Scotland Magazine Issue 62
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10 Best Golf Holidays
Keith Fergus looks at the best places to visit and play
Galloway & the Scottish Borders
The golf courses of southern Scotland may be overshadowed by the renowned links of neighbouring Ayrshire, but Galloway and the Scottish Borders have nearly 50 wonderful golf courses to choose from and some great places to stay. Inland the likes of Newton Stewart, Dumfries, Moffat, Peebles and Melrose all have superb courses (and great places to stay) whilst along the coast beautiful links courses include Eyemouth, Powfoot, Portpatrick, and St Medan near Monreith, which is Scotland’s southernmost golf course.
Perhaps the finest course within southern Scotland is the fantastic Southerness. Sitting on the Solway Firth, around 15 miles south from Dumfries, with incredible panoramic views of the brawny mountains of the Lake District, Southerness Golf Course was opened in 1947 and was designed by MacKenzie Ross (who also designed the Ailsa Course at Turnberry). The 6566-yard course has hosted, amongst others, the Scottish Amateur Championship three times and the British Ladies Championship.
Apart from Fife Ayrshire is possibly the place to play golf in Scotland. It is the only region within Great Britain to have three Open Championship courses (Turnberry, Troon and Prestwick), and the county is steeped in golfing history. In the early 20th century the Glasgow & South Western Railway Company, running from Glasgow to Girvan, was dubbed ‘the Golfer’s Line’ as it served so many courses along the Ayrshire Coast Prestwick held the first 12 Open Championships, while Turnberry hosted perhaps the most famous round of golf ever, when Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus played out their memorable Duel in the Sun in 1977.
Lesser-known, but incredibly popular, courses within Ayrshire include the magnificent Western Gailes in Irvine and the Old Tom Morris designed West Kilbride.
However, for the ultimate golfing holiday a visit to the beautiful Isle of Arran is hard to beat.
Comprising a selection of gorgeous courses, including Lamlash and the exquisite 12-hole Blackwaterfoot, a full week could easily be spent exploring this fantastic golfing hideaway.
Glasgow & Loch Lomond
Much of Scotland has excellent road, rail and airport links allowing visitors from around the globe to sample the vast choice of golfing holidays on offer. The industrial backdrop of Glasgow may not have an instant correlation with golf but Scotland’s biggest city provides a superb base to enjoy a myriad of top golf courses. Popular courses skirting the outskirts of the city centre include Fereneze (Barrhead), Cathkin Braes (Carmunnock) and Mar Hall, which lies only a few miles from Glasgow Airport near Erskine.
A little further afield, but equally worthy of any golfer’s attention are the golf courses of Kilmacolm, Campsie (beautifully positioned at the foot of the Campsie Fells in Lennoxtown), and Bonnyton (Eaglesham), all superb courses with some of the finest views in Central Scotland.
However, if you want your golf played amongst some of the best scenery in Scotland then Loch Lomond must be the destination. The Carrick, Buchanan Castle, Ross Priory and the cheekily titled Wee Demon at Cameron House, all sit within a hook or shank of Loch Lomond where a sumptuous panorama of the strapping mountains of the Southern Highlands dominate the view from this selection of superb golf courses.
Edinburgh & The Lothians
Just like Glasgow, Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh grants the ideal base for a golfing holiday across the eastern half of the Central Belt.
The region is home to some of the oldest courses in the world, including Muirfield, formed in 1744 in Leith, making it the oldest club in the world. It moved to Gullane, on the East Lothian Coastline, in 1891. Muirfield is the Home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and has held the Open Championship 15 times. If you want a great base for a golfing holiday, with little or no travelling, then the aforementioned Gullane may be the place to be.
No less than five golf courses (Muirfield, Luffness New, and Gullane No 1, 2 and 3) all sit within the confines of this bustling little town where views across the Firth of Forth to Edinburgh and to Fife are stunning.
Heading further east along the coast the towns of Dirleton, North Berwick and Dunbar all have great golf courses while nearer to Edinburgh the likes of Braid Hills, Bruntsfield Links and Dalmahoy are just a small selection of the courses that befit Edinburgh’s status as one of the world’s top visitor destinations.
Argyll & the Islands
The region of Argyll covers a huge area and its, predominantly, rural landscape means it is littered with some truly exceptional golf courses. Top of the list must surely be the golfing heaven of Machrihanish and Machrihanish Dunes, both courses well off the beaten track near to the south of the Kintyre Peninsula. A short flight to Campbelltown or a long drive to Machrihanish is well worth the effort as a wonderful golfing experience can be enjoyed as can the warm hospitality of the local area. Even further afield are the islands of Bute, Mull, Eriska, Tiree, Gigha, Islay and Colonsay who all have there own golf courses, utilising the gorgeous island landscapes, all set against the backdrop of some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery and providing challenging rounds of golf. Heading inland the region is still sparsely populated, which almost continues the island feel to the environment, but there are still some great and distinctive golf courses to enjoy, particularly at Inveraray, Lochgilphead, Dunoon and the Kyles of Bute.
