Golf Channel's Mike Ritz, the lead voice for European Tour coverage, recently took three friends on a trip of a lifetime: six of the top links courses in Scotland in six days.
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Mecca.
The birthplace of our game. The one course all golfers must play before they move on to the 19th hole in the sky.
This might sound strange, but The Old Course at St. Andrews might be the most underrated course in the world. Yes, it's ranked seventh globally and second in Scotland, but many reviewers say The Old Course is great because of its historical significance, not because of its layout and design. I beg to differ.
I've now been lucky enough to play The Old four times; and every time I play it, I appreciate it even more. Every single shot requires your full attention. There are so many subtleties that come into play on every hole: bunkers to avoid, angles to take, which side of which mogul to hit off the tee and where to land your approach so it bounces to the green, not the gorse. How do you keep your approach shot below the hole so you won't putt your ball off the green? You will use every club in your bag over the 18 holes at The Old Course -- to me the sign of a truly great course.
So many spots on the course are famous. There's Hell Bunker, the Principal's Nose, Spectacles, Bobby Jones' Bunker, the Road Hole Bunker, the Valley of Sin -- so many bunkers -- so many places you have seen on TV or read about ... and now you're playing there, yourself.
This is where Bobby Jones got his second Open Championship win in 1927. Snead won at St. Andrews in 1946. Peter Thomson won his second of three straight Opens at The Old in 1955. Jack won here twice. So did Tiger. So much history here, and now you're playing there, yourself. Undoubtedly, you will play two of the most nerve-racking shots of your life at St. Andrews. You will definitely feel the first-tee jitters as you start your historic round in front of the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse. As nervous as you might be at this mythical course, remember the first fairway is 140 yards wide! Worry about your second shot when you need to clear the Swilcan Burn.
Your nerves will be tested at the end of the round, as well. Expect to play the 18th hole in front of a crowd. Scots love this game they invented; and they will stop and watch anyone play it. The 18th green at the Old Course is almost always surrounded by the good people of St. Andrews.
After all, they do own the course.
If you want to guarantee a tee time at The Old Course, my advice is to do it close to a year in advance.
When you play any of these wonderful golf courses in Scotland, make sure to take caddies. They will certainly help you navigate these mysterious links; and most will share quite a bit of history, peppered with a few salty jokes.
There are any number of wonderful hotels in St. Andrews, offering varying prices. We stayed at The Old Course Hotel, which might be one of the best hotels in the world. The staff was incredibly friendly, welcoming and helpful. The rooms and restaurants marvelous. As Joe Wirth put it: "The only complaint I have is that the towels are too soft and too big."
Even if you don't stay at the Old Course Hotel, you should make sure to stop in at its Jigger Inn for at least a beverage or one of its top-notch cheeseburgers. Other places for a pop in town: The Dunvegan, 50 yards from the 18th green, and next door at 1 Golf Place, the Keys Bar on Market Street.
And if you're looking for Cuban cigars at a decent price, head to Luvians Ice Cream Parlour on Market Street. Yes, an ice cream parlour.
If you're after more than just pub grub, head to the Grange Inn. It sits on a hill just outside of town, with wonderful views over-looking St. Andrews. It's fine dining at very reasonable prices. Both the food and staff are wonderful. If you're lucky, you might even be serenaded by a bagpipe.