20 Must Play* Courses in Scotland

*in my humble opinion

I just got off the phone answering the above question.  A friend said he (3 players) is going to Scotland for “a month” next summer and wanted my recommendations.  3 players is the right number, always room for a local to join you. It’s a tough call as there are so many interesting courses available, however my recommendations for a great month were as follows: has good info on all the courses, pictures too.

1. Royal Dornoch (north)

2. Royal Aberdeen (north east)

3.  The Old Course (central)

4.  Prestwick (Old) (SW)

5.  Muirfield (S)

6. Carnoustie (central)

7.  Cruden Bay (north east)

8.  Nairn (north)

9.  North Berwick (south)

10.  Western Gailes (west)

11.  Torrance (central)

12.  Lundin (central)

13.  Crail Balcomie (central)

14.  Kittocks (take a cart) (central)

15.  Turnberry Ailsa (west)

16.  Kingsbarns (central)

17.  Gleneagles (Kings or Queens, not PGA)

18.  Machrihanish (west)

19.  Castle Stuart (north)

20.  Panmure (central)

Sure I’ve left off many favourites, but as I said, these are my favourites!  Loch Lomond, Carrick, Troon, The New, Dukes, etc are all worth playing, the next time.

So where does this “tour” start?  There are many modern airports with International flights, Glasgow (GLA), Edingburgh (EDI), Aberdeen (ABZ), Inverness (INV) and maybe Prestwick.  All are on good roads, good car rental access.  For my friend, I recommended arriving in the beautiful city of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is one of Europes nicest cities to visit, so plan a few days in the area.  Roslyn Chapel is just a wee bit south.  From this base I’d play GULLANE, NORTH BERWICK and MUIRFIELD.  You can also drive easily to the west side (Glasgow) and stay in Prestiwick area to play PRESTWICK OLD, WESTERN GAILES, TURNBERRY AILSA, and take the reasonably priced fast speed ferry to MACHRIHANISH (old course).  There are other very good local courses on the west coast, but the weather can be wetter.

Next I’d drive towards St Andrews, the Home of Golf.  On the way, visit Stirling Castle and play nearby GLENEAGLES (Kings or Queens Courses, not the PGA).  I’d stay at Fairmont St Andrews, near the olde grey toun and lots of parking and comfort.  The town is full of great B&Bs and other hotels, over-night parking is the problem.  From here you can play the OLD COURSE, KINGSBARN$, LUNDIN, CRAIL, and the two at Fairmont, TORRANCE and KITTOCKS.  You can stay in St Andrews for a month and enjoy the golf.  The New Course is worth playing if you can’t play the OLD.  Thus ends about 18 days and 14 courses at least.  I recommend playing one course each day, buy the re-play for an afternoon round when possible.  Playing a new course usually requires at least 36 holes to figure out the quirks!

Now start dring north.  In Dundee I really enjoyed DOWNFIELD, inland and good.  A few miles up the road towards Carnoustie, PANMURE is a real gem.  And next door, the infamous CARNOUSTIE (the National GC equivalent of Scotland).  Now further north along the coast to Aberdeen and ROYAL ABERDEEN GC.   A bit further then to CRUDEN BAY.  Then on to NAIRN (there is a great old hotel, Alton Arms or something, right on Nairn Golf Club – we loved it, the owner is a member at Nairn and might join you, friends of mine have been staying there for 21 years).  The new CASTLE STUART Course in Inverness is next and then the drive north to ROYAL DORNOCH, possibly the finest course in the land.   And then take that drive back to the airport, maybe leaving time to stop and play one of the many gems along the way.  You can’t go wrong in Scotland!

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Gary Slatter

Venerable Canadian golf pro Gary Slatter discusses his opinions on the state of golf, golf course design and construction, teaching and more, based on a lifetime in the business.

5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Great choice of courses. Many good b&bs in St Andrews have parking. We have on site parking and only 10 minutes walk to the Old Course,

    Good idea to have only 3 golfers in the party. I often play with guests and using a local time.

    • James Yule: I neglected to say that some B&Bs have parking as I think they are the real way to experience St Andrews, the B&Bs have much more to offer than the big hotels (Old Course, Fairmont). The big hotels do offer familiarity to US visitors though, and they like what they are used to!
      all the best for a great 2011 !

  • If you are up north you might as well throw in brora for something different. Dornoch cruden and machrihanish are my favourites if I had to give a top three. Oh yeah and that Old course thingy…

    Only ones I don’t agree with are the two at st. Andrews bay. Struck me as north American replica links courses even though just down the road from st. Andrews. Nice but didn’t give me the old country feel unlike kingsbarns which feels like it has been there a hundred years.


    • I’d throw in Brora for the second visit to the north, golf heaven! In fact I’d have another list of 20 courses for a second month-long visit.

      The two Fairmont courses are a bit North American (is that why so many Scots like playing them ?) but both now fit the location and offer challenging golf. The ability to ride a cart (buggie) on the Kittocks (Devlin) is also appreciated by North Americans who have just walked Carnoustie and the Old, possibly the first time they’ve walked a course in 20 years. Thanks for making your fine comments,

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