Monday, 28 January 2013

Have clubs, will Scotland

As will be apparent to my regular readers, one of the secondary objectives of this blog is to draw attention to the lesser known golf courses in Scotland and more generally to promote visits to such hidden gems.  Golfers the world over have heard about The Old Course, Carnoustie, Turnberry, Muirfield, Royal Troon, Gleneagles etc and many will, rightly, have ambitions to play such famous courses.  Inevitably, green fees at these courses are not cheap.  For example, the Summer 2013 green fees for The Old Course will set you back £155 for a round and at Muirfield you'll be forking out a cool £195.  You could even spend £300 for a round at Skibo Castle (well worth it, by the way), so a trip to Scotland focusing solely on the "trophy" courses could make a very serious dent in your bank balance.
However, as I've seen on my travels around Scottish golf courses, there's far more to golf in Scotland than just these world famous courses.  I suppose it's inevitable that some golfers will wish to play these courses, irrespective of the costs, but you won't understand what golf in Scotland is really about by playing only our prestige courses.  Scotland is a pretty small place and it's actually quite difficult to visit one of the prestige courses without passing other courses that could offer a great golfing experience at a fraction of the cost (and be more playable for medium and higher handicappers).  OK, so it's fun to get home after a Scottish golfing trip and share 19th Hole tales about how you almost broke 100 at Muirfield (off the Yellow Tees).  But how much better might it be to boast about how you broke 90 on one of the many wonderful courses almost next door to Muirfield that you discovered and enjoyed playing for a fraction of the Muirfield green fee?

By all means play one or more of our famous "trophy" courses, but have a look at what's available nearby.  For example, let's say you've based yourself in North Berwick, where I live, a 5 minute drive from Muirfield.  You'll find another 30 or so courses within an hour's drive, including a number of courses that are used for Open Championship Final Qualifying and offer outstanding value for money as well as an entertaining round of golf.  Alternatively, take the day off and explore Edinburgh, only 25 miles up the road by road or 30 minutes by train to the city centre.  From my job as a caddie in East Lothian, I remember being asked for advice on whether there was a good course on the way to Edinburgh Airport as my player wanted to squeeze in another quick round before flying home the next day. I was able to help easily enough, but in reality it could have taken him around a week to get to the airport!
There are any number of tour operators that will put a Scottish golf package together for you and that's fine by me if that's how you want to organise your Scottish golf trip.  However, you won't experience Scotland by looking out of tourist bus windows and playing only our world famous courses.  For me, one of the greatest joys in playing golf in Scotland is experiencing the diversity of courses that are available across the home of golf, from the great links to the humblest of rough courses laid out for pennies and still maintained by the voluntary efforts of dedicated club members. Equally, it's great to meet local golfers on my travels and learn from them some of the history of their own courses and how best to play particular holes.  As a typically tight-fisted Scot, I appreciate that a really cheap way of playing local courses is to enter open competitions.  All you need is a recognised handicap certificate, the knowledge of where and when these competitions are being held and the foresight to enter in advance.  The best free information source is, the website of the Scottish Golf Union, the body that administers the amateur game in Scotland.  You'll see a tag for Open Competitions on the Home page of this website, with listings for such competitions.  OK, so you put your handicap on the line, but you'll be playing with local members at a fraction of the normal green fees.  Indeed, most Open Competitions have entry fees well under £20 and the prize money can be worthwhile if you play well enough.
It might sound daunting to some, but travelling independently around Scotland following your own itinerary is really easy and will take you nearer to the real Scotland and its people and above all, the full diversity of our golf courses.  One of the "joys" of my challenge to play every course in Scotland is the internet and other research required to identify all of the courses in the first place (and please take my word for it, there is no fully comprehensive commercially available list, despite what various websites and reference books may claim).  Accordingly, I spend quite a time searching around on the internet, finding new courses to play, places to stay and eat, etc for my travels.  Anyone doing their own planning for a Scottish golf trip will of course need to do the same.  I don't get paid for product endorsements on this blog, but if any of my readers is thinking about planning their own golf trip to Scotland, I strongly suggest they start by going to, one of the best websites sites for independent golf travellers that I've come across.  Navigation through this site couldn't be easier and there's a huge amount of unbiased and completely reliable information that should give you the confidence to do your own planning.   Even if you don't have any immediate ambitions to come here to explore the diversity of our courses, is an entertaining site to visit, full of unexpected details and some straight-talking course reviews. 
I'm often asked what my favourite Scottish golf courses are.  A simple enough question, but I always struggle to provide a reasonably short answer.  It's always tempting to go for the usual suspects such Kingsbarns, Castle Stuart, Turnberry, Loch Lomond, The Old Course, Royal Dornoch and Muirfield, but I suspect that doing so just reinforces peoples' views about golf in Scotland, where the best courses are the ones that everyone has heard of.  A more comprehensive reflection on my favourite courses would also probably include a mixture of lesser known (certainly outside Scotland) courses such as Rosemount, The Renaissance, Glasgow Gailes, Royal Aberdeen and Skibo Castle and some pretty obscure places, such as Boat of Garten, Stroma, Scarista, Durness, Stromness and Gatehouse of Fleet, before droning on about the wonders of my own course, The Glen GC in North Berwick.  Such lists are of course highly subjective, but are great fun to discuss over a beer or three in the warmth of the 19th.  If you ever visit Scotland for a golfing holiday, try asking a local golfer about his/her own favourites, and why, and be prepared for a long night!  Some of the courses mentioned above you might recognise.  Others you will come across on a golfing journey through Scotland you might even struggle to pronounce properly or even remember, but I'd be amazed if the personal memories that give rise to such preferences don't get your golfing juices flowing, big time. 

Now if only it would stop raining/snowing and being thoroughly miserable outside, maybe I'd get back to my travels around the remaining 89 courses on my own list of Scottish courses. Through internet research I recently found a 6 hole course on Fair Isle, a small dot on the map midway between the Orkney and Shetland islands must surely be the remotest course in Scotland, but I'll leave that trip for the coming summer, when at least the rain will be warmer!



  1. Hi Alan,

    Huge respect for what you're doing. I have trouble moving my way around all the golf courses in one English country, let alone an entire country famous for its golf. I've been meaning to snatch myself a golf break in Scotland; what would be your recommendation if you could only visit one? (Besides Carnoustie.)

    1. Hi Charles. It's a challenge to recommend only one, but here goes. Kingsbarns! Stay overnight in St Andrews, possibly at the Dunvegan Hotel, all of 112 yards from the Old Course.

      Kingsbarns is rated No 1 in Europe in “The 50 Greatest Courses Created in the Last 50 Years”
      Golf Magazine September 2009

      11th in the World in “The 50 Greatest Courses Created in the Last 50 Years”
      Golf Magazine September 2009

      12th in "Top 50 Links in Great Britain and Ireland"

      Golf Digest July 2011

      17th in “100 Best Golf Courses Outside the United States”
      Golf Digest 2007-2008

      5th in “World Top 100 Course You Must Play”
      Golf World 2005

      Top 100 Courses in the World - currently 54th
      Golf Magazine 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011

      Best New International Course
      Golf Digest 2000

      Ranked No.1, “Great Britain and Ireland Modern Courses (1960 and later)”
      Golfweek Magazine 2010, 2011

      If time permits just explore the town and walk the Old Course soak up the atmosphere and enjoy!

  2. Charles - I'd normally have mentioned some of the lesser known courses as they can offer better value for money than the bigger courses, but since you'd asked for a single course, I've suggested Kingsbarns. If you did have time for other courses relatively nearby, Elie, Scotscraig and Ladybank would be great fun without breaking the bank.

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