Scotland is The Home of Golf and has over 550 courses to choose from in a relatively small patch of land. The options for golfers making their pilgrimage to the Promised Land are as diverse as they are plentiful. With so many options, choosing a destination for your next Scottish Golf Break can be a daunting task so we have outlined five of the best Scotland golf trails in the country, as well as the courses, sights and sounds you’ll want to look out for along your way.
THE EAST LOTHIAN GOLF TRAIL
When it comes to golf in East Lothian it really is very simple. It has it all. There are age old links courses which have helped shape all those that have followed. They call it Scotland’s Golf Coast for good reason. There’s also picturesque inland layouts too. Golfers visiting this famous region, just a stone’s throw from Edinburgh, really are spoiled for choice.
Courses to watch out for…
Historians visiting East Lothian simply can’t pass up the chance to play one of the world’s oldest golf courses, Musselburgh Old Course. Evidence exists which proves that golf was played here as far back as 1672. The standardised hole size used all over the world today was purely based on the size of the cutter at Musselburgh Old Course. The course is only nine-holes but if you love golf, a round at Musselburgh, formerly home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, is a must.
North Berwick is an Open Championship qualifier host and is one of the best courses in Scotland; infinitely charming and completely unforgettable.
There is also cracking golf on offer just a stone’s throw from Edinburgh City Centre. For those booking a city break, a round at Dalmahoy, one of the longest and most testing golf courses in Scotland is a fantastic option.
Away from the course…
With Edinburgh just a short drive away, exploring the Scottish capital is a must while on an East Lothian Golf Tour. Uncover Scotland’s rich royal history at Edinburgh Castle, The Palace of Holyrood House and the Royal Yacht Britannia. Soak up the atmosphere at Edinburgh’s busy festival programme. Enjoy arts and culture while exploring galleries, art centres and performance venues, and spoil yourself while sampling Michelin-star dining and a fantastic choice of bars and pubs. The options are endless.
Packed-full of character, North Berwick is a classic Scottish links and with views out towards Bass Rock, it provides plenty of photo opportunities as well.
BEST SCOTLAND GOLF TRAILS IN THE HIGHLANDS
The Highlands are home to some of the most spectacular scenery in Scotland, as well as a diverse range of golf courses, from classic links to charming parkland and heathland courses. If you fancy yourself as the golfing equivalent of Ansell Adams, this is the place for you.
Courses to watch out for…
A popular base in terms of golf and leisure in the Highlands is Aviemore, a winter ski resort that also boasts the MacDonald Aviemore Resort and the phenomenal Spey Valley golf course. While Aviemore is the best purpose-built destination for stay and play golf holidays, the Highlands are peppered with fantastic golf courses, making it an excellent touring destination as well.
The Championship Course at Royal Dornoch is a must for any golfing enthusiast. Firmly entrenched in Scotland’s Top 10 Courses, this world famous links is ably supported by the layouts at Tain Golf Club, Brora and Nairn.
Away from the course…
Wild and untamed, the Highlands are all about the great outdoors so during your time away from the fairways, you simply must get your explorer’s hat on and head out into Scotland’s great frontier.
Spectacular mountains, waterfalls, tumbling rivers and mirror-like lochs offer countless photo opportunities and for the active visitor, activities such as hill walking, cycling, kayaking and horse riding are the best way to take them all in. The capital of the Highlands, Inverness, is also a great place to visit and explore by foot with beautiful sights such as the River Ness the historic Inverness Castle and St. Andrews Cathedral to see.
There is more than scenery to keep you occupied in the Highlands though so if you’re looking for a taste of the local culture and history, there are plenty of options.
Royal Dornoch is undoubtedly a member of the exclusive band of legendary links courses that enthusiasts flock to Scotland for.
JAMES BRAID DESIGNED GOLF COURSES
When it comes to golf, James Braid is one of Scotland’s most influential and important sons. Not content with winning five Open Championships, Braid set about leaving a golfing legacy by designing courses and is considered by many as being one of the finest course architects of all time, with Scotland being home to some of his finest work.
