Choosing your favorite region of Scotland to plan your next golf trip is a bit like trying to decide your favorite dessert from the buffet table. Do you pick a little of this and that, or do you go full-on chocolate cake?
What impact, if any, do the famed Scottish courses that are part of The Open rota have upon your route?
Currently, there are four Scottish courses on the Open rota: The Old Course in St Andrews, and Carnoustie, separated by the Eden Estuary on the east side. While in the southwest, Royal Troon and Turnberry are just two of many fabled links along the Firth of Clyde.
These venues anchor two of Scotland' most golf-rich and rewarding destinations for golf travel, and each can offer a worthy itinerary alone. Here is a guide to each:
Ayrshire's Open links
The Ailsa's new 11th tee.
Let's start out in South Ayrshire at Turnberry. Developed in 1902, the property has a fascinating history even outside the Opens it has hosted. The castle ruins on property are known as the birthplace of Scottish hero Robert the Bruce in 1274. During the First World War I and World War II, the courses were converted into landing strips and the hotel into a hospital. Turnberry's Ailsa Course reopened in 1951 after restoration by designer Mackenzie Ross, and would later host its first Open in 1977 (as well as 1986, 1994 and 2009).
Since Donald Trump purchased the resort in 2014, dramatic changes have been undertaken to update the hotel and the courses. The changes to the Ailsa were overseen by the architectural firm Mackenzie & Ebert and include five new holes and hardly any piece of the property went untouched. While approached with great trepidation, the consensus emerging is that the renovations make better use of the dramatic coast and overall the changes have been well received.
From Turnberry, it's an easy trip up the west coast of Scotland where Royal Troon stands as the centerpiece to a rich region of Scottish golf choices. As a relatively recent recipient of Royal patronage in 1978, Royal Troon holds the distinction of being first (and as yet, last) club in Great Britain to receive such a distinction under the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. With roots as a five-hole course dating back to 1878, the course underwent a series of modifications through its early years and hosted its first Open in 1923. Long viewed as sitting in the shadow of its famous neighbor, Prestwick, site of the first and eventually 24 Opens in total, Royal Troon's debut would be a union that has long flourished, having now hosted nine Opens including 2016. Great courses produce great champions and names like Locke, Palmer, Weiskopf and Watson speak to its merits. In predominant winds, Troon is a gentle start where line takes precedence over distance and is highlighted by the famed "Postage Stamp" eighth hole, one of the most famous par 3s in the world, but the inward nine is a sharp challenge.
Golf on the east side in Fife, St. Andrews
Near St. Andrews, "Carnasty" is a demanding links course.
While I recommend choosing one region and focusing your attention on the courses in that area instead of spending long hours on the road (this also gives you good reasons to come back!), let's slide east across Scotland to my personal favorite, the Kingdom of Fife.
The beauty of St. Andrews is that you can stay in the Auld Grey Toon and use it as a staging point to some of the greatest golf in the world, including courses that have hosted the best in the world.
Carnoustie, host of seven Opens dating back to Tommy Armour's victory in 1931 has seen the claret jug hoisted by the likes of Henry Cotton, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Tom Watson and Padraig Harrington, and will welcome The Open back in 2018.
Carnoustie is a massive, sprawling canvas with variances in mood and personality throughout. The finishing holes are regarded as the most demanding in the British Isles as the meandering burns and brutally strategically placed bunkers seek to vex the best laid plans and lay ruin to the bold or careless that set out without a plan of attack at all.
After golf, you can be back in St. Andrews for a pre-dinner pint and a warm meal planning your next golfing conquest which could include a trip to Gleneagles in Perthshire. Or, stay more local and spend a day at the brilliant Kingsbarns, the historic Balcomie links at Crail, Fairmont St. Andrews (Kittocks Course or Torrance Course) or perhaps some of the other tasty offerings from the St. Andrews Links Trust including the New Course or Castle Course.
So much has been said about playing the Old Course in St. Andrews that there is little more that can be added to weight of conviction of how significant -- almost spiritual -- is the experience of playing the Old Course, host of 29 Opens, more than any other, including 2015, won by Zach Johnson. The bottom line is that you must do it at least once you die. The St. Andrews Links Trust controls access to the course and you can peruse their web site for the official means of securing your place knowing that demand outstrips availability through these official channels. However, the secret to getting on the Old Course lies in two efforts that will bear fruit in accordance with your efforts. The first is to simply show up in the pre-dawn hours (for many, they choose to simply add the effort to an endless night) and get your name listed to fill open slots. The other, less utilized, is to stroll down to the starter's shed in the afternoon when playing spots are down right plentiful by Old Course standards!
If I could make only one trip to Scotland, it would be to St. Andrews due to the history and variety, but the beauty of golf in Scotland is that you cannot go wrong, regardless of your choices. So go ahead and feast.