10 Castles to Class Up Your Next Golf Trip, Your Highness

June 4, 2015

King for a day? Why stop there? With the crop of castles-for-hire near Britain’s best courses, you can live like royalty for the duration of a golf trip. Want to pad around in quiet luxury? Or kick up your sore feet next to a 15th century fireplace? How about a private tower — just you, your golf pals and a personal chef? You want it, you got it. “Just ask,” says Roger Masterson, director of Celtic Castles, a British company that coordinates accommodation at 90-plus properties across the U.K., Ireland and France. With some guidance from Masterson, here are 10 killer castles for golfers with royal aspirations — plus some must-play courses in their respective, um, kingdoms.

The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle in Scotland

Best for: High Rollers

The granddaddy of golf-and-castle experiences, this sprawling members-only estate in the Scottish Highlands is the former home to the world’s richest man and most generous philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. Rooms aren’t cheap (they start at about $1,500/night; you’re welcome to visit if you’re considering a membership), but the sumptuous Edwardian architecture and bespoke bathrooms ensure it’s money well spent. Suites or lodges are available, or take over the whole joint. Madonna did when she married for the second time, and she’s not even a golfer.

Nearby courses: The on-property, under-the-radar Carnegie Links is brilliant, arguably the best conditioned course in Europe. But the headliner is five minutes away: immortal Royal Dornoch. The Old Tom Morris design has hosted three Scottish Amateurs.

Dornoch Castle Hotel in Scotland

Best for: Whiskey Lovers

If Skibo is beyond your means, consider this lower-profile 15th century offering in the heart of Dornoch, just opposite a 12th century cathedral and a one-minute walk from historic Royal Dornoch’s first tee. It’s the real deal, complete with an oft-sighted ghost: Andrew McCornish, a sheep thief who was executed in the town square. (Those sightings may or may not be explained by the vast selection at the castle’s famed whiskey bar.) Rooms start at about $150/night. Or occupy the whole castle—25 bedrooms in all—from $7,500/night.

Nearby courses: In addition to Royal Dornoch, make time for Tain Golf Club, another Old Tom Morris course just over the bridge on the other side of the Dornoch Firth, near the Glenmorangie Distillery. Also pencil in Brora Golf Club, a James Braid links that dates to the 19th century, and the nearby Clynelish Distillery.

Culzean Castle in Scotland

Best for: Architecture Buffs

Culzean (pronounced Cull-Ain), on the west coast, is like something from a fairy tale. The clifftop masterpiece of Robert Adam is owned by Scotland’s National Trust but open to the public. Highlights include the Oval Staircase and Circular Saloon, as well as the six-room Eisenhower Apartment, where the president stayed four times. The property offers stunning views of the River Clyde, which widens here before heading west to the Atlantic. Rooms start at about $300. Takeovers start at about $3,000.

Nearby courses: So many classics. Start with Donald Trump’s latest acquisition, Turnberry, then head south to the fabulous collection of links around Troon and Prestwick.

Fenton Tower in Scotland

Best for: Links Golf Connoisseurs

Dating to the 16th century, Fenton was restored in 2002 by a Scotsman who hit it big on Wall Street. The vaulted ceiling at the base of tower is stunning. The bedrooms are appointed with Swedish armoires and French copper tubs. And the history is rich. Among the dignitaries who have bunked here is King James VI of Scotland, who introduced golf to England when his court moved south and he became King James I. Rooms start at about $275/night.

Nearby courses: Fenton is in the heart of East Lothian, between Gullane and North Berwick—sacred linksland. Avail yourself of Muirfield, the three courses at Gullane Golf Club, the pair at Archerfield, and the mighty Tom Doak design at The Renaissance Club, all in the town of Gullane. Or head to North Berwick for the wonderfully quirky West Links and the often-overlooked offering at The Glen.

Dalmunzie Castle Hotel in Scotland

Best for: Festive gatherings

This turreted Baronial-style castle hotel in the Scottish Highlands is all roaring fires, whiskey and wilderness. In other words: the perfect spot for a lively reunion with friends. Its private course is a nine-holer designed by Tom Simpson in the 1920s. Should the weather conspire against you, the ski slopes at Glenshee, the most extensive in the U.K., are just a mile away. Shooting and fishing are also popular. Rooms start at about $380/night. All 17 bedrooms can be booked for up to 35 people at roughly $4,200/night.

