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Scotland

All of us, as golfers, talk about "the pilgrimage" or "the return to the cradle of the game".

The Courses

Royal Troon– # 44 in 2013 Golf Magazine’s World Top 100

Royal Troon is home to one of the best links courses on the west side of Scotland and is steeped in golfing history – notably the several dramatic Open Championships held there since the first in 1923. It is regarded as one of the sternest tests on the Open Rota. The course is perhaps most famous for the tiny 8th hole, “The Postage Stamp”, and for being home to both the longest, and shortest, holes in Open golf.

The course was designed by the combined expertise of Braid, MacKenzie and Pennick - it is undulating in the classic links fashion with danger lurking in the guise of wind, rough and bunkers. Maybe you should be comforted by the fact that an Aussie (Greg Norman) holds the course record? However, you just need to remember to avoid the drive bunker on the right of the 18th fairway - if he did he’d have (at least) one more Major to his name!

Prestwick– inaugural home of The Open

Prestwick Golf Club was founded in 1851 and Old Tom Morris was summoned from St Andrews to be Keeper of the Green as well as Club and Ball Maker. The first Open Championship was held here in 1860 - it was won by Willie Park of Musselburgh with a score of 174 for 36 holes. When Young Tom Morris won for his  third successive time in 1870 he started with a three on the par 6 (!!) 578 yard 1st hole. The hole is a little shorter now but three is still a great score with the railway line staring you in the face. The Open was played at Prestwick 25 times - the last being in 1925. Then, as now, it was considered too short, too gimmicky, too old fashioned and too confined to continue on the Rota.

Prestwick however, continues to be an exhilarating journey. There are towering sand hills, fairways out of a moonscape, hidden greens cunningly defended by humps and hollows, two of the world's most storied blind holes and one of the world's most spectacular bunkers - all sited on fairways and greens of the truest seaside turf .

Turnberry (Ailsa) – # 18 in 2013 Golf Magazine’s World Top 100

Named after the third Marquess of Ailsa, who owned the land on which it was built, this par 70, championship course is one of golf’s storied places. Home to four Open Championships, Ailsa has shaped some of the most remarkable moments in the tournament’s history. Its first three holes pose a fairly tough opening, particularly when the wind blows from the direction of its namesake, the brooding isle of Ailsa Craig, 11 miles out to sea. From the 4th hole to the 11th, the coastal scenery is magnificent and the course is demanding. Commanding a passage of stout hitting throughout, the 5th to the 8th holes are framed by sandy hillocks, while the 9th, 10th and 11th are flanked by craggy rocks. On its stony ridge on the edge of the sea, the 9th hole is Turnberry’s trademark. The landmark lighthouse casts shadows over the 13th Century ruins of Bruce’s Castle, the reputed birthplace of Scotland’s hero king Robert the Bruce. The narrow path to the tee and the drive across the corner of the bay fill players with trepidation.

The back nine, like the front nine, requires both cleverness and control. The steep incline of the plateau green on the 13th hole - Tickly Tap or “Tricky Little Stroke” - makes one of the largest putting surfaces on the course look rather small. Likewise, the subtle contours of the 17th hole - Lang Whang - slightly obstruct each shot, also characteristic of the trickery of Turnberry. On the 18th, with the red-roofed hotel in sight to distract, gorse running down the right side and small dunes peeking up just enough to block your view of the landing zone, finding the fairway is even more difficult.

Turnberry Kintyre Course

Turnberry (Kintyre)

The par 72 Kintyre, called so after the long, narrow peninsula lying beyond the Isle of Arran in the Irish Sea, is another exhilarating championship course. Noted English architect Donald Steel has revised the old Arran course, originally constructed in 1909, into a 6,921 yard course that incorporates a set of turbulent swells in elevation and a rough peppered with prickly gorse that takes no prisoners. Early holes, like Leerie Licht, the short 3rd, may seem benign, but each brings its own trials. In this case, it’s the play into the prevailing wind and a green that is just 27 yards deep. As it rises up from the 7th green, the sweeping panorama from the brow of Bain’s Hill gives way to brilliant fairways and majestic ocean holes. These range from a delicate pitch in a rocky dell on the 8th to a thrilling second along the shoreline of the 9th.

