By Clay Giese
Whether you call it The Open, The Open Championship, or the British Open, the oldest of golf’s four major championships is a bucket-list destination that may even trump The Masters. And if you’re any sort of golf fan, you know the good news that from July 12-19 The Open is returning to St. Andrews, a/k/a “The Home of Golf.”
St. Andrews, a small town on Scotland’s east coast north of Edinburgh and east of Perth, is home to some of the world’s finest golf courses, and is indisputable evidence of Scotland’s status in golf history – a status that decades of showcase golf-course developments around the world has been unable to shake.
St. Andrews earned its “Home of Golf” moniker by being the most frequent venue for The Open, and because The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, founded in 1754, has legislative authority over the game of golf worldwide (except in the U.S. and Mexico). So to whet your appetite for the sight of someone lifting the Claret Jug at The Open next week, here’s a sort of Golf Grand Tour that highlights the best courses in Scotland that even casual hackers can see and play.
Note that most of these golf courses are “links courses,” a course style that features dunes, ridges, sandy soil, and a wavy landscape (including fairways that can heave and roll like the North Sea). Links courses are more open with fewer trees, and are often found near coastal locations. They originated in Britain and are the oldest golf-course style in the world.
- The Old Course, St. Andrews, Fife County, Scotland: Our first stop is the venue for this year’s Open, and 27 others throughout the tournament’s history – and yes, you can play St. Andrews if you can hack the greens fee (£170, or around $275). The appropriately named Old Course dates to 1850, making it the oldest championship-golf course still in use. It’s built on a peninsula, which creates a beautiful surrounding landscape but opens it up to blustery winds that come screaming off the North Sea. The ground is sandy with lots of depressions, and the holes are long with an abundance of deep bunkers waiting to trap golfers’ drives. It challenges the world’s best golfers and showcases their greatness. It’s worth the visit for its history and tradition – and its quality. Golf.com ranks it the No. 1 course in Scotland, and Tiger Woods claims The Old Course is his favorite (and holds the course record). If you need something that isn’t amber-colored and poured from a bottle to take your mind off your round, there’s a marvelous golf museum on the grounds that’s worth a stop even if you fall below duffer status.
- Kingsbarns Golf Links, Kingsbarns, Fife County, Scotland: Just six miles south is the Village of Kingsbarns, famous for beaches and surfing … and golf. Kingsbarns Golf Links was built in 2000 and has been frequently ranked among the world’s best courses. The scenery is gorgeous and every hole offers views of the ocean. The course was designed by Kyle Phillips, a world-renowned golf-course architect, so the layout and the greens are excellent. Also, it’s fair to all skill levels — important if your golf game is anything like mine.
- Gleneagles (King’s Course), Auchterarder, Perthshire, Scotland: About one hour straight inland from St. Andrew’s and Kingsbarns, Gleneagles has five golf courses, a hotel, spa, fishing, cycling, tennis, and other activities. Golf remains the biggest attraction, with the King’s Course the most popular. Elevated greens, hidden bunkers, and springy turf make every hole a surprise. Also, no hole is visible from another, so you always feel like the only ones on the course. Golfers enjoy views of mountains to the north and green hills to the south. Gleneagles is often considered the best inland course in Scotland, and is probably the prettiest course on this list in a traditional sense. For golfers looking for something more like what they golf on back home, Gleneagles is the place.
- Carnoustie (Championship Course), Angus, Carnoustie, Scotland: If you really want to test your golf skills, Carnoustie’s Championship Course is perfect for you. The course, 45 minutes north of St. Andrews, shares many of the Old Course’s weather-related challenges but has an even higher degree of difficulty, with wildly unpredictable winds and a brutal final four holes, where bogeys all around is considered solid by even professional standards. The Championship Course has hosted seven Open Championships and will host the Open in 2018, but it’s just one of Carnoustie’s four courses. The others are less difficult but still entertaining and highly playable. Should you choose the Championship Course, best of luck. But don’t worry; if you struggle, there’s a luxurious hotel and spa waiting to cheer you up.
- Royal Troon Golf Club (Old Course), Troon, South Ayrshire, Scotland: Flipping Scottish coasts from east to west only takes two hours and brings us to Royal Troon Golf Club and its two courses: The Old Course, which has hosted eight Open Championships and will host again in 2016, and the Portland Course. The Old Course features the shortest and longest (and two of the best) holes in Open Championship golf. The par-three eighth hole is called “Postage Stamp” and is just 123 yards, while the massive par-five sixth hole, “Turnberry,” checks in at 601 yards. As always with links courses, the wind is a major challenge. So is the deep rough, which makes accurate shots even more important. It’s another difficult course, but you experience more of Scotland’s beauty while playing along the beach on the front nine before turning inland on the back nine.
That concludes our grand tour. If you’re fortunate enough to golf any of these incredible courses, enjoy. They’re truly some of the best in the world.
Clay Giese is a member of the social-media and marketing team at Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.
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