Scotland Golf Trip Review, Background, Info and Experience
Sometimes in order to find new ground one has to make the pilgrimage to significant old ground. With this in mind the WYLD1 crew set out on an epic golf adventure to Scotland "The Birthplace of Golf" to experience true Links golf firsthand on wickedly old historic courses; better understand the heritage of the sport; test our wills in the battle against the elements; enjoy a new culture; and have 19th hole wild adventures with friends. Simply said Scotland didn't disappoint.
It is widely believed through pieced together incomplete documents the modern game of golf originated in Scotland in the High Middle Ages. We are not historians by any means but what we did uncover is an interesting perspective to some of the first recordings of the game of golf. Golf found its way into an Act of of Scots Parliament in 1457 stating that football and golf (also listed in other documents as gowf, gowff, gouf, gouff) were to be prohibited and those caught playing were to be punished by the courts or arrested by the Kings Officers. Yes, you would have been a rebel if you were sneaking out to play golf back in the days!
Golf in Scotland has come a long way since its rocky start to being a centerpiece of the country with worldly iconic appeal. While the fundamentals of the modern game are now shared throughout the world, golfing in Scotland looks and feels different.
First the looks. The courses are not overly manicured so the lands natural elements are always in play and visible...often beautiful with the coast line and ocean. The lies are tight, the ground is hard, the gorse is nasty, holes are often side-by-side, the turns are often far from the start, and the famous bunkers can be a true penalty. Its no walk in the park but if you love a challenge there is nothing more gratifying.
And the feel. Its magical. There is energy and a spirit that immediately hits you on the first tee and it doesn't wear off. You are focused but relaxed allowing you to take it all in. Walking adds a great underrated dimensions we miss with cart golf which is a closer connection to the course and environment, and individual time to take in the experience and focus on your game.
And we can't skip the off the course cultural immersion. The Scotts are great. We chose to hub out of Edinburgh and St. Andrews with a one-night stay at Turnberry. The dinner and night life were vibrant with plenty of dinning options to meet any desires (Haggis was a big hit). The people were welcoming, nice and great conversationalist. Make sure to hit the Dunvegan in St. Andrews for a memorable 19th hole that often lasted late into the night. Did we mention the other marvelous Scottish invention? Yes, Scotch whiskey. Make sure to sample the wide variety of Scotch to enliven and refine your whiskey palette and provide a solid late night boost.
Planning is a key element to a successful Scotland trip. We chose to partner with Grasphopper Golf Tours to help with our Scotland trip logistics. A tour operator is not a necessity but it will help ensure the details are dialed which is critical with group travel. If you are planning your own trip we would highly recommend reading other peoples travel guides to get a better grasp or desired courses, travel routes and bases to reduce driving and increase playing time. Although Scotland is not an massive country the courses are spread out with notable driving times between key areas. If you also have the ability to share a van with a driver this can reduce stress of learning to drive on the opposite side; provide additional enjoyment of viewing the countryside; and just hanging and sharing a few beers with friends.
If you're traveling with a group we would also recommend setting up a few different competitions that occur throughout the trip to add to the enjoyment and enliven the smack talk. Our normal course of competition action includes:
- Overall Gross and Net leaders
- Daily Gross and Net leaders
- Special prize daily team or individual competitions where the field pays for a nice souvenir that can be worn for many years to remind your opponents of your victory
- Standard daily four-some games
- And always encouraged side-bet individual competitions to settle who is the better player and stimulate fun 19th hole chirps
We selected Glasgow for our entry/exit point. There are a lot of flight options into Glasgow allowing our group to select different airline providers and routes. Keep in mind if traveling from the US you will likely have a layover based out of an East Coast airport and the flight to Glasgow is normally overnight and short which is nice but the sleep will be limited.
From Glasgow we immediately headed to historic Preswick Golf Club for our first round. Preswick allowed to us to play an older course with significant history; its close to the airport reducing ground transportation time; and its not long so we could walk off the jet lag without getting overly tired from a long round. We would highly recommend if you have an overnight flight to tough out a round the morning you arrive. Exercising and going outside helps to reduce jet lag hanging around and you get an extra round in during your trip.
Preswick Golf Club is a classic links course located about 30min outside of Glasgow in Preswick, South Ayrshire. It is the course where the Open Championship originated and was played there 24 times (second only to the Old Course) from 1860 to 1925. It is also home of Old Tom Morris and where Young Tom Morris won four consecutive opens between 1868 to 1872. So yes it has a lot of historic relevance to golf.
The club was founded in 1851 but golf was played there for years before. It was originally a short 12 hole course and redesigned in 1882 to the new standard of 18 holes with crossing routes eliminated. The 18 hole redesign maintained several of the green and original holes which you can still play today.
Preswick Golf Club is private but is open to visitors booking tee times.
