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Scotland golf travel: Reasons to venture beyond St. Andrews

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor
Royal Aberdeen Golf Club - hole 12
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You won't find towering dunes in St. Andrews quite like the ones on Scotland's northeast coast, including Royal Aberdeen Golf Club. (David Cannon/Getty Images)

DORNOCH, Scotland -- The story of St. Andrews is well told: It's golf's oldest known grounds, the most regular host of the Open Championship, and its cobbled streets are where Prince William and Princess Kate found true love.

It's a storybook town to be sure.

But if you venture beyond St. Andrews, the destinations may not be as well known, but they are hardly inferior. Here are some reasons why you should consider exploring outside St. Andrews for your Scotland golf vacation.

Three generations of Open Championship golf in South Ayrshire

Three Open Championship venues stretch along the South Ayrshire coast. But despite the trio's proximity to one another, each presents an entirely different experience.

Prestwick Golf Club, the original 12-hole home of the Open back in 1860, is one of golf's most raw and rugged old world plays. With famous blind shots, massive bunkers and not-so-subtle quirks, there's no course in the world quite like it.

Just north of Prestwick is the Old Course at Royal Troon Golf Club, which last hosted the Open in 2004. Royal Troon is a 19th-century club with a traditional out-and-back links that is still challenging enough to remain on the Open rota and home of such famous holes as the "Postage Stamp."

South of Royal Troon is Turnberry Resort, home to a famous luxury hotel on a hill towering over the Ailsa Course. While the Ailsa opened at the turn of the 20th century, the links were flattened during World War II. Its current form, by architect Mackenzie Ross, is post-war, and the result is a more straightforward play compared to the wilder Prestwick. Thanks to such landmarks as the lighthouse, ruins of Robert the Bruce's birthplace and an illustrious roster of high Open drama, most recently Tom Watson's cruel finish, it's undoubtedly one of Scotland's most cherished links.

Whisky and golf in the Scottish Highlands

St. Andrews may be the capital of the golf universe, but for whisky, look north to the Highlands. Scotch is the lifeline of such Highland towns as Speyside, or go off the beaten path to Orkney and visit Highland Park (the northernmost distillery in Scotland), or visit one of the scores of distillery tours in between.

The golf capital of the Highlands is the small town of Dornoch. It was the birthplace of Donald Ross, who can be credited for much of American golf's early growth. Ross grew up on the magical links of Royal Dornoch Golf Club.

From Dornoch, a handful of other pleasant 19th-century links are nearby: Tain Golf Club and Walker Cup host Nairn Golf Club. Or, you can head north and golf among sheep at remote Brora Golf Club.

Beyond these historic clubs, the Highlands experience got even better with the unveiling of Castle Stuart Golf Links, the Scottish Open host site set along the Moray Firth in Inverness.

Golf-rich East Lothian in the shadow of St. Andrews

East Lothian is stacked with great links plays, including famous Muirfield.

None of them, however, are more unique than North Berwick Golf Club's West Links.

Like the Old Course, the West Links begin and end in the heart of town with the first and 18th holes side by side. In between is a roller-coaster ride of unique holes. Golfers must take on the original "Redan" green, hit over a stone wall on the "Pit" and hit and hope on "Perfection."

Within minutes of North Berwick and Muirfield are more unique links like Gullane No. 1, and Dunbar Golf Club, plus lesser known plays adored by locals such as Kilspindie Golf Club, Luffness New Golf Club, Gullane No. 2 and Craigielaw Golf Club. You can even play old Musselburgh. a nine-hole former home of the Open Championship.

Scale the mighty dunes of Aberdeen and the northeast

St. Andrews' seaside terrain is more rippling and subtle compared to the exposed, towering dunes of the northeast coast, which is a big reason why Donald Trump sought these grounds for his golf resort.

This is the closest Scotland can come to the theater of Ireland's links, and a handful of golf courses make the argument for the country's most dramatic soil to trek.

Tour operators often report that Cruden Bay Golf Club is highest rated among all Scotland links. Closer to Aberdeen, Royal Aberdeen Golf Club and Murcar Links Golf Club play side by side along towering dunes in the shadow of ship tankers in the North Sea.

Golf near St. Andrews

The emergence of St. Andrews helped golf become the centerpiece of towns both inland and by the sea throughout the Kingdom of Fife. Today, both local clubs and luxury golf resorts thrive in the shadow of St. Andrews.

On Fife's southern shores, side by side, are the Leven Links Golf Course and Lundin Golf Club which have been rival clubs for more than a century.

Inland from St. Andrews is the Gleneagles Resort, a five-star luxury golf resort with two classic heathland courses designed by James Braid, the King's Course and the Queen's Course. There's also the PGA Centenary Course, a modern Jack Nicklaus-designed addition that will host the 2014 Ryder Cup.

Also, the 54-hole Carnoustie Golf Links is just a 45-minute drive from the Old Course if you're ready to take on Scotland's most infamous championship links.

Remote golf in Arran, Island and Kintyre

With decades of golf travelers from around the world, it's tough to call many links "hidden gems" in Scotland. But there is a collection of out-of-the-way clubs that are your best bet for a remote, authentic Scottish golf expedition void of crowds.

In Scotland's southwest, you can traverse to the Kintyre Peninsula and the town of Campbeltown and play Machrihanish Golf Club, which is home to one of Scotland's greatest opening holes ("The Battery"). Also, the new David McLay Kidd design in the Mull of Kintyre, Machrihanish Dunes, is quickly making a name for itself as one of the country's boldest links.

From here, you won't want to head back to civilization anytime soon, so keep moving on to the 12-hole Shiskine Golf and Tennis Club on the isle of Arran and The Machrie Golf Links (which after a period of closure is now under new ownership) on Islay. Each of these courses is tough to find -- and for many of those who make it here, that's exactly the point.

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North Berwick Golf Club - West LinksRoyal Dornoch Golf Club - hole 5Gleneagles Resort - King's golf courseMachrihanish Dunes golf course - hole 10
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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.

 
Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Golf beyond St Andrews

    mike wrote on: Feb 19, 2014

    Well done Brandon
    Another excellent article and very much needed.
    Although the Old Course in St Andrews is iconic, demand always outstrips supply.
    The vast majority of the travelling public will be blown away by the Likes of Cruden Bay In Aberdeen, Gullane no 1 in East Lothian and Western Gailes in Ayrshire.
    A very more economical trip and just as enjoyable

    Reply

  • Incomplete List

    D Brown wrote on: Nov 9, 2011

    With the exception of the Western Coast course we golfed a good number of the courses on your list .. Royal Aberdeen was my favorite .. unlike the Old Course which seems to have been tamed a bit for modern tournaments, Royal Aberdeen is a true Links course in every sense of the word .. narrow .. rough .. tough .. fantastic greens .. great course!! You also missed Kingsbarn which had the best design and is easily one of the best courses in Scotland.

    Reply