Nearby courses: The challenging Blairgowrie Golf Club and its two excellent courses (plus a par-3 course) are just down the glen. There’s also a wealth of lovely old tracks in the area, led by James Braid designs at Alyth and Forfar.

Aikwood Tower in Scotland

Best for: Bookish Types

Set in the Scottish border country, this 16th century beauty feels more 21st century inside thanks to a critically acclaimed 2011 refurbishment. It’s an intimate affair with just five double rooms, all the better to curl up with a good book. Consider Sir Walter Scott, who knew the tower well and often referenced it in his poems. Or James Hogg, who includes Aikwood as the home of a warlock in The Three Perils of Man. You can cater for yourself or request a chef. Rates for the whole tower start at about $900/night.

Nearby courses: This isn’t exactly golf country compared to Ayrshire, Fife or East Lothian. But the best of Scottish Borders courses are in the vicinity, including the Dave Thomas-designed Roxburghe Golf Club 20 miles east, on the grounds of the imposing Floors Castle, and Cardrona, another Thomas course 20 miles west.

Bovey Castle in England

Best for: Families

This elegant 19th century neo-Elizabethan masterpiece is in the middle of England’s loveliest national park, Dartmoor. With so many activities on offer—gliding, horseback riding, hot-air ballooning, a Dovey Rangers kids club — it’s a great option for families. And, yes, golfers, too: Bovey has its own course, an early 20th century layout by J.F. Abercromby that is one of England’s finest inland courses. Rooms start from $270.

Nearby courses: Bovey is conveniently situated near the highly rated links of the Somerset, Devon and Cornwall seaside: Burnham & Berrow, Saunton, Royal North Devon, Trevose and St. Enodoc.

Amberley Castle in England

Best for: Lovebirds

Nearly a millennium old, Amberley is a historic fortress enclosed within an imposing 60-foot-high curtain wall. Poster beds and ceiling beams create a romantic feel, and there’s no course on the premises to tempt you away from your lover (though there is an 18-hole putting green!) You’re surrounded by beautiful English countryside but just an hour from the bright lights and serious shopping of London. Rooms start at about $300/night.

Nearby courses: Amberley is just a 10-minute drive from the heathland glories of West Sussex and Goodwood. These are courses British golf aficionados are familiar with but which are less well known beyond those shores. Their fame should be increased! Sussex is a county with fabulous golf courses across its rolling chalky hills and its sandy heathland soils and Amberley is the perfect place from which to explore them.

Belle Isle Castle in Northern Ireland

Best for: Foodies

As the name suggests, Belle Isle is set on its own gorgeous island in the middle of Lough Erne, in County Fermanagh. Built in the 17th century, it has eight bedrooms, a banqueting hall and a minstrel gallery, plus a cooking school run by head chef Joe Kelly, an Irish-American who trained in Miami and San Francisco. Concoct your own dishes (fresh fish, Indian, Italian, you name it), or sit back and let Kelly spoil you. You can have Belle Isle to yourself from about $1,200/night. Cooking classes not included.

Nearby courses: Start with the stellar Nick Faldo-designed course at Lough Erne Resort. The castle’s private boat will whisk you across the waves to the course, which will host the Irish Open in 2017.

Dromoland Castle in Ireland

Best for: A short commute from the U.S.

Just eight miles from Shannon Airport, Dromoland is one of Ireland’s finest castles and finest hotels. With a tailwind, you could have your feet up by the fire about five hours after leaving JFK. The present building is 19th century. But a castle has stood on this site for almost 600 years. Enjoy falconry, clay shooting, archery and, of course, golf. Dromoland has its own track, recently updated by Ron Kirby and, just before his death, Irish golf legend Joe Carr. Rooms start at about $225/night.

Nearby courses: Head off property for A-listers like Lahinch and Trump Doonbeg, which are just a short drive down the coast. Or cross the county border from Clare into Kerry to sample Ballybunion and Tralee.

Craig Morrison co-wrote 18 Greatest Scottish Golf Holes and 18 Greatest Irish Golf Holes.

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