It is a short course that has maintained its historic feel with the River Pow running through the property, various sand hills, blind shots and a famous monster bunker named "Cardinal". Position and short game are the key to low scores on this course. It is a great course to start to get you excited about the history of golf in Scotland and hone in the game after travel.
From Preswick we headed directly to Turnberry to spend the night.
Turnberry is located in the Firth of Cycle in South Ayrshire. The course was originally built in 1901 as a 13 hole golf course. The beautiful hotel was soon built in 1906. The property was shutdown in World War I and used as an airbase with a landing strip that still exists. The property again served as an airbase during World War II with the hotel serving as a hospital. MacKenzie Ross redesigned and built the Ailsa course with it reopening in 1951. It was redseisnged abagin in 2015 by Martin Ebert. Turnberry has hosted The Open Championship four times with the latest in 2009. One of its most famed Open matches that you may recall was called "Duel in the Sun" between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. The property has two other courses: Kintyre Course and Arran Course.
You are immediately struck when entering the property of the grand hotel overlooking the property. The newly remodeled hotel is also beautiful inside with luxury dinning and rooms that help ensure you get a great first night of sleep. When you wake up in the morning you walk down the grand staircase providing fantastic views of the property, coast line and course. It immediately revs you up for the upcoming round.
Turnberry is one of the few courses with a complete practice facility including a driving range. Many courses in Scotland don't posses practice areas so if you want to dial in your swing this is the place to do it.
As with most courses in Scotalnd you are required to walk and you have the choice of a caddy, bag trolley or carrying your own clubs. Turnberry has some tricky layouts and features so if you have dough for a caddy we would recommend.
The Alisa course was in excellent shape and well manicured. The sun was present but the wind was howling during our round making the course very challenging, especially on longer holes into wind and strong cross winds around the cape. If you have the ability to hit a low ball in Scotland it is a notable advantage and something to work on before the trip. If you have ball control issues this is a course where you may need to bring extras. Overall the course was fair with most challenges viewable and only a few areas where local knowledge is needed to effectively navigate. Take a few extra minutes around the cape to walk to the Lighthouse and capture the views.
The WYLD1 crew enjoyed the round even with crazy high winds and would recommend adding it to a Scotland golf itinerary.
After finishing our round at Turnberry we headed to Edinburgh to base out of for two nights.
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and second most populous city in Scotland. We stayed close to the Edinburgh castle in old town. This was an ideal location for quick sightseeing walks, dinning and nightlife. Make sure to talk a walk up to the castle for great views of the city.
The next morning we headed out to Muirfield home of The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in Gullane, East Lothian.
Who is the group that calls themselves The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and how is Muirfield connected to them? Great question. They are the oldest validated organized golf club in the world established in 1744 and developed the thirteen rules of golf. So yes they hold the right to call themselves an Honourable Company.
And why do they reside at Muirfield? Simply because they built it for themselves in 1891 and brought in legendary Old Tom Morris to design it. While it has undergone minor renovations it has largely remained untouched since 1920...that is standing the test of time.
Muirfield remains a private club and hosted The Open Championship sixteen times. Phil Mickleson was the most recently Murfield Open Championship winner in 2013.
We were incredible excited to play this course so everyone was very energetic in morning despite a few too many late night libations. Murfield has strict dress policy so we were all suited up to gain access to the clubhouse in order to quickly change for our upcoming round.
The round had a rough start with heavy wind and snow. Yes snow. Luckily we were all pumped and charged through the rough weather to have an incredible round with the weather dissipating and sun appearing.
The course is a different layout compared to most of the other Scotland courses that normally take you out for nine holes than in for nine holes. Murfield is setup as clockwise and anticlockwise loops. The course uses the land and natural elements as its defense and with changing directions of the holes the wind affect is harder to gauge. The long fescue beautifully lining the holes can be very difficult to further progress your next shot or hit short shots near green. The course also has a decent amount of elevation change adding complexity with accurately judging distance and approaches. Like most Scotland golf courses using the ground is advantageous. The putter can be used for much longer shots from fairway with a great deal of success and ability to avoid tight touchy pitch shots that are difficult to also judge speed on the hard greens. The course also has a few longer holes with generous landing areas so you can rip the big stick which is fun!
One of the best and memorable parts of Muirfield is the ability to enjoy lunch with members at the clubhouse and play another 18 of Alternate Shot in the afternoon. Again dress code is required within the clubhouse so we needed to get suited up again for hearty lunch and a few sips of grandpas cough medicine.
There aren't that many opportunities to play Alternate Shot but it is a ton of fun and we setup a larger match against all two man teams in our group which made for a lively round.
After an incredible and always memorable 36 hole experience at Muirfield we headed back to Edinburgh to fire it up for the evening.
