Scotland's impressive, new classic golf courses

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June 30, 2011
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

David Brice, CEO of Golf International, reviews destinations on PGATOUR.COM that can be experienced by purchasing a package with Golf international, a leading provider of high-end international golf travel. For more information about this trip or any other of Golf International's destination trips, click here.

Scotland's great allure to golfers has always been connected to its past and the very roots of the game that started here more than 600 years ago. Without detracting from the importance of the country's place as the home of golf and its starring role in the history of the Royal & Ancient game, Scotland is also very much a part of golf's future.

Kingsbarns has sky-rocketed to fame and glory in just 11 short years and keeps getting even better.jpg
Kingsbarns has sky-rocketed to fame and glory in just 11 short years and keeps getting even better.
Dundonald - a more recent links addition to Southwest Scotland's already impressive golf collection.jpg
Dundonald -- a more recent links addition to southwest Scotland's already impressive golf collection.
Crail Golfing Society's Craighead Links sits 15 minutes away from St. Andrews.jpg
Crail Golfing Society's Craighead Links sits 15 minutes away from St. Andrews.
Craigielaw may be only barely 10 years old, but the feel  is that of a crusty old centenarian.jpg
Craigielaw may barely be 10 years old, but the feel is that of a crusty old centenarian.
St. Andrews Castle Course offers a serious challenge and spectacular views of the town.jpg
St. Andrews Castle Course offers a serious challenge and spectacular views of the town.
Machrihanish Dunes - a welcome addition to Scotland's links collection.jpg
Machrihanish Dunes -- a welcome addition to Scotland's links collection.
Castle Stuart Links is a sparkling Scottish classic just announced as the new venue for The Scottish Open.jpg
Castle Stuart Links is a sparkling Scottish classic just announced as the new venue for The Scottish Open.
Donald Trump's new golf resort near Aberdeen will allegedly open in July 2012.jpg
Donald Trump's new golf resort near Aberdeen will allegedly open in July 2012.
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An existing inventory of almost 600 golf courses, might be enough to satisfy other countries with populations many times larger than Scotland's 5 million, but in this land where golf is the passion of most, you can never have too much of a good thing. New course development not only continues, but is accelerating, with more excellent new layouts coming on-line. Perhaps because this is the home of golf and national pride is at stake, they are all of an amazingly high quality, with some that can honestly be called, true masterpieces.

A shining example of the caliber of the new breed of Scottish courses can be found at Kingsbarns, located just 6 miles outside of St. Andrews. It's a very special design from Californian, Kyle Phillips who has produced an 18-hole links course that seems as though it has been here for over a hundred years. Only opened in the summer of 2000, this masterful piece of golf architecture skyrocketed onto the Top 100 Courses of The British Isles rankings within 18 months of opening where it seems to have taken permanent possession of position # 12. Kingsbarns is ranked # 6 among Scottish courses.

Also near St. Andrews are the two relatively new, cliff-top layouts at the Fairmont St. Andrews Golf Resort. The Torrance and Kittock's Courses, were opened in 2001 and 2002 respectively and are already ranked as Scotland's # 24 and # 38.

Golfers never took the Turnberry Resort's second layout, The Arran Course, very seriously until it underwent a total makeover by the great English designer Donald Steel in 2001. Now renamed The Kintyre Course it has been transformed into a links layout that belongs on every visitor's must play list. No longer a second tier layout, The Kintyre shot up in the Scottish rankings to position # 31.

After completing Kingsbarns, Kyle Phillips tackled another links design project on Scotland's west coast and produced The Dundonald, a classic links of the first order. Opened in 2003 and quickly purchased by the prestigious Loch Lomond Golf Club, Dundonald is working its way up the rankings and currently sits in position # 25 - but look for this superb links to climb far higher. Mr. Phillips has performed another miracle, which the Loch Lomond Club members recognize and this time, they are even allowing visitors to play it.

The Carrick Golf Course opened on the shores of Loch Lomond in 2007, named after its Canadian designer, Doug Carrick and attached to the luxurious, Cameron House Hotel. This is a resort course, filled with good looks and spectacular views across the famous loch. Designed for the casual player, who wants a pleasurable round of golf amid handsome surroundings, it fits the bill admirably.

Those who might be looking for more of a challenge, the Kingdom of Fife provides a selection of new layouts, all with a bite and one of the best is tucked away in the quaint fishing village of Crail.

Founded in 1786, Crail Golfing Society is the 7th oldest golf club in existence and it's historic, Old Tom Morris designed course, Balcomie Links, has long been a favorite with visitors to the St. Andrews area. But this is a forward thinking club and when the members decided they needed a second course; they brought in an American designer with a very traditional, Scottish approach to golf architecture. The new Craighead Links opened in 1998, a piece of links artistry from Pennsylvania's Gil Hanse who has created a tough, demanding layout filled with variety and all of the characteristics of a fine traditional links. Craighead complements Balcomie perfectly and is certainly bound for future glory.