The 8th is Kintyre’s signature hole and it involves a drive from an elevated tee towards the sea and an unforgettable blind second shot. Utterly hidden by a narrow ridge, the green is set in a cove that seems to merge with the rugged beach beyond. On the 9th, an invigorating drive offers the choice between adventure and caution, and glimpses of two of Turnberry’s charms: Ailsa Craig and the lighthouse. A climb up to the 10th puts players at the highest point of the course and in the way of any weather in the vicinity. After the myriad tests posed by the back nine, to escape the closing hole and its 11 bunkers without using a sand wedge is an accomplishment in itself.

WEstern Gailes

Western Gailes- a genuine "Hidden Gem"

Although not an Open course, Western Gailes is regarded as one of Scotland's finest and is used often as an Open qualifying site. Good judges regard it as being difficult and a great test of one's patience, perseverance and concentration. Willie Park Sr (inaugural Open winner) and his son laid out the course at the end of the 19th Century on one of their many visits from Mussellburgh.

Despite having just two par 5's and three par 3's, this is as fine a links course as to be found in the British Isles. The course is placed between the railroad lines and the sea, making for narrow holes that demand precise tee shots, especially on the long stretch from the 5th to the 13th . These holes run right down the coastline with the wind making it a test of skill and endurance.

St Andrews New

St Andrews New – the oldest "new" course in the world

Now over 100 years old, it is probably the oldest "new" course in the world. Opened in April 1895, the course was built in response to increasing demand for golf at St Andrews, both from locals and from the visitors who were flocking to the town in increasing numbers on the recently constructed railway. The construction of the New Course was paid for by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club as part of an arrangement under which the club was allocated the right to certain starting times on the Old Course. These arrangements were enshrined in the first Act of Parliament concerning the Links which was passed in 1894 and was the forerunner of the current Act of 1974 which specifies how the links are to be run.

Tom Morris' original design has changed little over the years and it enjoys similarly subtly - undulating links land as the Old Course. It is as straightforward a challenge as you'll find in this area but there are some long par 4's and an abundance of gorse. Holes 8-10 out at the far end of the course border the Eden estuary and would not be out of place on its more famous neighbour.

Kingsbarns – # 55 in 2013 Golf Magazine's World Top 100

Kingsbarns Golf Links was opened in 1999 to much acclaim.  It is a true links course with views of the sea from almost every hole. Kingsbarns Golf Links is a tribute to its rich Scottish links heritage.

Sir Michael Bonallack, Past Captain and Past Secretary of the R&A: "Kingsbarns might well be one of the last true seaside links sites capable of development in Scotland. Mere words cannot convey just how extraordinary the place is. It must be seen to be believed. And once seen, it will never be forgotten."

Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of the R&A: "Kingsbarns is a gem. I think it is going to be one of the great links courses and it may well be the last one built in the UK. There's no course I've been to where you can see more of the sea from every hole. The attention to detail is extraordinary."

Old Course

St Andrews Castle –opened 2008 (Currently Unrated)

The 7th (and newest)of the Links Trust's courses takes its name from Kinkell Castle which stood on a headland two miles from the St Andrews town centre. Unlike the other Links Trust courses the Castle is not a true links. Gordon Moir, the Superintendent, calls it a "clifftopper". It's very different from the "town" courses but reminds the experienced golfer of Pebble Beach's stretch from 6-9 and of Kingsbarns, 15 minutes in the other direction.

The Castle's architect is Scotsman David McLay Kidd who rose to prominence as the designer of Bandon Dunes in Oregon. It's a par 71 layout with seven greens perched right above the beach and five holes running directly along the top of the cliffs. The views are sublime. On every shot, without exception, the sea stretches away in all its glory. Moreover, the constant backdrop is the medieval quarter of the "auld grey toon" itself.

St Andrews Old –# 4 in 2013 Golf Magazine's World Top 100

The Old Course originally consisted of 22 holes, 11out and 11back. On completing a hole, the player teed up his ball within two club lengths of the previous hole, using a handful of sand scooped out from the hole to form a tee. In 1764, the Society of St Andrews Golfers, which later became the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, decided that some holes were too short and combined them. This reduced the course to 18 holes creating what became the standard round of golf throughout the world.

