Beyond the Open Championship: Play Scotland's greatest links that might never host a major

Only seven golf courses in Scotland have hosted the Open Championship. The R&A keeps a tight, tidy rotation for the world's oldest major.

Dozens of great Scottish links will never host the Open for various reasons. Maybe they're too short by modern standards or there's not enough infrastructure (roads, hotels, parking) for such an undertaking. But that doesn't make them any less of a golf course.

Here are 12 Scottish links not on the Open rota that should still be on yours:

This 6,491-yard links at the tip of the Mull of Kintyre dates to 1876, when Old Tom Morris designed the original 12 holes. The famous first tee shot over the beach launches a rousing round in the dunes. The course sits adjacent to the Village at Machrihanish Dunes, home to luxurious cottages built in 2009 and the refurbished Ugadale Hotel.

Machrihanish Dunes, located 10 minutes from Machrihanish, continues to evolve since opening in 2009. The nines have been flip-flopped to allow players to warm up on the easier nine before taking on the tougher one. A couple new greens should be fully grown in for 2014. Architect David McLay Kidd fit holes naturally into a dunes-scape where no machines were allowed to go. The 259 acres are a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), an environmental designation protecting five rare types of orchid. The most memorable stretch of golf begins with no. 4, a drivable par 4, followed by back-to-back par 3s along the water.

Founded in 1897, this tough links along the Ayrshire coast might be the most linear layout in golf. Sandwiched on a mere 130 acres of links land between the railroad line and the sea, Western Gailes never stretches more than two holes wide. Greens nestle naturally into the dunes (four are protected by burns).

Set hard against the Firth of Forth in East Lothian, this historic club, dating to 1832, personifies all the oddities that golfers love about links golf. Players must hit over ancient stone walls on several holes. The original Redan, the par-3 15th hole, features a green that slants front-right-to-back-left away from players. The wild 16th green is a maddening mound of slopes and fall-offs that can ruin a round.

Once golfers climb Gullane Hill, the view from the elevated third tee box reveals links golf at its finest. Holes spill in all directions with the Firth of Forth as a backdrop. Most of them are from the famed No. 1 Course, a 6,548-yard British Open qualifying site dating to 1884. A few belong to the club's No. 2 Course, an equally fun layout of 6,244 yards that was added in 1898.

Architect Kyle Phillips pushed big piles of dirt around to craft a modern links along the North Sea that feels timeless, like it's been in play for hundreds of years. Kingsbarns co-hosts the European Tour's Alfred Dunhill Links Championship with nearby St. Andrews and Carnoustie. Its combination of scenery and pure links golf is tough to beat.

The New Course, fashioned by Old Tom Morris in 1895, often gets the nod as the second-best of the seven St. Andrews Links Trust courses (although the newer Castle Course gets some votes, too). The 6,625-yard New Course plays to a par of 71.

Royal Dornoch, founded in 1877 in the Scottish Highlands, has been a royal club for more than a century. Critics often rank its Championship Course, the early home of Donald Ross, higher than most of the Open venues (except Muirfield and the Old Course at St. Andrews ). Many of its holes run along the Dornoch Firth. It's a demanding par-70 routing with just a single par 5 on each nine. The 6,285-yard Struie Course at Royal Dornoch provides solid relief as a secondary course.

After teeing off at no. 1 beside the clubhouse, this rugged links runs parallel to the North Sea for the next eight holes, a collection considered among the best opening nines in the world. Royal Aberdeen dates to 1780 as the sixth-oldest golf club in the world. Tom Watson won the 2005 Senior British Open here. Phil Mickelson plans to defend his Scottish Open title at Royal Aberdeen in July 2014.

Gil Hanse blessed the Highlands with another beauty when this links opened in Inverness in 2009. Both nines begin with a scenic run of holes along the Moray Firth. Mickelson's Scottish Open win before his Open Championship last summer elevated the stature of Castle Stuart in the eyes of links-loving Americans.

Blind holes and remarkable dunes highlight the round on this quirky links originally designed by Old Tom Morris in 1899 (and later reworked by several architects). The 6,287-yard Cruden Bay tends to win over fans for its "fun" factor.

Donald Trump hopes his controversial links that opened in 2012 eventually hosts an Open Championship. The jury is still out if that will ever happen, but few question the beauty of Dr. Martin Hawtree's work in the heaving dunes.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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When American Jerry Savardi opened The Renaissance Club near Muirfield in East Lothian Scotland, the idea was to create a golf course and club that would comfortably maintain the exceptional standard that prevails along the stretch coastline known as Scotland's Golf Coast. The Renaissance Club is unashamedly upmarket, aimed at the very well heeled prepared to pay for their privacy and privileges. And right at the heart of the offering is a simply superb golf course. Clive Agran has more.
East Lothian, otherwise known as "Scotland's Golf Coast," features a collection of links as good as anywhere in the world. St. Andrews might be the "Home of Golf," but this region that hugs the southern shores of the Firth of Forth just 30 minutes east of Edinburgh remains steeped in the history and tradition of the game. There are 22 courses along the Golf Coast, many of them links. If you seek their dunes and wind-swept fairways, here are the five best to play.
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Beyond the Open Championship: Play Scotland's greatest links that might never host a major
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