Once you've decided to plan a Scotland golf vacation, the decisions have really just begun.
There are scores of historic links, some charming, others daunting. The country's size appears so tempting to the outsider that one might think you can conquer it all on one trip.
But be warned, there are few A-to-B routes, and too much time on the bus will mean less time on the links and in the pubs, where the real memories are made.
It's no wonder there are so many golf tour operators and packagers who stay plenty busy shepherding golf groups around the country.
We asked the Golf Advisor Staff to each share their ideal, week-long itinerary in Scotland. Some require more miles, while others stick to one region. There really is no wrong way to enjoy golf in the game's birthplace, whether you're playing the prestigious Open Championship links, lesser-known clubs, or even journeying to remote courses on the islands or the Mull of Kintyre.
Bradley S. Klein: Highlands
Having been on many Scottish golf excursions, I’ve learned the value of spending more time walking courses than riding around in a car getting to them. Thus my basic rules of thumb traveling: Don’t try to see everything. Focus on a region. See places you’ve not heard of. It doesn’t matter what you missed out on.
The best trip I’ve ever taken started with a flight to Inverness up north and stayed within the Highlands region for a week. We played Castle Stuart, Tain, both courses at Royal Dornoch, Golspie and Brora. An intended day off for a ride around the top of the country saw us stop off at Durness, the country’s northern-most golf course, for a wild nine-holes in the teeth of a standard 40-miles per hour wind.
Our drive back that afternoon/evening through the middle of the Highlands took us through the most dramatic landscape we saw all week. On the way back to fly off we played an alternate shot at windswept Fortrose & Rosemarkie on a peninsula out in the Moray Firth before winding up on the most rational of all northern Scottish linksland layouts, Nairn.
The best part of the trip is that before that last night in Nairn, we had organized our stay around one hotel, in Dornoch. It helped us felt as if we spent more time playing golf then racing around looking for it.
Matt Ginella: Dornoch to North Berwick
When people ask me my favorite course, I always say the Old Course at St. Andrews. As much as I love Pebble, Bandon, Pinehurst and Ireland, there is only one Home of Golf. Which is to say, any first trip or ultimate trip to Scotland has to include time in St. Andrews.
In my 20s, and on my first trip to Scotland, I was part of trip that included 17 courses in nine days. In my 30s, I did a variety of Scottish golf trips that were much more sensible in terms of scheduling and allowed for a little more culture and off-course activities. And in my early 40s, I was part of another buddies trip that included 10 rounds in six days. For my dream itinerary to Scotland, I’d take those 10 courses we played, but now approaching my late 40s, I’d add at least four more days to play them.
On day one, after arriving in Glasgow, we played the West Links at North Berwick, which is all things charming, quirky, memorable and fun - most of which is a common theme to links golf in Scotland. On day two, we played Muirfield and the Old Course. As much as I love Muirfield the course, the club itself is a bit too pretentious and stuffy to feel the need to go back. That afternoon, we teed off on the Old Course just before 5 p.m., which meant we chased the sun and long shadows all the way back to the town that looks more like one big church. One of golf's great doubles and sunsets inspired spirituality and exhaustion.
Day three was Kingsbarns Golf Links and Trump International Golf Links Scotland, which was the modern twist to a Scottish double. Any trip to St. Andrews should include Kingsbarns, and I’ve always said that the best thing about Trump Aberdeen is that it gets more people to Cruden Bay, which is how we started day four.
Much like North Berwick, Cruden Bay is a true links course that I could play every day for the rest of my life and never get bored. We ended day four at Castle Stuart, a Gil Hanse design, which is yet another memorable modern twist to Scottish links golf. Like Kingsbarns is to the Old Course, Castle Stuart has a similar relationship to Royal Dornoch, which we played after a morning at Nairn. We ended with Tain, an Old Tom Morris design that is a must if you’re anywhere in the area. Not only for the fun factor, but also for the value.
My five favorites are Old Course, North Berwick, Cruden Bay, Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. If adding more days to this dream itinerary allows you more golf, I’d add Carnoustie, both at Crail Golfing Society and Brora in the North.
Jason Scott Deegan: West coast
All four trips I've taken to Scotland were memorable. I can't say enough good things about the Highlands and East Lothian, but the pull of the west coast is just too strong for me to ignore. I have a history here, having landed an ace along the Ayrshire coast.
My dream Scottish trip would start upon landing in Glasgow, where it's just a short 45-minute commute to the first tee of Western Gailes, one of the most unique links in the world. It's skinnier than a Playboy bunny and just as beautiful. It never stretches more than two holes wide, sandwiched between the railroad line and the sea. Right across the tracks is Dundonald Links, a modern links from Kyle Phillips. From there, you stair step down the coast to experience a stunning collection of past and current Open venues - Royal Troon, Prestwick and Trump Turnberry. All three have their famous holes - the Postage Stamp at Troon, the Alps at Prestwick and the new holes on the Ailsa course at Trump Turnberry surrounding the lighthouse. I'd love to linger longer at Turnberry - both my stays have been in and out - to play the wee nine-hole Arran links in front of the hotel and sample the new King Robert the Bruce links. If dreams did come true, I'd spend the night in the lighthouse.
