Scottish Links Golf: The game gets no better

March 07, 2012
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].

It's probably no surprise to learn that Scotland, the country where golf was born more than six centuries ago, sits at the very top of practically every golfer's wish list of places they must visit, at least once in their lifetime. If you are one who has promised yourself a pilgrimage, "Across the Pond", someday, but someday has yet to come, why not make 2012 the year to make it happen? The earlier you take that very first trip, the sooner you'll discover the unique wonders of Scottish golf and learn that one trip can only provide a small taste of all this amazing country has to offer.

Turnberry was the stage for Tom Watson's brave effort at the 2009 British Open.jpg
Turnberry was the stage for Tom Watson's brave effort at the 2009 British Open.
North Berwick's historic West Links is not to be missed by any connoisseur  of links golf.jpg
North Berwick's historic West Links is not to be missed by any connoisseur of links golf.
St. Andrews Old Course and its famous Swilken Bridge -a photo op. for every visitor.jpg
St. Andrews Old Course and its famous Swilken Bridge -- a photo op. for every visitor.
Carnoustie, toughest of The British Open venues, is surrounded by a wealth of excellent links courses.jpg
Carnoustie, toughest of The British Open venues, is surrounded by a wealth of excellent links courses.
Royal Aberdeen - a top ranked links,sits at the gateway to Scotland's whisky country.jpg
Royal Aberdeen, a top ranked links, sits at the gateway to Scotland's whisky country.
Aberdeen's new Trump International Links, looks to be a winner.jpg
Aberdeen's new Trump International Links looks to be a winner.
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.
Scottish Open venue, Castle Stuart, is the newest addition to Highland golf.jpg
Scottish Open venue, Castle Stuart, is the newest addition to Highland golf.
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It would take a dozen trips to play all of the Scottish courses that demand to be played, then another dozen to play them all just one more time -- and you would still be missing the wealth of hidden gems, that call Scotland home.

In the world of sports, golf is unique, encouraging an active involvement of its devotees like no other. Only golf offers the amateur player of even modest skills, the chance to walk in the footsteps of the greatest names the game has ever known, playing the same arenas that have challenged the best. The opportunity to play the world renowned courses that have hosted The British Open, The Ryder Cup and other top-rated professional tournaments, is exclusive to golf and for every golfer, a compelling attraction of the game.

Nowhere are these fabled courses to be found in such profusion as in Scotland, the undisputed Temple of Golf, where the ancient town of St. Andrews and its revered Old Course have stood for centuries as Golf's High Altar.

Scotland is blessed with almost 600 golf courses, half of them windblown seaside links, created by Mother Nature over the centuries. Plentiful in the British Isles, especially around Scotland's dramatic coastline, but rare in other parts of the world, these links courses hold an almost magnetic attraction to golfers around the globe. From famous names to hidden gems, it's the allure of the links that golfers find impossible to ignore and the thrill of playing even a few Scottish links becomes the ultimate golf experience.

Planning your trip of a lifetime, especially a first-time golf trip to Scotland can be a bewildering proposition, with a dizzying array of choices to be made. From picking the courses to play, to selecting the best located hotels and mapping out the most convenient itinerary, this is a job for the pros.

Rather than going through the frustration of trying to plan this trip on your own and coordinating the myriad of details involved, seek out the expert assistance of a reputable professional golf travel company. Golf International is one of the best and after more than 20 years specialized in customizing Scottish golf trips, they can plan the perfect golf trip for you, taking care of every last detail - it'll save you a lot of headaches and aggravation.

But even the most experienced golf travelers can benefit from a number of do's, don'ts and Scottish golf travel hints from the experts. Here are a few from Golf International:

Remember, it's the early bird that catches the worm. Scotland receives more golf visitors than any other country and they come from across the globe, usually intent on playing the most famous courses -- probably the same layouts you hope to play. Experienced golf travelers know that demand for Scotland's top ranked courses, far exceeds the number of available visitor times and in a first come -- first served world, booking as much as 6 months or even a full year ahead of your planned trip, is not too early to get started.

Don't drive yourself crazy. Valuable vacation time can easily be wasted, driving from one side of the country to the other, checking into and out of countless hotels, all in pursuit of playing your wish-list of courses. Careful planning and selection of golf courses can avoid much of this often needless driving. Scotland may appear small on the map, but driving times are often far longer than the inexperienced traveler may anticipate. A well planned trip will keep your time on the road to a minimum, allowing as much time for golf as possible.

Practically all of Scotland's links courses, from the most famous names to less familiar gems, are very conveniently located in 5 main links clusters, scattered across the country. From the Southwest, to Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Aberdeen and further north to the Highlands, each of these clusters has more than enough top-ranked courses, together with an impressive selection of hidden gems, to keep the most avid golfer busy for a week or two. Limit a one week trip to no more than 2 clusters, spending 3 or 4 nights in each and you will be getting the most out of your available time.

