Editor's Note: The following article is written by David Brice, President of Golf International. Established in 1988, Golf International specializes in the design and operation of quality golf trips to Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Wales, France, Spain and Portugal. The articles written by David represent trips available to Golf International customers. Click here to learn more about Golf International.
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"Hidden Gem" is an overused and frequently abused phrase, used to describe all manner of golf courses, too often, undeserving of such a description. Scotland has been the recipient of as much of this misleading terminology as any other country, but in defense of the home of golf, there is no other place possessing as many excellent layouts that are all but unknown to visitors. Most are certainly not hidden and frequently located close to courses that have garnered far greater fame over the centuries. Are they all gems? Certainly not -- some are uninteresting, others may have a degree of intrigue, but in Scotland, a surprisingly large number are quite special and deserving of far more attention than is the case.
Nowhere is this as true as in and around the county of Angus, an area sitting just a brief 45 minute drive from St. Andrews, where most will choose to base themselves. Taking unabashed advantage of the recognition factor garnered by their most famous native son, British Open host, Carnoustie Golf Links. the regional tourism board has dubbed this part of Angus, "Carnoustie Country".
It's a fact that links courses typically occur in clusters and wherever you find one good links course, there will be others nearby. Carnoustie's championship course is an exceptional links, so it should come as no surprise to learn that it's surrounded by a very healthy selection of other very good links layouts, plus a few inland courses that will surprise you. Buzz into and out of the small town of Carnoustie only to play the championship course and you will be missing some true gems.
Carnoustie's Burnside Course, the second of three courses at Carnoustie, is a final Open qualifier and a championship test in its own right. Calling a layout of this caliber a second course is rather misleading. Located anyplace other than in the arms of its big brother and Burnside would be a main attraction -- oh the problems of being a younger sibling.
Granted Burnside is noticeably shorter than the Championship Course, but whatever it lacks in length is more than made up for in wiliness, cunning and the sheer quality of design. The narrow fairways are very narrow, undulating to the extreme; craftily placed pot-bunkers are trained to not just take errant shots, but also those that are not quite perfect. The sloping greens are small and difficult to hold, especially during the dry summer months. Throw into the mix the famous Carnoustie wind and you have a course that will test even the most accomplished. Burnside is so good, it should be an automatic must play for anyone with plans to play big brother. Making a good thing even better, a day ticket here, allowing a round on both The Championship and Burnside courses is a real bargain.
Monifieth Golf Links has been sitting only six miles down the road from Carnoustie since 1845. Sharing the same unprotected, wide-open spaces and the identical and no less predictable wind that can howl in from the Firth of Forth. The Medal Course at Monifieth is an unforgiving unknown and one of the best discoveries any visitor can make along this coast.
Always in excellent condition, the fairways are narrow and the rough is the genuine article - thick, high and decidedly penal. Deep, revetted bunkers are placed strategically throughout, but never overdone and the greens are consistently fast and true. Monifieth is pure unadulterated links golf at its best, a real examination of links golfing skills for any player and a joy for golf's true connoisseur, British Open candidate or not.
Panmure Golf Club is even closer to Carnoustie and another Final Open Qualifier to be reckoned with. A mere youngster at a shade over a century old, the course enjoys a wonderful reputation in the region but is little known outside. This is where Ben Hogan spent a couple of weeks in preparation for his solo, but victorious Open Championship attempt in 1953. The cleverly placed pot bunker, located next to the 6th green was added at Hogan's suggestion and 50 years on is still known as Hogan's Bunker.
Ranked among Scotland's top 50 courses, Panmure is hillier than most in the area, with no shortage of challenge, despite being a deceivingly straightforward looking layout. The fairways are tight and the rough, especially in summer, deep and gnarly, with no shortage of heather and vicious gorse. There is even an old-fashioned railway line to contend with and a burn comes into play on the 12th hole. The very small greens are well protected throughout, but for any who have perfected the bump and run approach, no problem at Panmure is insurmountable.
Montrose Golf Links is a 20 minute drive on the opposite side of Carnoustie, a little further out than the other final qualifiers, but what a gem and nothing less than one of Scotland's great classic links. This is the 5th oldest golf course in the world, where golf has been played for more than 400 years.
Windblown like few other links, the Medal Course is filled with towering sand dunes, covered by wild grasses and the constant sound of pounding waves. Undulating fairways, deep, hungry bunkers, dangerously contoured greens and a feeling that you are alone with Mother Nature, playing golf the way it was intended. There is something magical about Montrose and as difficult as it will be to play to your handicap, there will be a sense of privilege at having the opportunity to play a very special layout. This is good old-fashioned links golf at its very best.
Scotscraig Golf Club sits on the other side of the Tay Bridge, heading in the direction of St. Andrews, but still only 20 minutes from Carnoustie. Dating from 1817 this is another piece of golf history, an Open qualifier and a somewhat different links from most.
The course does not border the sea and contains some elements that are distinctly heathland in character. It also has an abundance of trees, another feature unusual for a links. These oddities not only add to the aesthetics, they also bring an added dimension to the layout, making it all the more demanding. This is a course for the thinking golfer, where the key to success is staying away from the wicked rough and keeping your ball in the fairway. This is a course of distinction, offering a very serious test for the most talented players and a formidable challenge for those less accomplished.
Downfield Golf Club is not a links course at all, but don't let that deter you from playing this unknown, which despite its lack of fame outside of Scotland, happens to be one of Britain's very best parkland tracks. Located just 15 minutes from Carnoustie in the outskirts of the city of Dundee, Downfield is a brilliant design from the great, James Braid. Only good drivers of the ball can hope for a decent score, providing they follow the straight and narrow path, avoiding the many hazards, especially deep hungry bunkers that are a Braid hallmark. Somewhat protected from the unpredictable winds of a links course, a round on this uncompromising layout in the middle of your trip, provides a pleasant break from the constant beating the other courses are likely to be doling out.
Carnoustie's Championship Course will always be the main attraction for golfers visiting this part of Scotland, but miss out on at least a sampling of a few of Carnoutie's neighbors and you'll be missing some real treats. For more ideas and suggestions on how best to include Carnoustie Country on your itinerary, contact the Scotland experts at Golf International by calling toll free, 1 (800) 833-1389, or click here.
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