If you have never experienced the thrill of playing golf in Scotland, you have been missing out on one of the greatest pleasures the Royal and Ancient Game holds for any golfer. There's nothing quite as exciting as pitting your skills against Mother Nature and the elements on a Scottish seaside links course, where the wind, sand dunes, unforgiving rough, bottomless pot-bunkers, meandering burns and rolling fairways, all act in unison, bringing the very best out of any challenger.
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Stepping onto the first tee of St. Andrews Old Course, the 600 year-old birthplace of our game, evokes the strongest emotions in the toughest of us, providing a unique experience every golfer deserves at least once in their lifetime. To play courses that have hosted the British Open is to walk on hallowed ground, following in the foot-steps of the greatest names golf has ever known and only Scotland has such a depth of the game's history and traditions.
Play Prestwick Golf Club, the oldest of all British Open venues and host to the very first playing of the event in the year 1860, with a total field of just 8 professional golfers. Prestwick would go on to host a total of 25 Open Championships before the attending crowds had become too large for it to handle and in 1927 took an honorable retirement, but Prestwick Golf Club and it's famous links course remain as active as ever, as does the warm Scottish welcome it offers every visitor.
Who can forget the awesomely gallant effort put forth by our own Tom Watson, who at last year's Open, came so close to winning his 6th Open Championship title - and all within a few weeks of his 60th birthday. It's ironic that this was the very same Turnberry course where Tom had won The Open, some 32 years earlier, beating Jack Nicklaus by a single stroke on the 72nd hole. Tom's phenomenal performance last year inspired many seniors in their 60's, 70's and even older that their lifetime dream to play some of Scotland's most revered links courses, was still within their grasp.
Golf is a game for all ages and the thrill of playing a great Scottish links, whether a fabled championship course, or a less famous, hidden gem, is the same for all of us, no matter how young, or how old we might be.
So go play any or all of Scotland's five Open venues that host golf's event of the year -- Turnberry, Royal Troon, Carnoustie, Muirfield and St. Andrews Old Course, where the 2010 Open will be held - they all have the welcome mat out for visitors. But Scotland is a land of golfing plenty and these five courses are only the very beginning of a golfing story more than 560 courses long.
There are the pair of historic old championship layouts that are no longer a part of The Open rotation -- the already mentioned and justly famous Prestwick and another, Musselburgh Old Links, where between 1874 and 1889 a total of 6 Open Championships were held. All but forgotten, this modest 9-hole links, may not seem to be worth playing at first glance, but don't believe it. Play two rounds here, one with a set of rented hickory clubs and the second with your own. Besides having a lot of fun, you will leave this historic track with a new found respect for those professional golfers of the 19th century.
The heirachy of Scotland's most prestigious courses is headed by those that are a part of The Open rotation, but not far behind are the British Open qualifying courses. This is where those who aspire to participate in the big event, but do not benefit from an exemption through prior glories, must first prove their mettle. Since 1994, British Open qualifying rounds are held around the globe, but the qualifying courses located in Scotland remain the most appealing layouts of all.
They may not have names that are instantly recognized, but to be selected by The Royal and Ancient Golf Club as a qualifying course, places these gems in a class entirely of their own. They have been chosen to test the golfing abilities of those who would compete against the world's very best players in what many consider the King of the Majors. There are a small handful of Open Qualifying layouts surrounding each of the courses that hosts The Open -- everyone of them is quite special and each is well-worth including on any golf trip to Scotland.
Included on this honors list are Kingsbarns, Scotscraig and the Torrance Course at the Fairmont St. Andrews Hotel, all used when The Open takes place at St. Andrews. When the ancient links at Muirfield hosts, North Berwick, Dunbar, Luffness New and Gullane no. 1, have the daunting task of deciding which up and coming players will participate in The Open.
Tough Carnoustie, perhaps the most demanding of all Open venues, is surrounded by excellent courses, but it's three very special links layouts -- Monifieth, Panmure and Montrose - that get to separate the boys from the men at Open time. And on Scotland's west coast, whether Turnberry or neighboring Royal Troon is the year's Open venue, they share the same qualifying courses -- Western Gailes, Glasgow Gailes, Irvine and Kilmarnock (Barassie).
Include any of these on your trip to the home of golf and you'll not be disappointed, but this is still only a small sampler of the multitude of top links courses Scotland boasts. Travel up to the northeast or the Scottish Highlands and although seaside links are not as plentiful, the caliber is nothing less than the best in the southern part of the country. Making a good thing even better is the stunningly dramatic scenery, an abundance of ancient castles and history and not to be ignored, a wealth of whisky distilleries
The British Open never gets up to these parts, much as it would like to and the reasons are quite logical. Less populated and less visited, these two regions simply don't have hotels enough, nor an adequate number of flights to accommodate the scores of thousands who attend an Open each year.
But for those who journey north from St.Andrews, there are plenty of rewards waiting, including a small bevy of top ranked links layouts around the sparkling city of Aberdeen, where prestigious Royal Aberdeen heads the list of trophy links. Neighboring Murcar is another historic links layout to test visitors and only a short 20 minute drive from the city, one of Scotland's real links jewels, Cruden Bay.
Travel a little further north through Scotland's famous whisky and castle country to the Highlands capital of Inverness and there are even more top drawer links courses to savor in the area, including the prize that is Royal Dornoch. Originally designed by Old Tom Morris, then redesigned by the great Donald Ross, this piece of golf artistry draws aficionados from around the globe. And if you need further recommendations, Tom Watson described Royal Dornoch as providing him with the most fun he has ever had on a golf course.
Surrounding the ancient burgh of Dornoch there are more magnificent links challenges but with perhaps unfamiliar names -- Brora, Tain and Golspie are three charmers, each is a treat to play and all are easily combined with Royal Dornoch. Just to the east of Inverness, the seaside town of Nairn also boasts a top drawer, championship layout, another centenarian and considered one of Scotland's truly great links layouts.
Just as you don't have to be young to enjoy Scotland's links courses, the courses don't have to be old to be good and a dazzling new links just to the south of Inverness, is proof positive. Castle Stuart Links only opened last year and already has the Scottish golfing world talking of this being the next Royal Dornoch.
There is no question that Scotland has claim to the world's most impressive collection of links courses, with no equal anywhere on this earth and for the country that gave birth to the game over six centuries ago, that's the way it should be. Every serious golfer owes it to themselves to live the wonders of Scotland's glorious links courses at least once in their life-time, regardless of how long this very special trip may have been postponed. It's never too late, but the sooner the better - you will quickly learn just one trip simply isn't enough to play all of the Scottish links calling out to be played.
There really is no time like the present to get started, so why not make 2010 your year for Scotland? For some expert assistance on making this an extra special experience, call on one of Golf International's seasoned Scottish golf travel professionals. With our own offices in Scotland and over 20 years specializing in Scottish golf, we know the ground rather well and will make certain you enjoy the trip of a lifetime. Call us toll free at 1 800 833-1389 or click here.
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