Eye candy: The 10 most scenic links golf courses in Scotland

Not every great Scottish links is a seaside stunner.

Sorry St. Andrews, but Fife sometimes lacks in the scenery department. Muirfield, while a historic club in East Lothian with picturesque moments, won't ever be mistaken for Turnberry's Ailsa Course, the gold standard for the most beautiful links in the world.

While beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder, these 10 scenic Scottish links tend to mesmerize visitors more than others:

This four-time host of the Open Championship runs along the rocky Ayrshire coast of west Scotland. Ailsa inspires a magical round where golfers encounter gorse, dunes and landmarks of all sorts: The Ailsa Craig offshore, the majestic Turnberry lighthouse and a World War II memorial in the shape of a cross near the 12th green.

By manufacturing the dunes, architect Kyle Phillips was able to give Kingsbarns some sexy curves that enhanced an already beautiful setting along the North Sea seven miles from St. Andrews. Americans touring the Home of Golf tend to come home raving about Kingsbarns more than any other links along Scotland's east coast.

The massive dunes that frame Dr. Martin Hawtree's creation causes mouths to drop and camera shutters to pop. Donald Trump calls his 2012 ode to links golf "The World's Greatest Golf Course." Its scenery along the North Sea certainly ranks right up there.

Architect David McLay Kidd left nature alone in opening "Mach Dunes" in 2009. The dunes of the remote Mull of Kintyre create some fun blinds shots and a highlight reel of back-to-back par 3s along the water. Even if you aren't playing from the tips, climb the dunes to find them. You'll fall in love with these panoramic views.

Many who have played it claim the opening hole at Machrihanish Golf Club might be the best in golf. It might be the prettiest, too. The par-4 opener, called "The Battery," runs along the beach (or the Atlantic Ocean if the tide's in), tempting players to carry as much of the beach as they dare to reach the fairway. The demanding dunes and heavy sea air make this 6,462-yard legendary links play much longer than anticipated.

This cool East Lothian links starts out strong with its opening two holes along a beach, looking out upon the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth. Don't be surprised if someone in your foursome slices his first two tee shots onto the beach. It's easy to do with such visual distractions. An ancient stone wall comes into play on at least three other holes, adding other elements of visual surprise.

Not many people realize how good this 6,597-yard par-71 links really is. An ancient stone wall separates four mediocre golf holes from the heart of this underrated links along the Firth of Forth. Climbing a ridge to the ninth fairway reveals the Barns Ness Lighthouse. Dunbar's 12th green sits precariously at land's end.

Royal Dornoch can be a kaleidoscope of colors in summer when the gorse blooms yellow and the sun shines upon the white sandy beach along the Dornoch Firth. The inland views of the rolling hills of the Scottish Highlands can look just as pleasing as the watery horizon of the North Sea.

Both nines begin along the water to set off the senses. The Kessock Bridge and Chanonry Lighthouse frame the backdrop across the Moray Firth. The Gil Hanse design opened in 2009, but Phil Mickelson's Scottish Open win in 2013 essentially put Castle Stuart on the world map.

The 6,287-yard course, laid out among giant dunes roughly a half-hour north of Aberdeen, still harbors elements of the original design by Old Tom Morris in 1899. Blind shots and linksy quirks like the "Bluidy Burn" fronting the third green virtually guarantee a fun round.

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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Eye candy: The 10 most scenic links golf courses in Scotland
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