The Golf! (3 of 3)
Despite the weather, our trip to Scotland was still epic. We were able to sample some incredible links golf and to get a taste of the golf in the Highlands, St Andrews, and East Lothian areas.
There’s a constant debate among golf travelers related to the best way to play and experience Scotland. Many will advocate for staying in one area and getting to know each area in-depth and with multiple rounds at each course, while others really want to cram in as many courses as possible. We went with the middle ground and it felt like we had a great mixture of leisure and golf. We likely would have fit in some replays at many of these courses if the weather would have cooperated – but the mixture of golf and leisure let us explore each respective area and still experience some great golf.
Each of the courses we played had its own distinct personality and while we only played a single round at most of the courses – it was obvious how deep and complex each course was. The comments and photos in this article will only touch on the surface of each of these courses, but you can find many great stories and in-depth reviews and opinions of each on Golf Club Atlas.
Day 1: Castle Stuart
We arrived to the airport early in the morning and headed straight for Castle Stuart. Customs and getting our car took a while longer than we expected and we had Golf Scotland call and move our tee time back a bit later than we had initially booked it for.
Castle Stuart was a great opener for us. As the site of multiple Scottish Opens, a few of the holes were already familiar and the quality of the golf and views was absolutely world class. We started our round close to 4pm and never saw another person on the course.
Unfortunately, we needed to cut our round short by a few holes when we realized that darkness was setting in and that we needed to get to the hotel before the person holding the keys to our room left for the evening (this was a common issue that we ran into multiple times on our trip during our initial check in). We picked an interesting criss-cross routing to complete the course and we were on our way to Dornoch.
Day 2: Royal Dornoch
We stayed at Dornoch Castle for the first few nights guts of the trip and thoroughly enjoyed Dornoch. The town is small and the people were all great. The bar attached to out hotel had an insane whiskey section that kept us busy and intrigued between our rounds of golf.
Royal Dornoch has always been near the top of my bucket list. Given the course was the childhood home of Donald Ross – I’ve always wanted to play the course that shaped much of his thinking and approach.
Royal Dornoch was full of challenge and the greens were particularly challenging. We had a constant light rain and even with the softer and slower greens – they were still challenging. The gorse that lines the course was more pronounced than the other courses we played and many of the holes were outlined in a bright yellow – absolutely stunning.
Day 3: Brora
Just north of Dornoch you can find Brora and it was a true gem. This was the first James Braid course that I’ve played and it went beyond my expectations. The course is quirky and a ton of fun to play.
The big draw for us to Brora was the wildlife that roams the course. Being surrounded by cows and sheep (and quite a few town dogs) makes for a great walk. This felt like pure golf; no elaborate clubhouse, reasonable green fees, friendly people, and beautiful views.
Having the upstairs of the clubhouse serve as the home of the James Braid Society also allowed for some great browsing of the displays that line that hallways.
Day 4: The New Course
Yes, it’s a bit strange that The New Course at St. Andrews was built in 1895, but I guess it was new at one point.
The New Course is a relatively tame layout that is nice kickback and relax golf. The course was added to our itinerary as an easy and local course since we had just made the drive down from Brora the night before. It was a casual stroll that borders the Old Course in areas.
While I had my best round of the trip here, I would pass on the course. It’s a fun course, but there are just too many other gems in the area to pass up. If you’re entering the ballot for the Old Course and don’t get lucky, then strolling down to the New Course to get in some golf would be a nice “didn’t get selected to play the Old” option.
Day 5: The Old Course
You seriously can’t describe the feeling of getting ready to tee off at the Old Course. It’s not nearly as nerve-racking as I expected (although I did still manage to hit an awful drive) and the experience of standing on that first tee is one of the most powerful and inspiring feelings that you can hope for in the game.
We did have a guaranteed tee time at the Old Course. While it’s convenient and made sense for us, I wouldn’t have any hesitation in traveling to St Andrews and entering the ballot if you plan to stay in the area for a block of time. With so many great courses in driving distance, you could always find a tee time a short distance away until your name is pulled.
It didn’t just rain on us during our round – it poured. It was also extremely cold and windy to the point that I’m pretty sure our caddies were about to throw in the towel and leave us to carry our own soaked bags. They did a good job of still being pleasant – but it was clear that everyone on the course with us was completely beat down by the weather.
Regardless, we’d all still do it again in those same conditions.
Day 6: Carnoustie
Carnoustie was a relatively short and easy drive from our base in St. Andrews and the course is bordered by a town that has some great places to eat and drink.
We weren’t sure what to expect with Carnoustie, but the round turned out to be a lot of fun. There are some crazy tough holes on the course when the wind picks up and enough variety in the terrain to keep it really interesting.
On the downside, we ran into some incredibly rude members that kept insisting that we hit into the group in front of us (and they proceeded to hit into our group multiple times). Not sure what the deal was there, but it certainly soured parts of the round.
Day 7: Kingsbarns
Kingsbarns was the surprise of the trip. While the history doesn’t compare to many of the other courses we visited – the grounds, the course, our forecaddie, and the clubhouse at Kingsbarns left nothing more than we could have asked for.
This is a modern links with luxury surroundings, and it’s an excellent experience from the time you arrive. Although most make the trek to Scotland for the history and the purity of the golf, I’d recommend not missing a round at Kingsbarns.
Nearly every hole has absolutely stunning views and the variety of the golf is incredible. While it’s a newer course, the quality of the golf is excellent and exciting from start to end.
Day 8: North Berwick
North Berwick was a late addition to the trip. Since we had an extra day and we were based on Edinburgh, we decided to make the short drive out to North Berwick since the course has so many rave reviews and huge fans.
Well, all those great reviews are solid – this is a great course and one that was a great end for the trip. Even with the continuing rain, the variety of the course and quirkiness of some of the holes kept us smiling the entire time.