Scottish Highland dreams include top golf

November 04, 2011
PGA TOUR staff

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.

The Highlands is a very special part of Scotland and any visitor who ventures up into these parts has many treats in store. This is the quintessential Scotland, a dramatically handsome part of the country and one of the most scenic in all of Europe. This is the real Scotland and any trip to discover this amazing country will be incomplete without including at least a few days experiencing the Highlands.

Royal Dornoch, the world's most sought after links.jpg
Royal Dornoch is Tom Watson's favorite links course consistently ranked as one of the world's best copy.jpg
Nairn's Championship Course is in hot pursuit of Royal Dornoch as the Highland's best links.jpg
Nairn Championship maybe a tad more forgiving than Dornoch but it presents a different kind of challenge.jpg
Castle Stuart - a new Scots classic in the making.jpg
Castle Stuart Links is the new venue for The European Tour's Scottish Open copy.jpg
Spey Valley is being compared to Gleneagles Kings Course, you be the judge.jpg
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It's a land of historic castles and ancient, bloody battlefields where much of Scottish history has been written. It gave the world tartan, the kilt, and bagpipes; it's the home of Scotch whisky and the world's most famous monster, allegedly residing in Loch Ness. Here you will find the best salmon and trout fishing on the globe, the most hospitable of all the friendly Scots and of course, Scotland's special gift to the world, glorious golf.

The concentration of golf courses in the Highlands may not be as heavy as in some other parts, but what might be lacking in quantity is more than made up for in quality. Simply put, Highlands golf is as good as can be found anywhere and far better than in most places.

There are well over 50 courses in the region, ranging from the inspiring links layouts that line the rugged eastern shoreline, to some of the world's most stunning inland courses, set against back-drops of mountains, rolling glens, lakes and pine-forests. There are a myriad of reasons why any golfer with an appreciation of the finer aspects of the game, should include this magical part of Scotland in their trip and non-golfers will be equally impressed. The wealth of history, culture, ancient castles, stately homes and the endless canvas of Mother Nature's splendor, is captivating and often, overwhelming. Golfer or not the Scottish Highlands captures every visitor's heart.

Royal Dornoch is the reigning King of Highland golf and as one of the world's greatest courses, why not? Our own Tom Watson called Royal Dornoch his very favorite links course, bar none and no visiting golfer is ever disappointed. Secluded, strikingly good looking, as tough as nails and packed with golf history, this is a masterpiece of traditional links design.

Golf has been played at Dornoch since the early 17th century and Old Tom Morris laid out the first formal track in 1877. The mighty links at Royal Dornoch launched the design career of the great Donald Ross, who added his own creative genius to these links, long before taking his talents to American shores and Pinehurst.

Were this jewel of Highland golf located in a more populated area, with all the hotels and other accoutrements required of a British Open venue, Royal Dornoch would have been made a permanent part of the illustrious Open Rota, years ago, but that honor, will never be - and neither would most want it. Without the glory of The Open, Dornoch is still ranked among the world's top dozen courses and many would argue, is the very best links of all - the magical appeal of the undisputed King, remains uniquely irresistible.

Too much emphasis is perhaps placed on Royal Dornoch's location as being remote, or isolated, implying that it sits in the middle of some desert, far removed from civilization and this is certainly not the case. Scotland is not a huge country and while the heaviest concentration of the 5 million population resides in the southern portion, known as the Lowlands, surrounding the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, the Highlands is not another planet!

It will take less than 3 hours to drive on the motorway from Edinburgh to Inverness, capital of the Highlands and an intriguing town in its own right. Base yourself in Inverness or the nearby town of Nairn, located 20 minutes along the coast and all of the attractions of this delightfully appealing region will be close at hand, including the best of Highland golf. From Inverness, Royal Dornoch is a scenic drive north of barely 45-minutes and the Prince of Highlands Golf, Nairn's Championship Course, will be less than half the distance.

Nairn Golf Club is home to another of the world's great, historic links layouts and one more example of the artistry of Old Tom Morris, assisted by later additions of high class bunkering from the true master of such things, James Braid. If you come to the Highlands to play Royal Dornoch, you can't leave without experiencing the wonders of Nairn's Championship Course, for many years, one of Scotland's best guarded, golf secrets.

Royal Dornoch and Nairn Championship have been the horse and carriage of Highland golf since the 19th century and if a visitor played one, they simply had to play the other. But life has a tendency to become increasingly more complicated and golf in the Highlands is no exception, with more recent additions to the listing of must play courses, the most outstanding of which, sits just a few miles from Inverness town center.

Castle Stuart Links opened its doors a few years ago, to more pre-opening fanfare than perhaps any other course in recent memory. The inspiration of Mark Parsinen, the Californian who had the audacity to enter golf's inner-sanctum at St. Andrews with his outstanding, Kingsbarns Links, a dozen years ago, has performed another golf miracle at Castle Stuart. All but guaranteed to reach the same dizzying levels of success as Kingsbarns, Castle Stuart is a remarkable accomplishment of links design that immediately takes its rightful place, alongside Nairn and Royal Dornoch.

Assisted in the design by fellow American, Gil Hanse, Parsinen has produced a layout that is as true to the traditions of Scottish links golf as could have been thought possible. The pre-opening publicity, automatically regarded with suspicion by many, has turned out to be the reality, impressing even the most skeptical Scots. This was confirmed just last year when the European Tour anointed Castle Stuart as the new regular venue for the Scottish Open, one of its most prestigious events.

The Highlands has a newborn, already on a rocket-ride to super-stardom and a place, high among the top ranked courses in all Europe. Add one more to your must play list.

Little more than a half hour drive south of Inverness, is the Highlands resort of Aviemore, tucked away in the Cairngorm National Park. Popular as a center for hiking, pony trekking, fishing, shooting and skiing, Aviemore added a top-drawer golf course to its many attractions in 2006. The Spey Valley moorland course is from the drawing board of noted English designer, Dave Thomas and a very worthy addition to the Highlands collection of top-class golf.

Surrounded by the dramatic Cairngorm mountains and the River Spey (of whisky fame) coming into play on several holes, this is an eye dazzler, worth the trip for the stunning scenery alone. But Thomas has built a track that is guaranteed to grab the attention of even the most jaded golf traveler.

Measuring a healthy, 7,200 yards from the tips, there are elevated tees and tree-lined fairways, bordered by serious rough of heather and gorse and Thomas has used his trademark bunkering, always shrewdly placed, with a generosity, not always appreciated. The greens are huge and filled with undulations enough to test the most accomplished with the short-stick, to the extreme. Already being compared to Gleneagles Kings Course, Spey Valley adds one more feather to the Highlands golfing cap.

The list of must play courses in the Highlands has just doubled from the two that have been here for well over a century, to the four that include a pair of impressive new boys on the block, but this is still only the tip of the iceberg.

No golfer should ever dream of coming to these parts without experiencing the special treat of playing at least one or two of the so-called, "hidden gems of the Highlands". These are the less well known golf clubs that manage to fly under the radar of most visitors. They are to be found throughout Scotland, but here in the northern half of the country, they are very special, usually of an amazingly high quality, with a rich history and always, with a genuine welcome that is second to none. It's at these gems where most will discover the most Scottish golf experiences of all.

There can be no question that the Scottish Highlands are unique and offer so many opportunities to discover another thoroughly intriguing side of Scotland, whether on the golf courses or off. Make the Highlands a part of your trip to the home of golf and you will understand. For more ideas and suggestions on how to get the most out of your Scottish golf trip, contact the Scotland experts at Golf International by calling toll-free, 1 (800) 833-1389, or click here.

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