If Perthshire isn’t well known as a prime golf location now then it will be by 2014. The remarkable Gleneagles plays host to the 2014 Ryder Cup, an event that will focus the golfing world’s attention towards Perthshire and the Jack Nicklaus designed PGA Centenary Course, where the competition will be played. Gleneagles is also home to the King’s and Queen’s Courses and when combined with a renowned 5-star hotel, luxury dining and a spa then you have an idyllic spot to relax and immerse yourself in a golfing great.
However, if the purse strings won’t stretch to a weekend at Gleneagles then Perthshire has an abundance of golfing opportunities. The quiet, but striking surrounds of Pitlochry, Blair Athol and Aberfeldy have charming little courses sitting close to these equally charming little towns where quality accommodation, food and shops are readily available. Crieff Golf Course is a favourite of the great Tom Watson and Blairgowrie, another of Perthshire’s fine towns, has two championship golf courses. But if you want a unique golfing experience then head for the King James VI course on the outskirts of the Fair City of Perth. It is Scotland’s only self-contained river island golf course, surrounded on three sides by the River Tay.
The Kingdom of Fife
St Andrew’s, the Home of Golf, needs absolutely no introduction to golf aficionado’s – even if you have no interest in golf St Andrew’s association with the sport will be evident. Nine fantastic courses, including the incomparable Old Course, now circle the historic old town of St Andrew’s and thousand’s of golfers every year, from all over the world, make a golfing pilgrimage to play a round or two along these famous Links.
However, golfing in Fife does not begin and end at St Andrews – the region is one of Scotland’s finest, dotted with an assortment of captivating towns and villages, home to a variety of excellent accommodation and wonderful, locally sourced, food served at a variety of hotels and restaurants.
Amongst all of this are some exceptional golf courses with Kingsbarns, Crail, Anstruther, Elie and Lundin Links, along the celebrated East Neuk of Fife, all offering challenging and inspiring settings for Links golf. Away from the coast, the acclaimed Ladybank Golf Course demonstrates that Fife isn’t all about Links Golf; Ladybank’s 18 holes are set amongst heather, pine trees and silver birch. With more than 40 golf courses within its boundaries, Fife can continue to claim to be the Home of Golf.
Dundee & Angus
Who can forget Paul Lawrie’s dramatic victory in the 1999 Open when Jean Van De Velde rolled up his trousers and ended up ankle deep in the Barry Burn and unable to score the required 6 to win the championship. The course was the magnificent Carnoustie Championship, the most prominent course in the Angus region, which has hosted the Open Championship seven times.
There are another two courses, the Burnside and Buddon Links courses, within the town. Angus is renowned for its many beautiful glens but it is also becoming known for its great golf courses, the diversity of which providing an excellent location for a golfing holiday. The city of Dundee is the main focal point of the region and has 5 courses in and around its confines, particularly the excellent Downfield, a beautiful parkland course that was used for final qualifying for the 1999 and 2007 Open Championships held at Carnoustie. Large towns such as Montrose and Brechin have their own excellent courses, as does Edzell, perhaps the prettiest of the Angus courses, sitting as it does at the edge of the gorgeous Angus Glens.
With over 50 golf courses within the region, Aberdeenshire is Scotland’s fastest growing golf region. Scotland’s 3rd largest city, the great Granite City of Aberdeen, is certainly playing its part. There are several courses, beautifully demonstrating that rare entity, a quality Links golf course on the edge of a city. Courses include Royal Aberdeen Golf Club (the 6th oldest club in the world) and Murcar Links, the lush, green layout of both courses contrasting perfectly with the solid, grey granite of Aberdeen. Again, like of all Scotland’s cities, excellent public transport links mean visiting the region for an enjoyable few days of golf is simple and other exquisite Links courses reside to the south of Aberdeen at Stonehaven, north along the coast at Fraserburgh and also at Cruden Bay, which is recognised as one of Scotland’s top golf courses and granting a stern test to even the lowest handicap. Aberdeenshire’s two great river’s, the Dee and the Don, are also lined with a selection of elegant courses including Ballater, Inverurie and Braemar.
The Highlands & Islands
Covering an enormous area the Highlands & Islands have a range of magnificent courses from Glencoe to Shetland. The Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland have a fine selection of golf courses, and these exposed archipelago of islands will always grant a windy, demanding round of golf. Likewise the Outer and Inner Hebrides will always be a challenge, due to the nature of the weather, but there can’t be many more spectacular places to play golf – the Isle of Harris golf course, with great tracts of stunning white sand along its length is a case in point. Back on the mainland and Fort William Golf Course sits in the shadow of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain, while Castle Stuart, on the outskirts of Inverness, is boosting the profile of golfing in the Highlands.
Royal Dornoch, Golspie and Traigh (Arisaig) are already in the pantheon of must-play golf courses.
Golf and whisky are 2 of Scotland’s greatest visitor attractions and so why not combine both (not at the same time) by spending a few days playing courses such as Grantown-of-Spey, Dufftown or Spey Bay and then take time to visit the neighbouring distilleries.