The 18 Best Courses in Scotland

August 19, 2011

1. St. Andrews (Old Course)

Fife, Scotland (Public)
Nowhere else in the world can you walk in the spike marks of every legendary figure to have played the game. Augusta National is rightfully hallowed, but Bobby Jones himself said that if he had to play only one course for the rest of his days he’d grow old on the Old Course.

2. Muirfield

Muirfield, Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland (Private)
Muirfield is the home of The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which dates back to 1744. The course has hosted 15 British Opens, most recently in 2002, when Ernie Els was champion. Although it’s private, tee times are available with advance planning.

3. Royal Dornoch

Dornoch, Sutherland, Scotland (Semi-Private)
Dornoch was formed in 1877 and has been a Royal club for more than 100 years. The course is not close to major population centers and has never hosted a major tournament, but it has been the site of the Northern Open, the Scottish Ladies and the Scottish Professional Championships.

4. Turnberry (Ailsa)

Turnberry, Scotland (Resort)
If Turnberry’s Ailsa course lacks the natural ripples and chaotic contours of other British Open rotation links, it’s easy to understand why: During World War II, 18-inch-thick concrete was poured over parts of the layout for use as runways.

5. Carnoustie (Championship)

Angus, Carnoustie, Scotland (Public)
The course’s primary defense — the wind — is wildly unpredictable. From one day to the next, the gales can turn, morphing an eminently playable hole into a nightmare. ‘Tis nae wind, nae golf, the Scots like to say. That’s seldom a concern at Carnoustie, where ’tis always wind.

6. Royal Troon (Old)

Troon, Scotland (Public)
Host of eight British Opens, Troon plays through brambles, gorse and broken sand hills. The most famous hole on the links is the “Postage Stamp,” so named because the 123-yard par 3’s green is so small. The front nine plays along the beach and then the course turns inland on the back nine.

7. Kingsbarns

Kingsbarns, St. Andrews, Scotland (Public)
Kingsbarns was built by American developers and an American architect about six miles from St. Andrews. Although a considerable amount of dirt was moved to create this links-style course, it looks as if it has always been there.

8. Loch Lomond

Luss by Alexandria, Dunbartonshire, Scotland (Private)
Loch Lomond is host of the Scottish Open, held a week before the Open Championship. The 7,100 yard 18-hole golf course was designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish.

9. Cruden Bay

Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire, Scotland (Semi-private)
Drenched in quirky charm, this cult classic offers one wild seaside hole after another, including the head-scratching par-4 14th with its amazing funnel-shaped green.

10. Machrihanish

Campbeltown, Argyll, Scotland (Private)
Machrihanish Golf Club is a classic links course set in the sandy dunes of western Scotland. A 6,225-yard par-70 layout, the combination of winds off the Atlantic Ocean, fescue grasses and cavernous pot bunkers make this course both beautiful and challenging.

11. North Berwick (West)

North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland (Private)
For pure quirk, the West course, an ancient Scottish configuration, may be exceeded only by Prestwick among the classic courses of the U.K., but few layouts have been more influential — or fun to play.

12. Western Gailes

Strathclyde, Ayrshire, Scotland (Public)
A well-balanced links crossed by three burns, its higher holes offering impressive views of the Firth of Clyde and the ragged peaks of Arran. Like many of Scotland’s older links, the course is wedged between the sea and a railway. Constant changes in direction invite the wind from all angles. The greens at Western Gailes, imaginatively contoured and demanding careful approach, are among the finest in Scotland.

13. Royal Aberdeen (Balgownie)

Bridge of Don, Aberdeen, Scotland (Semi-private)

14. Prestwick

Prestwick, Aryshire, Scotland (Semi-private)
The venues in the southwest of Scotland range from classic Open venues to one of the game’s most lovable dowagers, Prestwick, a priceless antique and birthplace of the Open Championship (1860). Prestwick hosted its last professional event in 1925, the same year competitors grumbled that success here depended a wee bit too heavily on the rub of the green. But for antiquarians with a sense of humor, this throwback of a links, sandwiched between the seashore and a railway line, has giddy surprises in store. Take, for example, the par-five third hole and its infamous Cardinal bunker. The fairway, incongruously, stops abruptly in front of a bunker big enough to sleep a brontosaurus. An elevated section of fairway, propped up by blackened timbers, swings sharply to the right above the sand pit. Forget your instincts. Follow your caddie’s instructions to the letter.

15. Gullane (No. 1)

Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland (Semi-private)

16. Gleneagles (Kings)

Auchterarder, Perthshire, Scotland (Resort)

17. Nairn

Nairn, Scotland (Semi-private)

18. St. Andrews (New)

Fife, Scotland (Public)