WELCOME TO SCOTLAND
Editor’s picks on where to play in Scotland in 2015.
Every five years the Open Championship is played at St Andrews, and in 2015 the home of golf will again be a magnet for South Africans. There is much to anticipate about this year’s championship in the week of July 13 to 19. Louis Oosthuizen won on the Old Course when the Open was last played there in 2010; Tom Watson will be saying farewell 40 years after his first appear- ance; and there is links golf to be played in Scotland beforehand and/or afterwards.
For me, and many others, the special feature of going to the Open is not only the uniqueness of attending a major championship where your entry is unconditional and grandstands abound, but the golf you play yourself around the occasion. It’s possible to do both in the same day. You can’t spend more than a day or two watching the best players without getting the itch to tackle links golf yourself. On any trip to the Open it’s essential to take your clubs and explore what Britain has to offer.
The beauty of golf in Scotland is the choice available to you, the relatively easy access of it all, and the close proximity of the courses to either Edinburgh or Glasgow airports. You can tee up on some of the world’s best links, and pay dearly for the experience, or you can discover several other tiers of excellent courses, which for a South African budget are far more affordable. You’ll be surprised at the number of wonderful options there are, and the endless variety of their challenges. The older the course, the more likely you are to find something unusually special.
My tip is to compile a list of courses you would like to play before starting out. But while driving around the countryside, if you see a sign saying golf club, turn in and take a look. You will know immediately whether it’s worth stopping for a game. And remember that time is on your side, with the long summer evenings and the fact that the Scots don’t tarry when they play; you’ll be round in three hours or less.
When you find a hidden gem, and walk its empty fairways, it will possibly steal your heart more than any famous championship layout with its heaving crowds of fourballs and caddies. The courses you will remember are more likely to be challenging in their quirkiness, rather than their length. To this day I’m still uncovering remarkably good courses I hadn’t previously considered, and they are all places to which I mean to return.
If you’re planning a golfing trip to coincide with the Open in July, then it’s best to look at other regions of Scotland for courses to play, as those in St Andrews will be out of action for most of the month. There is a wide variety to choose from.
I’ve played golf all over Scotland, written many words about it, and for the first time in Golf Digest I have compiled an extensive list of courses I can recommend in eight different parts of the country ( see next page). They’re divided into three types: the expensive heavyweights; the more affordable top experiences; and the lesser known gems where you are unlikely to be disappointed. The Scots know these courses, and they utilise them most, rather than visitors. If you spot that I’ve omitted some fairly well known courses, then the reason is that they don’t especially appeal to me.
In the summer of 2015 the Ailsa course at Turnberry will be the most expensive green fee in Scotland, at £250, which is roughly R5 000 at the current exchange rate. And the only extras in that will be some pegs and a pencil on the first tee. If you’re taking the high road to Scotland, and fulfilling your bucket list, you can easily spend R40 000 in green fees alone over a fortnight. The low road might see you get away with R10 000. That doesn’t mean inferior courses, just a different diet. Many of the clubs have excellent package deals where you can buy more than one round. Study their websites for special deals. The championship layout at Carnoustie is the cheapest of the Open rota venues, £160, and for another £20 you can also play the club’s Burnside course. Never heard of it? It’s ranked in the top 100 in Scotland.
The Open courses in Scotland, and there are five of them, are exhilarating to play, but they are extremely tough for the average handicap golfer, and the pace of play among the visitor fourballs can be tiresome. You’ve got a steady flow of long par 4s and brutal rough to contend with. Explore further, and you’ll experience the game in its purest form.
Tom Watson will be saying farewell to
the Open in July.