Over the years all the greatest golfers have played from the same first tee that you will use – many of them having won Open Championships, others seeing their hopes sink in the Road Hole Bunker or the "Valley of Sin". No amount of reading or discussion can prepare you for the tension of hitting from #1, the thrill of driving over the Old Course Hotel or the emotion of putting out on 18 in front of the crowds surrounding the green.

Carnoustie –# 23 in 2013 Golf Magazine's World Top 100

Carnoustie is considered by many to be the toughest of all the Open Links courses. Walter Hagen described it as ' A great big shaggy monster' going on to praise it as the greatest golf course in the British Isles and one of the top three in the world. Historians believe the game has been played here since the early 16th Century.

What makes Carnoustie great is its vastness and length  -it can be stretched to over 7400 yards - and the scale and severity of its hazards. It's famous for 'Hogan's Alley', the 'Spectacle' bunkers and the 'Barry' burn which runs through the course. After Hogan triumphed during his one and only visit in 1953, Tom Watson was a winner here in 1975 (in an 18 hole playoff over Jack Newton) and Paul Lawrie in 1999 (in what will forever be remembered as the Open that Jean van de Velde lost). The 2007 Open resulted in another playoff f- Padraig Harrington emerging victorious over Sergio Garcia.

Cruden Bay –# 79 in 2013 Golf Magazine's World Top 100

Tom Simpson is the architect who masterminded Cruden Bay, many believing it to be his finest work. Simpson himself included the 1st, 8th and 18th among his selection of the best 18 holes in Britain and Ireland.

The course is a perpetual battle of wits but it is all unmistakably fun and, since golfers are inclined to take themselves and the game too seriously that is a great compliment. This track is a real "Cult Classic" and has provided inspiration for such creative architects as Pete Dye and Tom Doak. The eccentricities in its design (including hidden "dell" greens and consecutive blind par 3's) mean there'll never be an Open here.

Brora

Brora – another James Braid "Hidden Gem"

Gleneagles may be more glamorous, Carnoustie more prestigious. It is Brora which is the most northerly golf memorial to James Braid in his native Scotland. Brora is also the headquarters of the James Braid Golfing Society, and while its President, Peter Thomson, and fellow member Ronan Rafferty annually enthuse, the club golfer, the bedrock of the game, will derive equal pleasure and satisfaction from Brora's 6110 yards. Given 194 acres of Scottish links land to work on, what in 1923 was entitled "Braid's Plan" is hardly altered. Here the visitor will enjoy the mixture of bent grass and beach sand, burn water and gorse in glorious yellow May bloom. There is even a railway which comes into play from the 10th tee.

With the exception of the short 6th, the outward nine holes follow the contour of Kintradwell Bay in the foreground, with a backdrop of the Sutherland foothills from Ben Bhraggie to the west, away to the Ord of Caithness in the north-east. The inward nine holes follow the fence line of the bordering croft land, with out of bounds to concentrate the mind. Of the two short holes, the delightful 13th, Snake, winds back towards the sea, whilst the 18th contains all the concerns of protecting a score against a bunkered green a two hundred yard carry away and under the scrutiny of the clubhouse windows.

 

Royal Dornoch - # 14 in 2013 Golf Magazine's World Top 100

This course has cast a spell over some of the greatest golfers who have ever lived. Its isolation did not deter the likes of Vardon, Taylor and Braid from visiting the links in the earlier part of last century. In more recent times Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, Greg Norman and Nick Faldo have all embarked on what is a seemingly irresistible pilgrimage.

Tom Watson described his experiences of Royal Dornoch as 'the most fun I have had playing golf in my whole life'. So, what makes Royal Dornoch so special? Firstly, there's the location and setting. It is miles away from anywhere and has been called 'The Star of the North'. The setting is really special. It is bordered by The Dornoch Firth and for its entire length by a beautiful sweep of pristine white sand. Mountains and hills fill the horizon creating the illusion that you are playing on a stage. In spring and early summer much of the links turn from green to gold with the gorse as much a backdrop as a hazard.

It is thought that golf was played on the links as early as the 16th Century. Officially, the course is the third oldest course in the world. The quality of the golf is another reason for visiting. It is widely regarded as the most natural links course in the world and blends perfectly into its landscape. It is golf in its purest form with natural hazards and is surely one to visit for both the historian and the player.