Top 10 Golf Courses in Scotland

Scotland's Bucket List!

Golf in Scotland is arguably the best in world. The country is blessed with so many wonderful courses that when asked to select the ten best, it’s a daunting but enjoyable task. To make sense of it we took into account the course design, landscape, playing experience and history to pick the very best from the planet’s best golf destination. They’re all links courses… and all mouth wateringly good!

  1.        Old Course, St Andrews.

It won’t come as a shock to discover the timeless Old Course at the summit of this list. The definitive ‘must play’ course, the history and iconic nature of the holes and landmarks provide a surreal element to a round on the ancient links. This is particularly true on the back nine as you play towards the town, which also serves as an atmospheric and spellbinding backdrop.

Intriguingly strategic and complex, it would be wise to enlist the services of a knowledgeable caddie, as the Old Lady doesn’t give up her secrets easily!

Playing the Old is an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of legends and to etch your own piece of history at the most famous venue in golf. There is nothing else quite like it.

  1.        Muirfield Golf Course

For many, the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers is the finest course on the Open Championship rotation. And it’s easy to see why. Intelligently designed, Muirfield is a challenging but fair layout that arguably doesn’t possess a weak hole in its number. 

It has certainly found favour with many of the game’s greatest players down the years with the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson all clinching the Claret Jug on this celebrated East Lothian links. 

Serious golfers will appreciate the layout and challenge of the course, as well as the thrilling opportunity to recreate the shots that have defined many careers and hallmarked championship history.

  1.        Championship Course, Carnoustie

Similar to the revered Oakmont, the Championship Course at Carnoustie has attained a reputation as being one of the most difficult in the world. It is undeniably true that on a breezy day (commonplace on the coast of Angus) that the course becomes a stringent test for even the most accomplished of players.

However, that challenge can be intoxicating with the mix of holes ensuring that the experience is just as interesting as it may be difficult. Ben Hogan certainly overcame its obstacles in 1953 and his famous Open Championship victory still resonates in the area.

The closing stretch is simply brilliant with the completion of the round bringing with it a tangible sense of satisfaction. Surviving Carnoustie is a badge of honour.

  1.        Championship Course, Royal Dornoch

Tucked away in the Highlands, Royal Dornoch was for decades a largely overlooked masterpiece. In recent times, however, visitor numbers have increased, word has spread and the mesmerising course has become a firm favourite with visitors from all across the globe.

After a gentle start, the course opens up in the middle of what is an incredible front nine that offers breathtakingly expansive views across the landscape. With its plateaued greens, deep bunkers and plentiful gorse, Dornoch is a spectacular, and at times exhilarating, course to play.

There is a great deal of hype attached to this golf course, which is understandable. The holes are intriguing, the views stunning and the village welcoming. It is one of the great experiences in golf.

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  1.        Ailsa Course, Turnberry Resort

Perhaps the most visually spectacular of all the Open Championship venues, Turnberry’s place in golfing lore was established in 1977 with Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus’ legendary ‘Duel in the Sun’.

Hugging the rocky coastline of south-west Ayrshire, The Ailsa Course is arguably Scotland’s equivalent to Pebble Beach. Many of the holes in the vicinity of the now iconic lighthouse offer expansive vistas across the Firth of Clyde towards the Isle of Arran.

Significant changes and improvements are to be made to the course in 2015, with many of the holes that ran along the coast being altered dramatically. Those alterations are needed, and have only enhanced a layout that could now fulfill its potential as one of the finest in Britain.

  1.        Prestwick Golf Club

For anyone with a respect and passion for the history of the game, playing Prestwick is something of a pilgrimage. Many people would naturally assume that the Open Championship was born in St Andrews, but it was actually on this old Ayrshire links that golf’s oldest major originated.

The Open was contested at Prestwick on 24 occasions before infrastructure requirements saw it disappear from the rotation in the 1920s. That is highly regrettable as this old course remains one of the finest and most interesting in all of Scotland. It oozes character and charm and has an intriguing variety of holes and many quirks that will satisfy all levels of golfer.

If you are looking for a quintessential links experience, Prestwick is among the best.

  1.        Kingsbarns Golf Links

Scotland is mostly celebrated and renowned for its traditional, historic courses, but there are a number of modern classics that are continuing to grow in stature. Now well into its second decade, Kingsbarns is the most noted and arguably finest of these 21st century creations.

Generous off the tee, the course is playable for all standards of player, but its complex green designs ensure that a significant level of challenge is retained. The majestic views also provide an appetising aesthetic quality to this modern-day links.

Showcased worldwide annually through the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, Kingsbarns is a favourite of many, and is certainly a must play for anyone in the St Andrews area.

  1.        West Links, North Berwick Golf Club

There is more than an air of St Andrews in the unique West Links of North Berwick. The course starts and ends on the fringes of the town, and is littered with some of the most natural and intriguing characteristics to be found anywhere in the world.

It may not have the allure of the great championship venues, but it possesses some of the finest holes in the country, ranging from the original Redan par 3 to the unique 13th green that is guarded by an ancient stone wall.

Like any pastime, golf should primarily be enjoyable, and North Berwick makes having fun very easy. It is a wonderfully involving and memorable course.

     9.       Royal Troon

Host of the 2016 Open Championship, Royal Troon has proudly retained its position as a major venue. Solid throughout, with the back nine presenting the more arduous side of the round, the Ayrshire Course has been dominated by American professionals who have won the last six Opens at Troon.

The eighth green, known as the Postage Stamp, is renowned for being the shortest hole on the Open rotation, where only the most precise shot will find the green. The 11th was described by Arnold Palmer as being the most dangerous hole in the world. He did, however, play it brilliantly throughout his triumphant performance in 1962, and successfully avoided the treacherous railway line on the right side.

Troon may not receive the fanfare of some other courses, but there is no denying its quality.

     10.    Championship Course at Machrihanish Golf Club

Situated on the southernmost tip of the Kintyre Peninsula is the remote, but memorable, old links at Machrihanish. Unique and thoroughly exciting to play, it may just be the most enjoyable and purely thrilling course on this list. 

There is a natural authenticity to the holes, which roll seamlessly together with enough twists and turns to exhilarate all players. The most famous of them is unquestionably the opener, which has achieved legendary status courtesy of a daunting and dramatic tee shot that has to be played across the corner of a beach and the Atlantic Ocean. A hook is not your friend here.

However, Machrihanish is much more than just one swing. It is an unforgettable experience.

 

As I’m sure you’ll agree, Scotland deserves its mantle as the Home of Golf; in fact the majority of its top 50 courses would happily make most other country’s top ten. Scottish golfers are genuinely spoilt for choice and have been for hundreds of years. So now it’s your turn to make the trip to Scotland and experience what they’ve been enjoying all this time!

Golfbreaks.com, recognized market leaders in worldwide golf travel,  have organized great value vacations for over 2 million golfers since 1998. If you’d like to play any of these courses, or experience the magic of a golf trip to the UK or Ireland, please send us an inquiry.

Keiran Clark

Author, Keiran Clark.

I began playing golf at the age of five on the Isle of Bute in Scotland. It was the start of a relationship that hasn’t waned, with it becoming a mission to tick off as many courses as possible, with the Old Course at St. Andrews being my favourite. I love everything that it represents. After securing a degree in history at the University of Stirling, I have attempted to establish a career as a freelance golf journalist to express my love for the game and Scotland. And I relish any opportunity to share that adoration with anyone willing enough to read.