A quick glance at a sample selection of courses in each links cluster, shows just how evenly Scotland's golf riches are spread across the country.

The Southwest Links Cluster extends a brief 40 miles along the Ayrshire coastline, from Turnberry in the south, to just a few miles north of the resort town of Troon and includes some of Scotland's most prized layouts. Topping the list are British Open venues -- Turnberry, Royal Troon and Prestwick, together with one of Britain's most under-rated, championship links courses, Western Gailes. Those looking for a very special treat will be delighted with the relatively new links at Dundonald or any of the 20 other courses in the area.

The Edinburgh Links Cluster is just as compact and sits a brief, half hour's drive (or train ride) from the heart of Scotland's handsome capital. The star attraction here is Muirfield, a 15 time British Open host and home to The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, the oldest golf club in existence. There are another 20 courses surrounding Muirfield, including more than a few must plays. North Berwick is an historic jewel that attracts golf architects from around the world, who marvel at its amazing, centuries old design. There are three stunning links layouts at Gullane and a very special historic links treat at Dunbar.

The St. Andrews Links Cluster offers another 25 superb links courses, all within a 30 minute or so drive of the center of town and some just a short stroll. There are no less than 7 courses operated by the town, including the famous Old Course and a much newer addition, the stunning Castle Course. Just down the road is another sparkler of a links, Kingsbarns, which together with St. Andrews Old Course and Carnoustie, hosts The Dunhill Links Championship each year. Carnoustie, famed as the toughest of all The British Open venues, is only 40 minutes to the other side of St. Andrews. For a change of pace, tackle the feisty Balcomie Links at Crail, or, just a 20 minute drive beyond Carnoustie, play another slice of golf history, the windswept links at Montrose.

The Aberdeen Links Cluster offers a selection of links masterpieces, all located within a 20 mile radius or so of the city of Aberdeen, gateway to the castles and whisky distilleries of the Highlands. Royal Aberdeen is a wondrous links layout that has hosted the Senior British Open and immediately next door, sharing the same sand dunes and wind gusting in from the North Sea, Murcar, is another links course for the memory book. Don't miss Cruden Bay, overlooked by Slain Castle, the inspiration for Dracula. Cruden Bay is a one-of-a-kind links that's as tough as nails and will give the best, a run for their money. Wander a little further up the coast and a small bevy of enticing but relatively unknown links courses beckon, led by Fraserburgh, a 100 year old jewel.

Later this summer Aberdeen will be adding another links to the local golf menu when the Trump International Links opens, just north of the city. Yes, this is a venture from our very own Donald Trump, who ruffled more than a few Scottish feathers during the planning years, but with typical modesty, The Donald claims he has built a future British Open or Ryder Cup venue - positive initial previews suggest he just might deliver and why not? The prime virgin linksland Trump gave top British architect, Martin Hawtree to work with is really very special.

The Highlands Links Cluster has always held a very special appeal to visitors, aided no doubt by the dramatic scenery, the preponderance of whisky distilleries and trail of ancient castles. Golf in the Highlands is also very alluring, with Royal Dornoch, ranked among the world's top-ten courses leading the small, but high quality grouping of quality links courses. Nairn's Championship Course is also a major attraction for links connoisseurs, along with a charming collection of lesser known links, such as Brora, Tain, Golspie, Moray and Fortrose & Rosemarkie. Now there's one more world-class, Highlands links course to add to the menu, the spectacular, Castle Stuart Links.

Only three years old, Castle Stuart is an outstanding layout from the same American who developed the amazing Kingsbarns Links, near St. Andrews. If you thought Scotland's best links are all centenarians, Castle Stuart will make you think again. How good is this newcomer? Good enough for the European PGA Tour to take the Scottish Open Championship, one of its most prestigious tournaments, away from Loch Lomond a couple of years ago and award the event to Castle Stuart Links until at least 2013.

But as special as Scotland's seaside links courses are, her inland layouts are nothing less and including one or two will only round out your Scottish golf experience. Little more than an hour's drive from St. Andrews, amid spectacular Highland scenery is Gleneagles, one of the world's most elegant golf resorts. The three excellent championship courses include The PGA Centenary Course, which in 2014 will be the venue for the Ryder Cup -- excuse enough to take the small side-trip.

There's good reason why Scotland sits high atop every golfer's travel wish-list and if you have not yet taken your first trip, it's time to stop procrastinating and discover the wonderful golf experiences you've been missing.

For more ideas and suggestions on how to get the most out of your trip to golf's homeland, contact the Scottish experts at Golf International by calling toll free, 1 (800) 8331389, or click here.

©2012 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.