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GETAWAY GREENS

Links by the Lochs

The 10 best places to tee it up in the birthplace of golf

By Brandon Tucker

Links by the Lochs

By Brandon Tucker



Scotland offers some of the most breathtaking scenery you’ll find anywhere in the world—and much of it can be viewed from the country’s many historic golf courses. Here, GolfAdvisor.com takes you on a tour of some can’t-miss tracks for you to play during your visit. 

There’s no golf vacation quite like one to Scotland. It’s my favorite place to play in the world, and I’ve been fortunate to make the trip five times.

Before presenting my top 10, a disclaimer: I’ve played 44 courses in Scotland, but some—Western Gailes, Muirfield, Trump Aberdeen, Royal Troon, to name a few—have proven elusive; as such, these did not make the list, even though I’m sure they’d warrant great consideration. Other fine clubs, such as Open Championship hosts Prestwick and Carnoustie, Royal Aberdeen, and The Renaissance Club, are on the outside looking in.

Here is my Scotland top 10, which spans from the Mull of Kintyre up to the Highlands and, of course, St. Andrews.





Courtesy Brandon Tucker/Golf Advisor


1. OLD COURSE IN ST. ANDREWS

I’ve been fortunate enough to play the Old three times, each time in entirely different conditions and wind directions, which really brings the nuances to this most unique design to life. There’s just simply no round like the Old in the world. St. Andrews is the perfect-sized golf town. I try and spend at least a night there every time I’m over.

So while there are more visually dramatic links, with higher dunes and sea views, I still have to give the nod of Scotland’s best course to the Old.



Courtesy Brandon Tucker/Golf Advisor


2. NORTH BERWICK (WEST LINKS)

The West Links at North Berwick might have the most unusual, scenic, and exciting collection of links holes on the planet. Imagine this being your home course!

When people ask me about where to play in Scotland, I assume they’re fully aware of St. Andrews, so the first course out of my mouth is often North Berwick. 

Berwick’s routing is similar to that of St. Andrews in that it’s a true out-and-back links that begins and ends in the heart of town. The difference, however, is it’s more scenic, with more variety on the terrain and plenty more sea views. The design also has its own brand of old-world quirkiness. Shots include drives over a beach, stone walls, and blind shots as well as some really neat green complexes. 




Courtesy Brandon Tucker/Golf Advisor


3. royal dornoch

A hill of yellow gorse lights a fire to the setting of the Championship Course at Royal Dornoch Golf Club.

I’ve played Dornoch three times, and with each successive round, it’s grown on me more and more. If you’ve ever played Pinehurst No. 2, you might notice how Dornoch came to influence the design style Donald Ross would import into his many works in the U.S. Taking an afternoon stroll through this most charming little Highlands town only amplifies one of the world’s greatest golf experiences.

4. Kingbarns golf links

Yes, you’re headed to Scotland for a history lesson, but Kingsbarns, opened in 2000, earns its keep and then some in the neighborhood of St. Andrews. More manmade than your average Scottish links, yes, but the finished product is a surreal, tiered amphitheater setting overlooking the sea.

5. Cruden bay

Historians of the game in search of a great throwback links, full of Old Tom Morris quirks (such as four sunken, blind greens in a row), must play Cruden Bay.

Tour operators often tell me it’s the highest-rated links by their clients following their trips. I won’t go that far, but it’s absolutely worth inclusion for any group that wants to see the wild side of old Scottish golf.

6. machrihanish (old)

The long, winding road down to the Mull of Kintyre reveals one of the greatest opening holes of golf, at Machrihanish Golf Club.

I was the only one on the golf course the chilly April morning I played Machrihanish. Hail pounded down as I teed off on “Battery” and nutted one down the middle. It was too wet to use my camera, and with rain gloves on, I wrote down nary a score. But, still, I recall this loop in solitude, with Paul McCartney's “Mull of Kintyre” as my swing thought, most fondly.




Courtesy Brandon Tucker/Golf Advisor


7. Castle Stuart 

An absolute hoot to play, Castle Stuart, the second Scotland creation by developer Mark Parsinen after Kingsbarns, is a must on any Highlands tour. Few fairways in Scotland are more forgiving, and there may not be a more scenic course in Scotland, either.

The layout has the unique distinction of featuring holes both high above the sea—affording fabulous views from greens with infinity backdrops—and on low ground right along the sea (plus others with a castle backdrop). The tremendous hole variety and changing of landscape makes the round go by too quickly. You’ll adore every hole.

8. Alisa at turnberry

I haven’t played Turnberry since the Trump renovations. By all indications, it’s even better now. 

The two times I’ve played it, I found it to be a delightful walk that can play as a fair resort course or a stern Open Championship venue. Because it was plowed over to serve as an airstrip during World War II, the rebuild took some old-world quirks out of the routing, making it one of Scotland’s fairest championship links. In a kind of twisted way, that kind of knocks it down a peg or two for me.

9. King's course at gleneagles

Links courses are only half the tale of golf in Scotland. Exhibit 1A as to why every itinerary should include at least one heathland course is the King’s at Gleneagles.

This is a hands-on lesson in the imagination of James Braid, who throws massive bunkers, elevated greens, risk-reward holes that stand the test of time, and much more at the golfer. In addition, the surrounding hillside views are magnificent, and the on-site, five-star hotel rivals Turnberry and the Old Course Hotel as the most luxurious digs in Scotland. Also, be sure to hit the breakfast buffet.

10. Gullane No. 1

In a crowded golf scene, don’t forget East Lothian’s Gullane No. 1 next to Muirfield, a stellar, championship-worthy links with some real unique qualities to it, such as a volcanic hill and some exhilarating elevated tees. Pro tip: Inquire about a post-round tour of Archie Baird’s Heritage of Golf Museum.








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