Best Courses to watch out for…
James Braid laid down some of the best golf courses in Scotland and while the likes of Panmure, Scotscraig – another Open Championship qualifier host – and Lundin Links, are top class tests of golf in their own right and certainly worth a visit, a couple of other Braid layouts in Scotland rightly grab all the headlines as they unquestionably hold their own with the best courses in the world.
Gleneagles, was firmly in the golfing spotlight when its PGA Centenary Course (a Jack Nicklaus design) hosted the Ryder Cup in September 2014. It is one of the best golf resorts in the world. Home to an infinitely luxurious five star hotel, a lavish spa and an endless array of country pursuits such as fishing, falconry and off-road driving, Gleneagles also boasts two of Braid’s most famous courses, the King’s and Queen’s. Thought by many to be his finest work, these two heathland gems are beautiful and thoroughly entertaining from the 1st tee to the 18th green. Visitors generally consider the King’s Course to be the best golf course the resort but the member’s have a soft spot for the shorter Queen’s Course. Which is best? We’ll let you be the judge of that.
A little over an hour’s drive to the East lies another of Braid’s finest layouts and this is an entirely different animal to the tranquil courses at Gleneagles.
This historic east coast venue boasts no less than three truly outstanding courses but it is Carnoustie’s Championship Course that makes all the headlines. The course has been in existence since the 1500s and is considered by many to be the most difficult course on the Open Championship rota. Its nickname of Carnasty alludes to this fact and if you’re looking for a thorough test of your golfing skills, this is the one for you.
If you are heading to South West Scotland, you’ll find Stranraer Golf Club, situated on the banks of the beautiful Loch Ryan. This is another notable design from the legendary Braid, which although less known and despite not having held a championship, is absolutely worth a visit.
Away from the course…
As we previously mentioned, Gleneagles is about much more than just golf. Book a luxury break to Perthshire and during your time away from the golf courses, you can enjoy and endless array of outdoor pursuits.
After trying your hand at one of the many activities at the resort, you’ll no doubt have worked up quite an appetite so it’s just as well Gleneagles is home to Scotland’s only two Michelin-star restaurant. For the ultimate in fine dining why not sit down for an evening meal and enjoy Andrew Fairlie’s nine course tasting menu?
When in Angus, to play Carnoustie be sure to make some time in your schedule to also enjoy some off-course activities. The Championship Course at Carnoustie may be the town’s brightest light but while golfers test their skills on the links, sailing, windsurfing and fishing can be enjoyed at in the shallow bay that the course overlooks. Carnoustie Gala Week is the highlight of the summer – except of course from when the Open Championship is in town – and visitors who time their arrival just right will be able to enjoy local Scottish produce, a great array of themed floats and the battle of the pipe bands.
Will you pay the Barry Burn a visit on your way around the Championship Course at Carnoustie?
OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP GOLF COURSES TO PLAY
While the Open Championship visits a select few courses in England and now Northern Ireland as well, it is Scotland where the game’s most historic championship was born, forever making it synonymous with these lands.
The 1st ever Open was played at Prestwick and five courses on the Open rota, Scotland enjoys a larger slice of the Open pie than England. Although there would be plenty of driving involved, a tour de force of Open Championship golf is certainly doable, with the drive from Carnoustie in Angus to Trump Turnberry in Ayrshire, including a stop at each of the five Open courses taking just over 5 hours.
Courses to watch out for…
First Open – 1931
Most Recent – 2007
Famous for – Being potentially the toughest track of the lot, as well as Jean Van de Velde’s infamous meltdown during the 1999 Open.
