The Courses of Scotland’s East Coast and The Highlands

The Courses of Scotland’s East Coast and The Highlands

THE COURSES OF SCOTLAND’S EAST COAST AND THE HIGHLANDS

 
If you read my most recent blog about my wonderful visit to the 150th British Open you already know that I recently made a 16-day trip to Scotland! Not only did we witness an AMAZING Open. Furthermore, we stayed for another two weeks and were able to play some of the BEST courses in all of Scotland and in all of the World!
 

Because Scotland

 
has SO many courses how do you decide WHERE to go and WHERE to play? Can you play them all in one trip? Well, believe it or not, the entire country of Scotland is ONLY about the size of South Carolina yet it has 587 golf courses. So NO you can not play them all in one trip! BUT I can tell you some of the best ones that you MUST play. Because we were on the East Coast of Scotland, most of the courses we played were around St. Andrews, which meant we could stay at the amazing Rusacks Hotel and get to all of these courses within 20 or 30 minutes.
 

THE COURSES 

 

KINGSBARNS

 
Kingsbarns Golf Links is situated 7 miles from St Andrews.It lies along 1.8 miles of picturesque North Sea coastline, where each hole embraces the sea. In addition to being a Worldwide Top 100 ranked course, the views were breathtaking! Kingsbarns co-hosts the annual European Tour’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship together with the Old Course at St Andrews and Carnoustie Golf Links.
 

In 2017 Kingsbarns hosted

 
The Ricoh Women’s British Open. So if THEY play it, it HAS to be good! I was just coming off my injury of what we thought was a calf tear and what we now know is a partial meniscus tear when we played this course so I was a little careful in my play but it allowed me to spend more time taking in the views! One of the delights of this course is that you can see vistas of the North Sea from almost EVERY part of the course. Where else can you do that?? Check out this video and make sure KINGSBARNS is on your MUST list for Scotland!
 
 

THE OLD COURSE AT ST. ANDREWS

 
What can I say playing The Old Course has been on my bucket list for a long time! It is the oldest and most iconic golf course in the world. The Swilcan Bridge and Hell Bunker are recognised across the globe, yet the greatest feature of the Old Course is that despite its grand status it remains a public golf course, open to all.
 

And on Sundays

 
it becomes a public park where you can frolic with your dog on the fairways or even build sand castles in the bunkers. Where on earth can you take a book down to the world-class course and plop down for a relaxing read?! Can you imagine taking a book out to read on Pineurst #2?? REALLY? Yes St. Andrews is closed on Sundays and it becomes a public park on that day. But let’s get on to the golf part!
 

The oldest course at the Saint Andrews Links

 
is known as the Old Course. There are now seven courses at the St Andrews Links: the Old, New, Jubilee, Eden, Strathtyrum, Balgove and the Castle, which is the newest course added in 2007 and opened in 2008. You could make a vacation by just staying in St. Andrews and playing ALL of their courses! BUT you have to play The Old!
 

It all started with King David I

 
in 1123 when his charter ratified that the Links land was common land which belonged to the citizens of the town of St Andrews. In the 1400s golfers were playing the Saint Andrews Links on a simple track upon the public land. While golf began to grow in popularity in Scotland during the 15th century, Kings James II of Scotland put a ban on the sport. In 1457, James II felt that golf’s popularity was detracting young men’s attention away from their archery practice. FINALLY in 1502, King James IV repealed the ban after becoming a golfer himself.
 

Smart King!

 
It’s amazing to me that I played upon a course that was played in in 1123!! It’s just a hard thing to describe but if you are in Scotland you HAVE to play The Old Course from the minute you step on the first tee to the moment you tee off on the 18th and then cross the Swilcan Bridge you just have to EXPERIENCE it! And here is a shout out to the company that made it possible for us (you need to book through a tour company if you HOPE to play The Old Course you can go through the daily lottery but it’s a long way to go for a lottery!!) they were AMAZING THE EXPERIENCE
 

The hotel

 
they had us stay at was called THE RUSACKS I highly recommend it as THE place to stay when you are In St. Andrews. Called Scotland’s true “Original” it really was a magical place to stay. It is were many of the player’s stayed during The Open and we were told we stayed in Justin Thomas’ room! How cool is that?? Here is the view from our room which may give you a good idea of why I would recommend it as a fabulous place to stay. The roof top bar was pretty awesome, too! 
 

