For centuries, The Highlands have been Scotland's jewel

August 12, 2010
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.

The ancient Scottish burgh of St. Andrews, located in the Kingdom of Fife, is a town with a very special meaning for golfers the world over. This is where the Royal & Ancient game was born back in the 14th century and where, more than 600 years on, golf continues being celebrated in a grand style unmatched by any other town, city or village on the face of the globe. St. Andrews is golf's Mecca and a place every golfer must visit at least once during their golfing lives, but beware, St. Andrews is a charmer, not above seducing every first time visitor to return again and again. Don't fight it, this is a town well worth getting to know, intimately

Royal Dornoch  - the sun rises and sets over one of the world's most revered links courses.jpg
Royal Dornoch - the sun rises and sets over one of the world's most revered links courses.
Dunrobin Castle (near Dornoch) is a piece of Scottish history worth discovering.jpg
Dunrobin Castle (near Dornoch) is a piece of Scottish history worth discovering.
Tain - a wonderful Old Tom Morris design with the Glenmorangie whisky distillery next door.jpg
Tain - a wonderful Old Tom Morris design with the Glenmorangie whisky distillery next door.
Fortrose and Rosemarkie just might be Scotland's testiest unheralded gem.jpg
Fortrose and Rosemarkie just might be Scotland's testiest unheralded gem.
Nairn-Dunbar is a links with teeth and not to be overlooked.jpg
Nairn-Dunbar is a links with teeth and not to be overlooked.
Visiting a whisky distillery or two is all a part of the Highlands experience.jpg
Visiting a whisky distillery or two is all a part of the Highlands experience.
Nairn's Championship Course is in hot pursuit of Royal Dornoch as the Highland's best links.jpg
Nairn's Championship Course is in hot pursuit of Royal Dornoch as the Highland's best links.
Castle Stuart Links is a new Scots classic, bound for future glory.jpg
Castle Stuart Links is a new Scots classic, bound for future glory.
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But this is Scotland, where golf is the national pastime and quite literally, runs in the blood of practically every Scot. It's all but a God-given right for every Scotsman to have access to top quality golf, resulting in the most impressive collection of world-class golf that extends across the country. Today the collection totals almost 600 layouts in all, many of them links courses, shared between a total population of just 5 million Scots.

The pilgrimage to St. Andrews remains an essential element of any visitor's Scottish golf trip, but to limit your visit to only golf's Mecca is to taste just one dish in a banquet of golf that is packed with so many different tastes and experiences. Combine St. Andrews with any one of the other major Scottish golf regions and your trip will only be enrichened and made even more memorable.

Consider including the Southwest and the golf-rich, Ayrshire coast, where Turnberry, Royal Troon and venerable old Prestwick, British Open venues all, head an impressive list of over 20 links challenges. Combine St. Andrews with East Lothian, also known as Edinburgh's Golf Coast and you could be playing prestigious Muirfield, much revered North Berwick, or anyone of the other 20 layouts that call this tiny county, home.

To the immediate north of St. Andrews is the county of Angus and British Open host, Carnoustie, surrounded by an entourage of lesser known, historic links layouts. Monifieth, Panmure and Montrose, among others, all share the same linksland and the same fickle winds as their more famous neighbor, so don't be surprised that the tough links test each presents is of a similar level. Travel further north to the city of Aberdeen and there's another selection of top ranked links layouts to play, including Royal Aberdeen, Murcar and the jewel of a links at Cruden Bay. But perhaps the most intriguing region of all to combine with St. Andrews is the Scottish Highlands, located just a three hour drive north of golf's Mecca.

This is where you will find fabled, Royal Dornoch, ranked among the world's Top Ten Links Courses, together with the superb Nairn Championship Links. For years these two outstanding layouts were the star attractions that drew golf aficionados from around the globe to the Highlands, but they have recently bolstered their numbers with the addition of a third star, the stunning new links layout at Castle Stuart. At barely 12 months old, this pure links beauty has already taken Scotland's golfing world by storm and is considered as one of the most important additions to Scottish golf of the past 100 years.

Add to these three Highland trophy courses the generous helping of century old, seaside links gems, some designed by the greatest architects golf has ever known and you have the rare golf paradise that is The Highlands, it's a golfer's delight.

Yet, as glorious as golf in the Highland's is, it's only the beginning of the cornucopia of attractions this very special part of Scotland holds for every visitor. The Highlands is a whisky connoisseur's heaven, a sightseer's dream and for any with even a passing interest in ancient history, the place where much of Scotland's bloody past was played out. There are centuries old castles to be explored and historic stately homes to discover And if this isn't enough to tempt you, the Highland's features some of the most spectacularly dramatic scenery to be found in not only Scotland, but in all of Europe -- and let's not forget the world's most popular monster, lurking deep beneath the waters of Loch Ness.

But it's the golf courses that will leave an indelible impression on every visiting golfer. From the most famous to those with strange sounding, totally unfamiliar names, there's a grandeur to each and everyone that seems to complement the scenery.