We woke up the next morning packed up and headed out from Edinburgh to North Berwick, a seaside town in East Lothian. None of us knew much about North Berwick and we arrived at the course with lower expectations coming off our Muirfield high.
Lucky for us North Berwick was not a letdown. The golf club was established in 1832 with the new club house being built in 1880 and acquisition of the links closely following in 1894. The West Links course has gone through several phased expansions overtime to before reaching its current 18 hole layout in 1895 with additional redesign by Ben Sayers in 1932. Since than it largely remained unchanged with minor updates.
We had near perfect weather conditions with sun and minimal wind. The course was fun, challenging and score-able if you're on your A game. It has great views of the coast, Fidra and Bass Rock. The natural landscape melds together well with the course layout and can present challenges if you go wayward. While accuracy is important it is also forgiving so you can open up the entire arsenal without regrets. Holes 13-15 are the signature holes with some unique obstacles including a wall surrounding a sunken green. Hole 18 is a great hole to rip a big drive and try to finish with a bang.
Its not a big name course with a history of holding championships but it is a recommended course to play if it aligns with your travel route.
After wrapping up late lunch at the clubhouse we jumped back into our van and headed to our next highly anticipated base of St. Andrews.
Home sweet home of golf. St Andrews is a small town on the east coast of Fife with a population of 17K. Rightfully named after a Saint (Saint Andrew the Apostle) it has a uplifting spiritual feel the minute you arrive. In addition the the legendary golf courses it is also the home of the University of St Andrews with nearly a third of the population attending the school. We based out of hotel next to the Old Course for close proximity to golfing, sight seeing walks, dinning and pubs. The location was great and would recommend if you can find an opening at one of the hotels near this proximity.
Make sure to make some time to walk around the many courses based out of St Andrews and the town of St Andrews.
THE OLD COURSE
The first thing you need to plan is how to get onto The Old Course. There is a variety of methods (advance reservations, ballots, wait in daily queue for openings, packages, reserved slots for authorized providers, and being a guest of member). We setup a flexible schedule while based out St Andrews to submit ballots and when selected we could adjust the tee times at other courses. Over half of the tee times granted come through Ballots so your chances are good but not guaranteed (which happened to us). Half of our group got picked for ballots and the other half waited in the daily queue to try to secure a spot which luckily worked out. Make sure to get in the queue really early (4am) to increase likelihood of securing a tee time.
The Old Course is referred to as the "Cathedral of Golf" and the oldest course in the world with play first occurring in the early 15th century. The first organized golf group (Society of St Andrews Golfers) connected to St Andrews was formed in 1774 which later evolved into the Royal and Ancient who now governs golf everywhere outside of US.
The course designs leveraged multiple minds throughout the years as it evolved from a single shared track of fairways to separated in and out holes. The two architects with influence were Daw Anderson in the 1850's and again Old Tom Morris in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The course also had different configurations including 22 holes in 1774 that were eventually consolidated to the 18 hole track played today in 1863. It has been home to twenty nine Open Championships!
It is a public course held in trust by the St Andrews Links Trust. While the public has access many clubs have playing privileges including the R&A, St Andrews Golf Club, St Regulus Golf Club, and New Golf Club.
The first tee experience is something you will never forget. The setting seems like a dream since you have seen it majestically captured in The Open Championship many times. Everyone waiting to get called to the first tee is smiling and beaming with energy. When you are on the tee there is normally a large group of people overlooking. And finally its your turn. Take it all in and don't rush. Take a few practice swings, visualize your shot, step up, breath in and rip a good one.
The Old Course is special and you feel its history throughout the round. It won't be the most difficult track you play which also adds to the fun as there are plenty of scoring opportunities. There is a lot of people on the course so play speed is marshaled but still slow. Wind is a strong defense for the course and it was blowing hard when we played so lower ball flight was advantageous.
When heading out and in you can often play it safe by favoring the left side of the course that borders other holes. It is not long so you don't need to crush it but it is largely forgiving so you can play a driver to make short approaches. The double greens are a fun experience seeing a large group on the green putting in different directions toward respective holes. There are troublesome bunkers throughout the course that are largely easy to avoid if you can control your flight and distance.
You will relish the final few holes of the round and they will leave you even more energized than when you started. Don't hold back on the 17th Road Hole and cut the corner over the replica railway shed. It will also help shorten the approach onto a difficult green with the nasty Hell Bunker. Heading in on 18 you will get to walkover the iconic 700 year old Swilcan Bridge. Make sure to stop and take a picture before heading to your tee shot. The 18th Tom Morris hole is not long so there is no need to crush it unless you want to show off for the crowd likely by the 18th green. You can also heavily favor the left side taking advantage of the hole 1 fairway.
We agree this is one of the greatest courses in the world and its a must play for any avid golfer. Finishing the round and swapping stories at the 19th hole is treasured moment.