SWILCAN BRIDGE

 
I also included a picture of the famous “SWILCAN BRIDGE” which spans the Swilcan Burn (we call in a creek) between the first and eighteenth fairways on the Old Course and has become an important image in the sport of golf. Many professional golfers say their final “goodbye’s to the golf world on this bridge and it is customary for champions of golf to publicly show some sort of homage or respect to the structure. The bridge itself is extremely small; at its farthest extent it measures about 30 feet long, eight feet wide and six feet tall, in the style of a simple Roman arch.
 

Originally built

 
at least 700 years ago to help shepherds get livestock across, it has the modern photographic advantage of great backdrops on three sides: the course’s grand Royal and Ancient Clubhouse on one, often a packed grandstand of enthusiasts on another, and rolling hills facing toward the North Sea and the beach, on the last. I am guessing it has to be one of the most photographed golf photos for ANY golfer pro or amateur! It was a thrill to stand on it and get my photo taken! So are you ready to play THE OLD COURSE yet? I’ll go back and play it with you ANY TIME!
 
 
 

CRAIL

 
Just ten miles from St Andrews, on the easternmost tip of the Kingdom of Fife, lies the Balcomie Links which is the 7th Oldest Golf Course in the World! Because I was a little injured (with what we now know is a partial meniscus tear), I did not get to actually play this course but I did go and watch as my counterparts did. What a place!
 

Laid out on a narrow peninsula

 
there are magnificent views across the beach to the Firth of Forth. Nearby stands Balcomie Castle, which is said to be haunted by the ghost of a boy who was starved to death inside the castle walls nearly 400 years ago. In 1538, Mary of Guise stayed at the castle on her way to marry King James V at St Andrews.
 

Balcomie

 
is the home of the Crail Golfing Society, the ninth oldest golf club in the world, which was formed in 1786 at a meeting in the Golf Inn at Crail. In the mid-19th century, a local farmer laid out a nine-hole course at Balcomie and in 1894, Old Tom Morris (I did get to do a little sightseeing which included Tom Morris’ house and his gravesite at the amazing Sant Andrews Cathedral) was called in to improve it. He returned four years later to extend the course to 18 holes.
 

Just 5,922 yards

 
from the men’s medal tees, Balcomie is by no means a championship course, but with a par of 69 and the ever-present wind, the yardages are often meaningless. The opening hole falls away from the clubhouse towards the sea and the next four holes hug the shoreline. AMAZING views. The next nine holes are a little less dramatic no real water views, but nevertheless enjoyable. A return to the shoreline concludes the round on the last several hole. Check out these views from the Club House. Make sure you add this one to you “MUST PLAY” lists for sure
 
 
 

CASTLE STUART in the Highlands of Scotland

 
This course turned out to be one of the stars of the show for me. Castle Stuart pops from start to finish. Close to Inverness, we stayed there and then played in Castle Stuart. The Inverness area has so much history. We visited the battlefields of Culloden the last battle between the Scottish and the British in 1745. 
 
The hospitality and welcome we received was top drawer – the staff was so wonderful! The iconic 1930’s Art Deco style clubhouse stands proudly at the high point of the property. It oversees the fantastic landscape set below it. When you drive up to it you just say “WOW”!
 

Both nines

 
start at the low points right down on the Moray Firth, hugging the shoreline and holes 1 and 10 go in opposite directions. The opening couple of holes feel tight and claustrophobic. I remember being nervous with each tee shot. The holes along the firth are stunning, water shimmering in the crisp, afternoon sun. The course has the feeling of being arranged in tiers or shelves. Subsequentlly that gives the player the perspective that they are almost always playing adjacent to the firth. A firth is narrow inlet off the sea or the ocean. Scotland has MANY firths that head out to sea. We pretty much call them “rivers”.
 

Castle Stuart

 
has the perfect mix of tough holes and chances to pick up shots – so many “half-par” holes are utilized here. The flow of the course is excellent. Even though the course is newer (built in 2009 but American designer Gil Hans and developer Mark Parsinen. It was voted BEST new course in 2009 but Golf Digest) and you are taken on a modern golfing adventure but there are never more than three tough holes in a row. Holes thirteen, fourteen and fifteen are the real “fasten your seatbelt” stretch where pars are at a premium. The journey around this layout moves you in such a fashion that you take in many of the spectacular local landmarks as you walk to tee boxes and greens and everything in between. I remember smiling MANY times!
 

