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Scotland golf courses that will challenge your game, not your vacation budget

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor
Leven Links golf course in Fife - 16th hole
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Leven Links is just 20 minutes from the Old Course. Unlike its neighbor, you can get a tee-time easily. (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)

St. Andrews, Royal Dornoch, Carnoustie and Royal Troon. These courses are at the top of the list for golfers traveling overseas to Scotland. Getting tee-times at these storied tracks can be a mind-boggling endeavor.

The Old Course at St. Andrews is the most recognizable course worldwide and also open to the public, so you can only imagine the demand. As a result, getting a tee time isn't easy.

Once the reservations are in hand, paying for them is another matter.

Golfers willing to forego the bragging rights, photo ops and hefty fees that come with playing at Scotland's famous venues will discover that the old country has an abundance of lesser-known golf courses that are both affordable and memorable.

Just a 20-minute drive from the Old Course in the Kingdom of Fife is Leven Links. Like its neighbor, it has a rich history, claiming to be the 11th oldest golf club in the world. Unlike its neighbor, you can get a tee-time even if you call the week of your golf trip. The price is right, too, at just 24 pounds for 18-holes. Like many Scottish courses, you can also play the course all day for 10 pounds more.

The course is also challenging enough to be an Open final qualifying course in Scotland, and was last used in 2000 as such. It plays over 6,400 yards from the championship tees. The longest hole, the par-5, 567-yard sixth will put a little sweat on the brow on even the most blustery of days, what with Silverburn park running down the right-side of the hole as O.B. Tee times are welcome from guests every day but Saturday.

South Ayrshire, on the southwest side of Scotland and an hour and a half from the capital of Edinburgh, is home to several municipal courses that are worth a visit: Troon Lochgreen, Troon Darley and Troon Fullarton, which all share the same clubhouse. If you are only in town for a day however and are looking for the most challenging experience, Troon Lochgreen is the way to go.

The two other Troon courses, Darley and Fullarton, are a couple pounds cheaper. At only $19.50 on the weekdays, playing the other two courses based on price alone is only for the tightest of penny pinchers. You can purchase a daily pass for 10 pounds more at all three.

Lochgreen, which has also been used as an Open qualifying course, measures a demanding 6,822 yards and a par-74 from the tips. The layout is predominantly links-style, but several mainland holes and a stretch of inland holes dubbed the "dovecot section" offer shelter from the wind.

South Ayrshire is also home to many magnificent castles built over previous monarchies. With the extended amount of light that Scotland has to offer in the summer (10 p.m. sunsets are the norm) squeezing in a few tours as well as getting in a round is completely feasible and encouraged.

Golfers new to the trademark links-style golf of Scotland may want to start out at Kinghorn Golf Club in Fife. At just over 5,100 yards and a par 65, Kinghorn can help adapt golfers to links-style golf while staving off the frustration that has led many a duffer to chuck his clubs into the Firth of Forth. The stunning views the course has to offer are worth far more than the meager 11 pounds asked per round.

Another course on the shorter side worth a visit is Balcomie Links in Fife. The course asks 30 pounds per round, which considering some the fees at resorts in Scottsdale, Ariz. or Hilton Head, S.C. is very fair. The par-69 course measures 5,922 yards and should not be mistaken for a slouch, especially on days when the wind blows in off the Firth. Even though it is a links course nestled on the waters edge, Balcomie still has a good deal of inland elevation and the par-3 14th has a 90-foot drop from tee to green.

Golfers looking to stay near the capital of Scotland should check out Braid Hills in Edinburgh, another municipal gem in Scotland that offers some good golf at a municipal price. Golfers with eyes sore from watching their ball fly out to sea on links courses will find the rolling hills breathtaking even if their legs think otherwise of the terrain that makes up the course.

Braid Hills also offers a par-65, 5,000-yard course that is more player friendly than its par-70 sibling. Like most municipal courses, Braid Hills' facilities are somewhat basic, but driving ranges are nearby should golfers it necessary for warm up.

All these courses can be viewed as a preferred alternative to golfers who do not want to put forth the effort or shell out the cash to get on the elite golf courses in Scotland, but do not want to sacrifice good golf as a result. After all, when visiting Scotland, you want to get the Scottish golf experience and play courses that have a style and flair to them that cannot be found in the U.S. It is possible to do this, you'll find, without breaking the bank.

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Balcomie Links golf course

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

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