St Andrews Old Course, Fife
First Open – 1873
Most Recent – 2015
Next Open Championship at St Andrews – 2022
Famous for – Being the 1st 18 hole host of the tournament. Scene of countless famous Open performances including Tiger’s record breaking win in 2000. Jack Nicklaus once said, “If you’re going to be a player people will remember, you have to win the Open at St. Andrews.” The Open Championship returns to the Old Course every five years and as such will host next year’s tournament.
Muirfield, East Lothian
First Open – 1892
Most Recent – 2013
Famous for – Being one of the fairest courses on the Open rota. Home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, the world’s oldest golf club formed way back in 1744.
Royal Troon, Ayrshire
First Open – 1923
Most Recent – 2016
Next Open Championship at Royal Troon – 2024
Famous for – Its par 3 8th, dubbed “The Postage Stamp” is one of the most iconic holes in the world. Set to host the 2016 Open Championship and neighbour to the original Open host course, Prestwick.
Trump Turnberry, Ayrshire
First Open – 1977
Most Recent – 2009
Famous for – One of the most loved courses on the rota, Trump Turnberry hosted perhaps the greatest ever major championship where Tom Watson eventually triumphed over Jack Nicklaus after the pair had left the field in their dust to enjoy their very own Duel in the Sun. Trump Turnberry was also the stage for Watson to return in 2009, aged 59, remarkably almost adding a 6th Claret Jug to his collection.
BEST SCOTLAND GOLF TRAILS IN THE WEST & THE ISLANDS
While the majority of Scotland’s most famous golf courses lie to the East, the West and its rugged coastline in particular boasts some absolute gems of its own. From lesser known hidden gems that take up residence on remote islands just off the mainland to a number of Open Championship courses, heading west guarantees top quality golf.
Must-play courses to watch out for…
Nestled in the Firth of Clyde are the islands of Arran and Bute, both of which are easily accessible by ferry and both of which boast a delightful collection of courses. Island hopping with your clubs is a unique experience and courses such as the 12 hole Shiskine, the 13 hole Port Bannatyne and The Machrie Hotel and Golf Links, which boasts 18 excellent holes, will be sure to please even the most discerning of golfers.
Take on the Postage Stamp at Royal Troon, have your very own Duel in the Sun at Trump Turnberry or play 18 holes at Prestwick Golf Club, the scene of the very 1st Open Championship; the choice is yours.
If you have the time, Machrihanish in Argyll is a must as well. The journey out to this wild and rugged links takes you past some spectacular scenery and the opening tee shot alone is worth the journey alone. In the summer, there is also the option to take a ferry that departs from Ardrossan in Ayrshire. Located in a ruggedly beautiful spot on the southern tip of the Mull of Kintyre, Machrihanish is one of the really great treasures of Scottish golf. Designed by Old Tom Morris way back in 1879, this is untamed links golf at its best with highlights including the opening tee shot which is played from an elevated tee, over a beach and the Atlantic Ocean, onto a fairway that runs diagonally along the shoreline. How brave will you be with your first shot of the day?
Away from the course…
Culture, history, festivals and some of the most amazing produce in the UK await in the west of Scotland and for those with a penchant for fresh seafood, there is no better place to be. The Loch Fyne area is well known for its oyster fisheries, herring fishing and for the Loch Fyne Kipper. Sample your share of fresh fish while making a journey along the Seafood Trail then burn off some of the calories by taking a walk through some of the breathtaking scenery common throughout Kintyre.
The west of Scotland is also famous for one of Scotland’s most popular exports…Whisky! Head to Campbeltown, once known as “the whisky capital of the world” for a wee dram and be sure to procure a hip flask so you can take some onto the course with you as a reward for the occasional birdie.
The Best Scotland Golf Trails
As we said, there are so many options when it comes to playing golf in Scotland. These are just the five trails we love ourselves, as golfers.
There are plenty of hidden gem courses we could add onto the list too, so if you’re planning a trip to Scotland – pick our brains for further recommendations!
Seasoned Scottish golfers, are there any that you would add to this list of the best Scotland golf trails in the country? Drop a comment below.