Scottish golf is far more than only links courses

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October 08, 2010
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

Scotland has long been the Mecca for traveling golfers, attracting tens of thousands of players from across the globe each year, all intent on sampling the unique qualities that only the birthplace of golf can provide.

More than six centuries have passed since Scots first conceived the original, rudimentary game and since then, it has been the Scots who developed golf into the sophisticated game we know today. With the amazing collection of almost 600 golf courses the country now boasts, only Scotland can provide the depth and breadth of golfing experiences, contained within its borders.

The Dukes Course - a brilliant challenge with views of the sea and St. Andrews.jpg
The Dukes Course - a brilliant challenge with views of the sea and St. Andrews.
Ranked among the Top 100 Courses in Britain, The Dukes is a big hitters delight.jpg
Ranked among the Top 100 Courses in Britain, The Dukes is a big hitters delight.
Downfield is one of the best inland layouts in Britain.jpg
Downfield is one of the best inland layouts in Britain.
Downfield -  where good looks combine with a serious examination of golf skills.jpg
Downfield - where good looks combine with a serious examination of golf skills.
Ladybank is a British Open Qualifier and a tough challenge for the best.jpg
Ladybank is a British Open Qualifier and a tough challenge for the best.
Ladybank offers temptations for big-hitters, but beware.jpg
Ladybank offers temptations for big-hitters, but beware.
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For most visiting golfers, the goal is to play as many of the British Open courses as they are able, filling their calendar with other links layouts that fit into the schedule. There's nothing wrong with that -- Scotland has the best links courses in the world, but if you limit yourself to only links layouts, you are experiencing just one aspect of Scottish golf.

Not only does Scotland have the best links courses, it's also blessed with many extraordinarily good inland courses and just like the links, they all have a distinctly Scottish character, bearing no resemblance to American courses at all. Include one or two of these in your itinerary and you'll quickly gain a new respect and appreciation for these often unsung heroes of Scottish golf.

Playing nothing but windblown links courses during a one week-long trip can be an exhausting undertaking for even the youngest and fittest of us. Not only will you be walking the courses while battling some of the toughest layouts known to the game, you will also be fighting against the wind that is so much a part of the links game. Winds howling in from the North Sea at 30 or 40 miles an hour will wear players out in no time at all and if this is the 5th or 6th links played on consecutive days, it'll happen quicker than that.

Folks who have done this before will often play an inland course in the middle of the trip, giving themselves a break from links wind-battering. The therapeutic benefits of a round played in relative wind-free calm is not only a pleasant break and refreshing, it's also a time to post a decent score, regaining a little of the self-confidence those seaside tracks may have depleted.

Don't think Scotland's inland courses are lacking in the challenge department, because the truth is quite the opposite. There's good reason why Gleneagles Kings Course, arguably Scotland's very best inland layout, holds the lofty, no. 30 position number in the ranking of the top 100 courses in all of Britain and Ireland. If you're still in doubt, consider the selection of another Gleneagles course, The PGA Centenary Course, as venue for the 2014 Ryder Cup Matches, the toughest and most important event in the entire world of golf.

But Scotland's top quality inland layouts are not limited to only the Gleneagles moorland courses -- they are located across the country and the best are readily accessible to the more famous links courses. Just look at this sampling of a few very special inland gems, situated in and around Scotland's capital of golf, St. Andrews.

No golf trip to Scotland can ever be complete without staying at least a few days in St. Andrews where golf permeates the very air you breathe. It's a pilgrimage every golfer must make at least once in a lifetime, but once tasted, you'll be back again and again and before long, treating this as your home town. Although links golf is king in St. Andrews, there are a few highly regarded inland layouts that will please even the most jaded golf traveler and at the top of the list is The Dukes Course.

Located a short 5 minute drive from the 5 star, Old Course Hotel that owns and operates the course, the original design, opened in 1995, was by 5 time British Open champion, Peter Thomson. An extensive refurbishment by Tom Liddy has recently brought the course to a full championship standard and earned it a place on "The Best 100 Courses in Britain and Ireland" rankings.

Sitting high above St. Andrews, with stunning views in every direction, The Dukes is a lengthy, 7,300 yard, big hitters delight and a golfing test to thrill any serious player. It's an intelligent design that is both difficult and strikingly handsome, guaranteed to prove to any doubting Thomas that Scottish inland golf is far more exciting than they had ever dreamed. Play the Dukes and you will understand.

Little more than a half hours drive from St. Andrews, en route to Carnoustie, the journey takes you through the outskirts of Dundee, home to another great inland course, Downfield, considered by many to be one of Scotland's very best. Virtually unknown beyond Scottish shores, Downfield was laid out by the great James Braid in 1932 and upgraded in 1964, leaving just 5 of Braid's original holes intact.

Heavily wooded and planted with over 100 different varieties of mature trees, this is a parkland beauty where the main hazard, the trees, are backed up by water, coming in the form of ponds and ditches. Only adding to the test are the numerous dog-legs and the seemingly endless variety of challenges Downfield conjures up. Measuring 6,800 yards from the back tees, there are some wonderful opportunities for the long hitters who can keep the ball low and straight, but those with a good short game will have plenty of opportunities to demonstrate their prowess.

Always superbly maintained Downfield is a classy good-looker that even the most devoted links addict will be intrigued with -- not surprising that it's used as a British Open qualifier.

Even closer to St. Andrews is another jewel, too often overlooked by visitors -- Ladybank, a delightful heathland layout where pine trees, heather and gorse provide the perfect setting for a technical challenge of the highest order. This is another inland course deemed strong enough by the governing powers of golf to be used as a British Open qualifier.

Ladybank dates back to 1879 and started out as a 6-hole course, designed by Old Tom Morris. Extended to 9-holes in 1910 and a full 18 in 1962, it's all but impossible to tell which are the newer holes, they all blend together so perfectly, and what a fascinating test they provide.

This is a teaser that will tempt you into spreading your shoulders and letting it rip -- succumb to the temptation and unless you have the pinpoint accuracy of a brain surgeon, big trouble lies ahead. Ladybank is anything but a lady for those who find the horrendous rough, notorious for gobbling up balls, even clubs and rumor has it, more than a few visiting golfers.

As cruel as she can be to the risk takers, Ladybank is far friendlier to the more conservative types who carefully think things through on each and every shot -- providing they have ability. Accuracy means everything and nowhere is this as true as on the closing three holes where the challenge is ratcheted up by more than a few notches and total concentration is all that will get you through.

There's no doubt for those who take the 15 minute drive from St. Andrews to experience Ladybank, will be well rewarded with a thinking man's course that presents a very serious examination of golf skills. As an added bonus at the end of your round, spend an hour or so in the relaxing clubhouse over a dram or two and meet the members. You'll not find a friendlier, more welcoming group in all of Scotland.

Take that Scotland trip to play the world famous links layouts, but include an inland course or two and you will experience another side of Scottish golf that won't disappoint. For more ideas and suggestions of which may be best suited, call the Scotland experts at Golf International toll free at 1 800 833-1389, or click here.

©2010 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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