But all this luxury isn't why I love the west. A ferry ride from Ayrshire to the Mull of Kintyre unlocks the real Scotland I adore. The historic and modern duo of Machrihanish by Old Tom Morris and Machrihanish Dunes by David McLay Kidd are contrasting links too compelling to miss. I would never tire of walking through their magnificent dunes.
Brandon Tucker: Highlands to Edinburgh
My ideal Scotland itinerary is centered around what I think are the three most essential and fulfilling links for visitors: Royal Dornoch, North Berwick and the Old Course in St. Andrews.
Since arrival days are usually groggy affairs, we'd start by meandering from Edinburgh airport up north to the Highlands. It's about a four-hour drive but there's no rush, and there are castles and towns and other sights worth stopping off for to stretch the legs. I'm sure some in the bus will be itching to play, so upon arrival in Dornoch I'll suggest the Struie course.
The following Day is Royal Dornoch, which really helps link Scotland with Donald Ross courses in the U.S. We'll then head south, stopping off at Castle Stuart and, if there's time, Cruden Bay.
The second half of the trip comes with far fewer miles. We will spend three days in St. Andrews and enter the Old Course lottery every day, along with purchasing the 3-day Links ticket for £220, one of the true bargains of golf travel. Days are so long in Scotland that you could theoretically play all seven links trust courses in three days (not to mention a loop around the Himalayas).
The final day is spent across the Firth of Forth in East Lothian at North Berwick, one of the most fun and interesting links anywhere. We'll get the day ticket and play it twice, followed by a night spending any leftover quid in the pubs and shops of Edinburgh's City Center.
Mike Bailey: St. Andrews
To date, the most memorable round of my life was my only chance on the Old Course. I got on as a single, having put my name on the walk-up list at 4 o'clock in the morning and five hours later birdied the first hole and legitimately broke 80 (no Mulligans). Even if I never play the Old Course again, my golf life is complete, but who wouldn't love another shot?
My dream Scotland golf trip revolves around St. Andrews. I would fly into Edinburgh, transfer to St. Andrews and a stay at one of the wonderful B&Bs in town (last time, I stayed at Six Murray Park Guest House, just minutes by foot from the Old Course).
Simply put, St. Andrews is at the center of the golf universe. You really don't even need a car and there's so much to see and do in town, like check out the famous Old Course Hotel, the pub at the Dunvegan Hotel, the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews Castle and so much more. And if this is your first time playing golf in Scotland, this is your itinerary.
As for my golf itinerary, it should remain flexible because I'd enter the ballot for the Old Course each day (or go early again and put my name on the walk-up list). If you do that, chances are better than good you'll get a tee time. I'd schedule at least two or three more rounds on the Trust courses, most notably the Jubilee Course, the New Course and the newest addition, the Castle Course at St. Andrews. You could also play one or both of the courses at the Fairmont St. Andrews – the Kittocks and Torrance courses.
The ultimate St. Andrews itinerary, however, would have to include two more special golf experiences. The first is the American-owned Kingsbarns, the wonderful Kyle Phillips design that opened in 2000 and is as spectacular as any links course in the world. And the second would be Carnoustie, home of this year's Open Championship. Accessible by train or taxi, I was scheduled to play there four years ago, but the weather was so bad, I decided to pass it up. I'd love another chance.
Tim Gavrich: Unsung gems
Having only been to Scotland once and having played in and around St. Andrews, I’m taking a different tack here. The Open Championship courses in Edinburgh and Fife and Ayrshire are so mainstream, man. I would love to suss out some of the hidden gems - Scotland's lesser-known but nevertheless beloved courses. I'm thinking of a rambling road trip that takes in not just some B-side links but also a couple of insland courses, blasphemous as that sounds.
I'd start by flying into Edinburgh and heading for the Royal Burgess Golfing Society of Edinburgh. No, it's not a links, but it is the home of the oldest golf club in the world (the Society dates back to 1735), and its design history includes Old Tom Morris, Harry Colt and James Braid.
Next, I'm heading for the coast for a morning round at Leven Links, a course that has been 18 holes since 1876 and which is still stout enough to have held final Open Championship qualifying as recently as 2005. Literally next door is Lundin Golf Club, another fine old links that makes for a suitable second round.
I love The Old Course, but for this iconoclastic trip I'm skipping St. Andrews completely, and Carnoustie too. Instead, I'm hitting Monifieth’s Medal Course, which served as Tom Watson’s first taste of links golf; and Panmure Golf Club, which dates back to 1845 and whose James Braid-designed course in 2016 hosted the World Hickory Championship, won by two-time major champion Sandy Lyle.
My next stop would be Montrose, where people have been playing golf since as long ago as 1562. I'd follow up a round on the Medal Course with a loop of the Broomfield Course, a sub-5,000 yard par 66. With par threes of 207, 196 and 170 yards, though, it doesn’t sound like a pushover.
Next up, I'm heading just north of Aberdeen to Murcar Links, an Archie Simpson design that dates to 1909, with later updates by James Braid in the 1930s. The course is ranked among the top 30 or so in Scotland, but seems to fly under the radar a bit. Perfect.
Heading back to Edinburgh, I'd go inland once more, to Gleneagles, but I'd skip the American-style PGA Centenary course in favor of the classic, James Braid-designed King’s and (if there’s time) Queen’s courses. I’m convinced that there’s more great golf in Scotland than just the (admittedly spectacular) links, and I’m intent on sampling it.