THE CASTLE COURSE
The Castle Course was just outside St Andrews and a very short drive from our hotel. It is the newest of the seven St Andrews courses. It was opened in 2008, six years after the St Andrews trust purchased the land. We were particularly interested in this course since it was constructed by Davide McLay Kidd who also served as architect on several of the Bandon Dunes courses that we regularly play.
The course is built atop cliffs with expansive of oceanfront exposure and picturesque scenery including a great view of St Andrews town. It has a modern links design that is notable different than the traditional Scotland links courses and provides a nice complimentary change of play that not surprisingly had elements that reminded us of Bandon Dunes. Its setup as two loops that base out of the clubhouse with substantial elevation change that adds complexity and fun.
In addition to elevation change the course has undulated elements running throughout the holes that can put you in tough spots and play tricks with your mind. The final three hole stretch runs along the coastline with a make a break 17th hole on the edge of the cliffs that requires a precision shot over a ravine. The 18th hole will also get the blood pumping. It will challenge all aspects of your game so be prepared for battle.
If you're basing out of St Andrews for several days we would recommend the Castle Course to add to your agenda. We played it in the early morning and than headed to Carnoustie in the afternoon so it was a great warmup to ensure you are in prime shape before staring down Carnasty.
CARNOUSTIE OR CARNASTY?
This was another course with high pre-trip anticipation. Carnoustie is a small town in Angus which is easily drivable for a day trip from St Andrews. Golf was first played on the Carnoustie in the 16th century. The initial course was opened in 1842 and consisted of ten holes that played over the Barry Burn. The initial architects were Allan Roberstons and Old Tom Morris (This guy was on it when it came to course design). The entry of the railway required another update led by Old Tom Morris in 1867 expanding the course to the 18 holes. The course was last updated in 1926 by James Braid and has had many updates but largely kept its 1926 routing to present. It has hosted 8 Open Championships dating back to 1931 with the most recent in 2018. There are a number of great stories of the courses ability to monumentally test and taketh from the best players in the world. Make sure to look up the story of Jean van de Velde 18th hole Barry Burn adventure.
We felt we were well prepared for the legendary Carnoustie dirtiness after honing our game for Scottish links; getting challenged by the elements; and sufficiently testing our long and position golf course strategies. We were partly right as Carnasty has plenty of its own unique defense mechanisms. The greens were more undulated and faster and required greater precision with approaches using the land features. There are a few tight landing areas spread throughout that were guarded with spirit crushing bunkers. The fescue was very thick in places making misses quickly turn into fighting for bogeys. Last and highly touted the burns are ever present and instant death.
So was it fun? Hell yes. We love the fabled challenge that has been faced by the best and taken down the best in spectacular fashion. It was a true physical and emotional test that did find a club rendered useless after a Bo Jackson bat like snap over the quads. It had numerous people scared in the group they were going to be receiving the high-man dunce cap for the trip and denouncing the golf course as ridiculous. A little humbling does a soul good and makes for great stories we will share for the rest of our lives. Make it happen!
Important side note: its dry. Pack a flask if you need some liquid courage or liquid sorrow relief to help with a tough track.
Our final morning of golf was at Kingsbarns which is a short drive from our base in St Andrews. It is located near Kingsbarns conservation village close to the east coast of Fife.
Golf has been a long tradition at Kingsbarns where the Kingsbarns Golfing society was established in 1793. Subsequently Kingsbarns Golf Club was founded in 1922 as a nine hole golf course but shut down in 1939 for war farming support. In 2000 Kingsbarns Golf Links opened with design architecture led by Kyle Phillips. The course quickly gained accolades by golfers around the world with many high world rankings.
The reason for this high ranking is over 1.8 miles of stunning links coastline play. The course has some grit with numerous challenging holes that utilize coastline, length, bunkers, elevation and wind ammunition. It is also fair and playable but highly advantageous to have a caddie to help navigate with local knowledge on ideal plays and green reading.
The signature 12th hole is a par five smooth dog leg left that wraps around the coastline to your left with a massive green that can easily yield a 3-hike. Its length is 606 yards but with some strong wind it will seem like 800+ yards. It is a course that you will be able to recall every-hole and the shots you played with several oceanfront holes that will likely stay in your memories a lot longer.
If you're in St Andrews Kingsbarns is a must add to the trip itinerary.
THATS A WRAP
As aforementioned, Scotland didn't disappoint. We didn't want to leave this golfing mecca despite us being insanely tired from making a strong charge to get as much golf in as possible; walking a crazy amount of miles; and pushing the sleep boundaries to ensure our wyld sides fully embraced the enjoyable Scottish off-course culture.
We hope this trip recap will INSPYRE you to Find New Ground and make this requisite golfing pilmgrage a reality.