On the 4th tee

 
you are met with the stunning backdrop of Castle Stuart itself beyond the green, a 17th century tower house that lay derelict for 300 years before being restored in the 1980’s. As you approach the 13th green you get the wonderful reveal of Kessock Bridge in the distance, a 1 km long suspension bridge that connects Inverness to the Highlands.
 
 
 
 
 

ROYAL DORNOCH

 
Much has been written about the history and heritage of this course. It is revered in the US for its association with Donald Ross and Old Tom Morris. Many touring pros and past champions have rated it one of the best there is in the World. So why is that? Well, being that I shot a 78 with three birdies in a row (first time, ever), I must agree that this piece of links golf is just remarkable.
 
Rolling fairways, expansive shoreline views and, so much gorse that you think you are in a sea of gorse. Gorse is a horny evergreen shrub that produces a beautiful yellow flower but you DON’T want to lose a golf ball in it. It smells wonderful but it is a nasty plant!
 

Links golf

 
can often feel intimidating but Royal Dornoch eases you in with a 1st hole that is not that difficult! That’s where the friendliness ends, however. The 2nd hole is one of the most incredible par 3’s I have ever played. Once you reach the 3rd tee, you get your first jaw dropping view of the majority of the course. Holes three through six which are away from the sea are the best. You can see the holes laid out in front of you, dotted by punishing pot bunkers and encircled by gorse and the sea. BREATHTAKING!
 

The turn for home

 
occurs at the 9th and runs along the water for the majority of the back nine. 17 and 18 come inland and could be considered connecting holes but, I actually really enjoyed the drama of the cliff like drop in the middle of the 17th fairway and the HUGE green on 18 that is cleverly disguized from the fairway. In summary, this is links golf in its most pure form. PERIOD! A stern but fair test that particularly examines your short game and your ability to miss in the right place. It just may be the best course I have ever played and one I could happily play every day for the rest of my time. A truly remarkable golf course. I can’t wait to go back and play it again! And where in the world can you find a course with a rainbow watching after you .this was after my 3rd birdie with my lucky caddie!
 
 

CARNOUSTIE

 
Sometimes called, “Car-Nasty”, Carnoustie is a big natural seaside links and is widely considered to be one of the world’s most difficult golf courses. In fact, according to the results of a Top 100 survey, Carnoustie is the toughest golf course in Britain & Ireland. The first record of golf being played across this links land dates back to 1527. A 10-hole course was laid out in 1842 by Allan Robertson. Fifteen years later, in 1857, an 18-hole course was fashioned by Old Tom Morris. James Braid extended the course in 1926 and it has hardly changed since.
 

Much has been written about Carnoustie over the years.

 
The finishing holes are especially brutal at this eight-time Open Championship venue. Many consider that it has one of the greatest back nines in championship golf. Others will recall John Van de Veld’s barefoot paddle in the Barry Burn at the 18th hole. That was during the 1999 Open Championship. You have to cross the snaking burn no less than five times whilst playing the closing two holes.
 

In addition to burns

 
(see the picture in my blog with the swan in the burn), Carnoustie has some of the most formidable bunkers to contend with. There’s a plethora of them and some are more like “caverns”. I was in a few of them! The par five 6th measures 520 yards from the white tees and is regarded as one of the world’s best holes. Named, “Hogan’s Alley, after the immortal Ben Hogan who won the Open Championship in 1953. Two fearsome looking bunkers lie waiting in the middle of the fairway and a third bunker to the right hand side ensures that the tee shot is daunting. In my opinion ALL tee shots are daunting at Carnoustie!
 

Carnoustie

 
isn’t the most scenic golf course rarely do you catch sea glimpses but it is incredibly tough, even from the forward tees. Bring your “A” game here and pray for the weather to be kind. It was for us! We also had some amazing caddies. It was not NASTY at all it was an amazing experience in our last day in Scotland!
 

Last words

 
So I hope you have enjoyed this tour of courses around St. Andrews and the Highlands of Scotland. We did a lot of amazing site-seeing as well castles, the Loch Ness monster, Scottish bands, whisky tastings. SO much to do and see. Regarding golf make sure you add ALL of these courses to your list! I hope to go back to play them all again and many others SOON!
 
 
 

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