“Golf is a good walk spoiled,” Mark Twain once said. But those who have teed off in Scotland, the undisputed home of the sport, may beg to differ.
While travellers are most familiar with the Open championship courses --
like the Old
Course at St Andrews or Ayrshire’s Royal
Troon -- Scotland’s less-famed courses transport golfers on a journey to
the lonely beaches, ancient forests and formidable fortresses. that make up the
very heart and soul of the country.
Sign up for a round or three, and discover places you would otherwise
almost certainly bypass.
Musselburgh Old Links, Edinburgh
Do not believe what people say about St Andrews’ Old Course being the world’s
oldest still-played course. That honour, as the Guinness Book of Records confirms,
goes to Musselburgh Old Links
in Edinburgh. Mary Queen of Scots supposedly played golf here as early as 1567.
Today it is a nine-hole municipal course abutting the Musselburgh Racecourse.
Hole two, dubbed “the Graves” is the reputed burial site for soldiers from the 1547
of Pinkie. The dead were buried there to deter would-be golfers from
playing at a time when golf was deemed a distraction from more noble pursuits,
like archery. Several holes have since been copied by bigger courses, but the
original is the best. Fail to play here and you are missing out on a big slice
of golfing history.
Machrihanish, Argyll and Bute
Golf’s Scottish roots can be attributed to the rolling, grassy dunes
that characterise the country’s eastern coast. In the Middle Ages, golf
originally entailed hitting a pebble with a stick along a Fife coastline which,
with its gentle undulations, sand and springy turf, was particularly conducive
to any sport involving rolling spheres. Thus Fife became the “world capital” of
golf, and thus the sport of links golf was born. But six centuries on, the best
example of a links course is not anywhere on Scotland’s eastern coast – it is at
the foot of the remote Mull of Kintyre peninsula.
Plenty of golfers talk about Machrihanish,
but few make it there, thanks to the course’s out-on-a-limb location three
hours’ drive from Glasgow. However the course does not take nearly as long to
take your breath away. Hole one tees off over an inlet of the Atlantic, onto one
of Scotland’s most photogenic fairways, and the shot of the golfer lining up to
drive over the water has become a talismanic image of the region. The wide golden arc of sand adjacent to the
course (Machrihanish Bay) is also one of Scotland’s top surfing and
kite-boarding spots, windy as well as wildly beautiful.
If Machrihanish is not quite otherworldly enough for you, Dunaverty Golf Club is still
further south, with formidable views of the Mull of Kintyre headland and cows
mooching about the greens.
Spey Valley, Aviemore
is not exactly off the radar, as any skier will tell you, but the Spey
Valley Championship course at the Macdonald Resort is groundbreaking for
several reasons. Its location, amid some of the last vestiges of ancient
Caledonian pine forest in Europe, means that its sublime alpine views and
abundant wildlife (including red deer and ospreys) might distract you from your
At 635 yards, the course features the longest hole in Scotland (hole
five), and a birdie is definitely on the cards for the follow-up hole as you
take your shot over a lake that is home to a colony of nesting waterfowl. Hole
12 opens up to the vistas of the Cairngorms that earned this course accolades
as one of Britain’s most scenic.
Durness Golf Club, Northern Highlands
The only other Scottish golf course where you can justifiably be said to
be playing over the Atlantic, Durness
is Britain’s most northwesterly links. Before teeing over the ocean on the
final hole, golfers will play eight other holes on some of Europe’s most
isolated terrain, against a backdrop of lunar-like mountains that soar up from
paradisiacal sandy coves. The clubhouse overlooking Balnakeil Bay has one of the
best views in Scotland.
Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire
“Where is the golf course?” newcomers to Cruden Bay might
well ask. The 18 holes are immersed in conical sand dunes, meaning the course is
often camouflaged. Begun by legendary golf course designer Old Tom Morris and
finished off in the 1920s by Tom Simpson, the course lies in the shadow of Slains Castle,
Bram Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula. But the course contains plenty of other dramatic
moments. Holes four to nine lead players up grassy ridges, skittering down
burns and dipping to the sea, while hole 17 involves the negotiation of a
The article 'Off the beaten fairway in Scotland' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.