The tiny, golf rich county of East Lothian sits 30 minutes due east of Edinburgh. This is home to Muirfield, North Berwick and a dozen other historic layouts, as well as a few that are a part of the new wave of Scottish courses.

Craigielaw Golf Club opened to great acclaim in 2001, the handiwork of Donald Steel. It's a testy layout, filled with challenges enough to push the best players. Relatively flat, with no significant sand dunes, the thing to watch out for here are the deep dark bunkers and greens that are difficult to hold and always filled with undulations. Adding even more spice are the swales and hollows of fairways that have more resemblance to the North Sea in a storm than a golf course. There are ancient stonewalls to be navigated, cantankerous crosswinds to negotiate, deep juicy rough to be avoided and for good measure, a less than innocent and very wet burn. A thriller of a round is all but guaranteed.

Just a few miles down the road, a pair of new layouts at Archerfield Links, The Fidra and Direlton Courses, made their debut in 2004. Nearby, Tom Doak, another American golf architect, has crafted The Renaissance Club, a stunning new addition to Scottish links golf. Opened in 2008, this was Doak's first design project in Scotland and the golf-wise Scots are hoping it won't be his last.

Still another big new opening in 2008, was the long awaited, St. Andrews Castle Course, which became the town's first new layout in almost 100 years. Native son, David McLay Kidd (of Bandon Dunes fame) was the designer and he has done an amazing job with the piece of cliff-top farmland he was given to work with. In the few years this piece of golf artistry has been open, it has sky-rocketed to success, earning its deserved place on the must play list of visiting golfers from around the globe.

The Old Course at Machrihanish Golf Club is arguably, one of Scotland's most revered ancient links gems. For more than 130 years this classic links had been sequestered in the westernmost reaches of Scotland's Kintyre Peninsula, remote and totally isolated from any other course. Only the most devoted aficionados of the game ventured this far to play a single course, even one ranked among Scotland's top dozen.

Things changed in 2008 when a dazzling new neighbor called Machrihanish Dunes, opened 18 holes of links magic immediately next door to the old centenarian.

David McLay Kidd was the architect and the head greens keeper from St. Andrews Old Course was brought in to assist and take charge of the course maintenance. Working with a superb piece of pure linksland, sand dunes and all, an absolutely stunning new links has developed, which has taken the golfing world by storm. Now with two world class links to tempt, tease and tantalize, no visiting golfer should deny themselves the trip to Machrihanish and the pleasure of experiencing two of Scotland's best links.

Heading to the Highlands, Scotland's new golf course development continues unabated.

Macdonald Hotels opened The Aviemore Highland Resort in 2006. Pride and joy of the resort is the Spey Valley Golf Course, an impressive championship quality layout, measuring almost 7,200 yards from the tips. Located a 30-minute drive south of Inverness, this is the heart of the Highlands and Scotland's most spectacular scenery.

In 2009, another very special Highland links course opened on the coast between Inverness and Nairn that is worthy of a little extra attention. Castle Stuart Links is the brainchild of the original Kingsbarns developer, Mark Parsinen, the Californian who showed the Scots how to build a links course in their own backyard. If Parsinen was able to stun the golfing intelligentsia, with the brilliance of Kingsbarns in St. Andrews, he has done nothing less with Castle Stuart, his Highlands encore.

As if to prove the point, The European Tour has selected Castle Stuart Links to host the Scottish Open this July as it will again in 2012 and 2013. This kind of honor never falls upon a course so young, unless it has the star qualities of Castle Stuart. This is a true masterpiece that simply must not be missed.

And there's even more to Scotland's golf development story. Donald Trump has acquired 1,400 acres of enticing linksland, located a few miles north of historic Royal Aberdeen Golf Club. The Donald has promised to build a pair of links courses that will be the best in the entire country (if not the world) inevitably accompanied by a massive luxury hotel, a few hundred expensive second homes and the full complement of supporting infrastructure.

The resort is already under construction and with his presidential aspirations now quelled, Trump is promising an opening date of July 2012...or someone will be fired! Only time will tell.

Whether Scotland really needs these additional courses or not, is a debatable point, there are still plenty of excellent old-timers, yet to be discovered by most visitors. The important thing is that golf in Scotland is alive, it's well and it's certainly growing.

For a few ideas on how to include some of Scotland's excellent new classics, along with the more familiar names, in your golf trip, contact the Scottish golf experts at Golf International by calling toll-free, 1 (800) 833-1389, or click here.

©2011 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.

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