Punch Shots: Staff picks for the top five golf courses in Scotland

I haven't played the Old Course at St. Andrews.

Brandon Tucker hasn't played Muirfield.

Those two omissions from our golf resumes might help explain we can't agree on our five favorite golf courses in Scotland. The other reason is quite simple: Ranking golf courses is entirely subjective and personal. When it comes to the best links in Scotland, there are so many choices that variety is inevitable.

I considered as many as 15 courses when I was narrowing down my selections. And, to be honest, I'm still not happy with how my top five shook out. I continued to tinker with the order right until the moment I hit the send button for this story. Tucker expressed a similar feeling by picking a new no. 1. A few more golf trips to Scotland might help settle the debate.

Who is with us? Let's hear about your favorite five Scottish courses in the comments below.

Brandon Tucker's top five golf courses in Scotland

1. West Links at North Berwick

It seems every year I become more and more smitten with the West Links at North Berwick. It's a lot like the Old Course in St. Andrews in that the out-and-back routing begins and ends in heart of town with one double-wide fairway and even has it's own "valley of sin" on a drivable 18th hole. A lot of St. Andrews' charms are more subtle, but there's nothing subdued about hitting over stone walls and conquering the borderline-ridiculous 16th green.

Additionally, rounds are cheaper and the sea is in view more than at St. Andrews (including a marvelous first green site). St. Andrews may be golf's most important course, but there just isn't a round more fun on Earth than North Berwick.

2. Old Course at St. Andrews

I've had the Old Course no. 1 in previous rankings (click here) and I may very well put it back to no. 1 sometime soon. The fact the oldest course on earth can still host The Open is a testament to its ageless design intricacies and cavernous bunkers that instill fear in the most accomplished golfers, while the golfing buzz around town and the energy emitting from the turf is indescribable. I've played it twice, in different wind directions, and it felt like an entirely different course each time. No golfer's life is complete until they've spent time in the town of St. Andrews and a round on the Old changes your perspective on the game, both from a golfing culture and design standpoint, for life.

3. The Championship Links at Royal Dornoch Golf Club

I've had the tremendous fortune of playing this fabled beacon of the Highlands three times. The last time I played it, the course was so baked out from a dry summer it was near-impossible to score. But the other times, while no doubt challenging, were quite manageable. The setting couldn't be better and every unique green design tells its own story. It's a round that flies by all too fast.

4. Kingsbarns Golf Links

I wanted to be sure I snuck a modern links into my top 5 -- Scotland has many fine 21st-century additions -- and frankly I could swap Kingsbarns out even-steven with Castle Stuart. I love them both (though you'll probably score better on Castle Stuart; Kingsbarns is a beauty but very tough). Kingsbarns gets the slightest of nods in my book for its added maturity and location minutes from golf's greatest town.

5. Cruden Bay Golf Club

You never know what's around the corner during your wild ride at Cruden Bay. On the rugged northeast coast near Aberdeen, it may be the quirkiest links course you play in Scotland -- dare I say almost "Irish" in pedigree. It's a big reason why this most unique, old-world loop is so often voted the best course of a golf tour, according to many tour operators. Better yet, the club has been making many upgrades to the course recently, but if they touch any of the sunken greens, Old Tom's ghost will be back and -- I presume -- not too happy.

Jason Scott Deegan's top five golf courses in Scotland

1. Ailsa Course at Trump Turnberry Resort

I struggled to find a true no. 1, although the land and scenery along the Firth of Clyde is so spectacular and the history of the links so special that Turnberry deserves this spot. Owner Donald Trump has somewhat American-ized the soul of the hotel, but the extensive renovation by Martin Ebert finished in 2016 has the Ailsa links looking marvelous. My visit in 2013 is my no. 1 memory in golf: A night in the Tom Watson suite, followed by some Watson-esque magic the next day, a hole-in-one at no. 11, a hole that no longer exists.

2. Castle Stuart Golf Links

Like Brandon, I believe Kingsbarns and Castle Stuart are almost interchangeable. Where Castle Stuart steps ahead, in my book, is the historical significance of the 2013 Scottish Open, where Phil Mickelson won to find his links mojo. He won the claret jug the following week at Muirfield. That, and Castle Stuart's cool green complexes by Gil Hanse and score-ability. Call me a fan of the intriguing clubhouse design, too.

3. West Links at North Berwick

There's so much to smile about while playing this historic, 6,506-yard links that dates to 1832 -– the opening stretch of holes along the beach, the approach shots over ancient stone walls, the original Redan hole (I made birdie!) and the wildest green in golf at no. 16. I hated it when my first putt rolled off, but when I drained the comebacker, a snaking 40-footer from well below the green, my grin and game were back. A day at North Berwick is like that: One minute maddening, endearing the next.

4. Muirfield

I normally only wear a jacket and tie for weddings and funerals. Muirfield's 2013 Open Championship media day forced me to dig them out of the closet, a fact I somewhat resented. As far as I was concerned, any club that requires such a wardrobe was for stuffy old codgers only. The majesty of Muirfield - its famous lunch buffet and links - eventually won me over. The course along the Firth of Forth was as advertised, a tough but fair challenge where only best champions prevail. (Did I mention I won the media day? Just kidding.) Muirfield's claret jug winners include Nicklaus, Player, Faldo (twice), Watson, Hagen, Trevino, Vardon and Els.

5. The Championship Links at Royal Dornoch Golf Club

I almost went with the oh-so-unique Brora Golf Club here, but gave Royal Dornoch the benefit of the doubt. My own Royal Dornoch experience was a total butt-kicking in a nasty gale. The beauty of the links was in full bloom, even if my game wasn't. The yellow gorse sparkled golden in the sun. I did make one memorable par at no. 14, the famous hole called "Foxy." And now that I know the angles of the blind tee shots on the great par 4s at no. 8 and no. 17, I'll be ready next time.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 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 Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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