues — Turnberry, Royal Troon and Prestwick — together with a further 15 courses, all well worth playing.
The St. Andrews cluster is no larger, with 20 excellent layouts all sitting within a 30-minute or so drive of golf’s headquarters. The seven courses operated by the town of St. Andrews include the fabled Old Course and the very impressive, new Castle Course. Only ten minutes from town is Kingsbarns, and 40 minutes in the opposite direction is the notoriously tough Carnoustie Links, another British Open venue.
The Edinburgh cluster sits a brief half-hour drive from the heart of one of Europe’s most charming capital cities. Led by Muirfield, a 15-time British Open host, the others may not be as well-known, but they include some of Scotland’s best links such as historic North Berwick, the three outstanding links at Gullane, and Musselburgh Old Links, which hosted six British Opens in the late 1800s.
The Aberdeen cluster includes some of the most underrated links courses in the world, all located within a 20-mile radius of the city: Royal Aberdeen, a past host to the Senior British Open; Cruden Bay, an outstanding hidden gem; and Murcar, another very demanding links test.
The Highlands cluster is headed by stunning Royal Dornoch, ranked among the world’s top ten courses, with nearby Nairn following in hot pursuit. But don’t ignore the lesser-known jewels that make their home amid these dramatic surroundings. Brora, Tain, and Old Moray are among the many that all offer an unforgettable links experience.
Stay at least three nights at a well-located hotel in each selected cluster and you will have more than enough top-drawer golf to choose from, including those big-name courses. Careful planning will not only give you the time to play more golf, it will also provide the opportunity to discover the many other sides of this fascinating corner of Britain.
Don’t focus on only the famous courses. Including two or three of the very challenging, top-ranked championship links courses will be more than enough for most golfers. More than this can turn a golf vacation into hard work. Remember, you are playing some of the most demanding courses in existence, so include a few of the lesser-known gems among the big names and you will experience another side of Scottish golf — plus you’ll get to meet the Scots.
Golf isn’t everything. Golf is only the beginning of the glories that Scotland has to offer. Few other countries have as rich and colorful a past, reaching back to the beginnings of time, and much of this is close to the courses you will be playing.
Discover the history of Edinburgh, the Paris of the north and one of Europe’s most appealing capitals. Glasgow has evolved from an industrial town into a chic, sleek, contemporary city, filled with outstanding Art Deco and Victorian architecture. St. Andrews, home to the third-oldest university in Britain, was once Scotland’s ecclesiastical capital and has a blood-and-guts history dating from medieval times.
Scotland has historic castles in pro-fusion with outstanding examples in Edinburgh, the ancient capital of Stirling, in and around St. Andrews, near Carnoustie, close to Aberdeen, and throughout the Highlands.
Wherever you find a Scottish golf course, there will be a whisky distillery or two nearby. Guests are encouraged to visit, providing they test the goods. And everywhere, Scotland has the most dramatic scenery to be found in the entire British Isles.
Scotland is the world headquarters of golf, but don’t miss out on the rich history, unparalleled scenery, and unique culture. Once you discover as much of everything as time allows, you will want to return — again and again.
FOR MORE INFORMATION call Golf International, Inc. at 800-833-1389 (toll-free), and receive a copy of the award-winning brochure, the Complete Golfing Vacation Guide. For a more complete list of their offerings, visit www.golfinternational.com.
SCOTTISH GOLF MYTHS DISPELLED
1. Myth — If a Scottish golf course has never hosted the British Open, it is not one of the top-tier courses.
Truth — There are many courses that have not hosted the British Open, yet are considered every bit as good or even better than some of those that have. Not every course wants to host the Open, and not every course has the infrastructure to handle the massive crowds.
2. Myth — Women golfers are not allowed to play some Scottish Courses.
Truth — Women golfers are not only allowed to play all Scottish courses, they are encouraged and warmly welcomed.
3. Myth — St. Andrews’ Old Course belongs to an exclusive, private club.
Truth — St. Andrews’ Old Course is a public course, owned and operated by a trust on behalf of and for the benefit of the town of St. Andrews.
4. Myth — Visitors can only get a starting time on St. Andrews’ Old Course through a daily ballot.
Truth — Although 50 percent of visitors get to play The Old Course through the daily ballot, there are guaranteed times available to visitors through several other sources. Check with your golf travel expert.
5. Myth — Scotland has a miserable, wet and cold climate that only allows golf during the summer months.
Truth — Scotland has a temperate climate, which allows most courses to remain open and playable year round. Only in the far north of the country are weather extremes experienced during winter. Even St. Andrews’ Old Course was only closed for rain in 2007 for a total of 5 days out of 365.
6. Myth — Private Scottish golf clubs that accept visitors do so on each day of the week.
Truth — Most Scottish golf clubs are private and all but one accept visitors; however, visitor times are usually restricted to certain days of the week, and in some cases, specific times of those visitor days. Every club has its own visitor rules.