Royal Dornoch is undoubtedly the jewel in the Highland golfing crown and among the top ten links courses in the world. Secluded, stunningly beautiful, as tough as nails and packed with history, there is probably no course more deserving of being a British Open venue. Unfortunately it's the isolation of the course and the lack of enough hotel rooms to accommodate players, media and spectators that guarantees this will never be.

But don't make the mistake of just speeding up to the Highlands to play the top gun, then running back down to the lowlands to pick up a few more big names. Linger a while in this special part of Scotland and there will be plenty of rewards; you'll just need a few days to soak it all up.

The true wealth of Highland golf lies in the array of little known courses, each providing a golf experience seldom found elsewhere. Less than a 15 minute drive along the coast north of Royal Dornoch is Golspie Golf Club, a fascinating layout that combines parkland, pure links, woods and heather into a creative cocktail that is pure fun from beginning to end. The often testy design is from the great James Braid.

A further 10 minutes driving brings you to Brora, and a gem of a traditional links that has been here since 1891. Sheep are still used here to keep the fairways cropped and the feeling for most visitors is that this is the way golf was played a hundred years ago. Be sure to stop by the little Clynelish Whisky Distillery, located just across the road from the golf club and sample one of the most unique single malts to be found in the country.

Drive 15 minutes south of Dornoch and you can experience yet another jewel with a whisky connection at Tain, a combination of links and heathland from the drawing board of Old Tom Morris. It's a superb, very quiet site with some of the best greens you will find anywhere. Tain is a constantly changing challenge, best suited to the thinking golfer and when you weary of thinking, the Glenmorangie Distillery is just down the road, with a warm Highlands welcome for every tired golfer.

Fortrose and Rosemarkie may sound like a firm of accountants or lawyers, but it's not, it's the name of an audaciously delightful links, James Braid managed to squeeze onto a scrawny finger of land that juts defiantly into the Moray Firth. Most visitors miss this charmer, but for those who find it, they have a rare treat in store.

A little over one year ago some unique golf magic took place in the Highlands, just to the south of Inverness. The magic came in the form of the opening of Castle Stuart Links, a dazzling new links layout that immediately took the Scottish golfing world by storm and in a brief, twelve months, has already established itself as one of Scotland's best, destined for even greater stardom.

Don't be deterred by the word new, the look and feel of this piece of golf artistry is of a course that has been sitting here for a hundred years or more and it plays in exactly the same way.

The developer, the same man who perceived glorious Kingsbarns Links near St. Andrews, scoured the country to find a piece of genuine linksland for an encore. He found one of the last remaining tracts of such land along the shores of the Moray Firth and has crafted a true masterpiece of a links, which some feel many one day be a contender for Royal Dornoch's crown as the King of Highlands links golf.

Play this jewel and learn what real links golf is all about. You'll enjoy a testy, variety packed round and will have experienced some of the purest links golf to be found anywhere.

The Championship links at Nairn Golf Club, should be on the must play list of every golfer visiting the Highlands, if for no other reason than it's one of Scotland's great links masterpieces. Originally laid out by Old Tom Morris in 1887, with later improvements made in the bunkering department by the prolific James Braid, Nairn is a natural beauty and ranked # 10 in the country. But there's another beauty in this small golfing town, all too often missed by visitors -- Nairn-Dunbar Golf Club.

Perhaps overshadowed by its better known brother on the opposite side of town, Nairn-Dunbar is a handsome links that should be squeezed into every visitor's schedule, whether they really have the time or not. This is a corker that will be well worth the effort and any itinerary adjustments necessary to make it fit in.

Cleverly tailored to fit its site by persons unknown back in 1899, Nairn-Dunbar virtually overflows with variety and creativity, but in turn calls on those who play it to respond in kind and be just as creative, rewarding inventiveness royally. This is simply a track that manages to conjure up a never-ending array of challenges and demands the effective use of every club in the bag. Above all, accuracy is a definite prerequisite.

For the whisky loving golfers among us, there's a special temptation waiting just 15 minutes or so along the road in the seaside town of Lossiemouth, gateway to Speyside of whisky fame. The Moray Golf Club located here, boasts a pair of excellent championship links layouts, one designed by Old Tom Morris, the other by Sir Henry Cotton and also places you within easy striking distance of 40 single malt distilleries, all within minutes of the clubhouse. Ask to sample a few of the Club's now famous, "special bottlings" of local whisky's (a tradition reaching back to 1900) and a delightful day of golf can turn into one of the most memorable of the trip.

Base yourself in Nairn and the furthest course, Brora, will little more than an hour's drive. Alternatively split your stay between Dornoch and Nairn and you'll have a choice of big names and unknown gems on your doorstep and for the others, you'll never have to drive more than 15 or 20 minutes to play any of them.

There is a magic to the Highlands that must be experienced to be properly appreciated. This is the Scotland you have dreamed of - it's a reality that will not disappoint and is probably going to exceed your highest expectations -- don't miss it. For a few more ideas and suggestions on how to include the best of the Highlands in your Scottish golf trip, contact the Scotland experts at Golf International, by calling toll free, 1 (800) 833-1389 or, click here.

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

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