AYRSHIRE, Scotland -- Although St. Andrews shines as "The Home of Golf," the southwest coast of Scotland just might be the best links golf destination in the United Kingdom.
There are new and old links at every turn along the Firth of Clyde. Two Open Championship venues, the Old Course at Royal Troon and the Ailsa Course at Turnberry Resort, serve as the main attractions.
Views of Ailsa Craig, the Turnberry Lighthouse and a war memorial make the Ailsa golf course the most scenic major championship venue in the world (sorry, Pebble Beach). Turnberry's Kintyre Course is worth playing just as an excuse to stay at the luxuriously remodeled hotel another night.
The storied history of the Old Course at Prestwick Golf Club includes 24 Open Championships, the most of any course except the Old Course at St. Andrews. The blind shots at Prestwick add an element of surprise to any round.
Railroad tracks in Irvine separate the neighboring Western Gailes Golf Club and the Gailes Links at Glasgow Golf Club. While Western Gailes hogs all the dunes (and the views) along Irvine Bay, the Gailes Links shouldn't necessarily be overlooked. It has been named the only Scottish links that will host the final Open Championship qualifier for four consecutive years starting in 2014.
Dundonald Links, built nearby in 2003, quickly fit in with its elders because of a solid routing by architect Kyle Phillips. As convenient as all these links are to one another, it would be silly not to explore the southern tip of the Mull of Kintyre as well. It's nearly three hours by car ferry from Ardrossan to Campbeltown, but the rewards are the celebrated Machrihanish Golf Club and the wild Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club, designed in 2009 by David McLay Kidd.
The journey in and out of Machrihanish -- even during the three-hour car ride back toward the Ayrshire Coast -- is just as scenic and splendid as the destination itself.