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GOLF ATRAVEL Player’s Guide

Beyond

the

Claret

Jug

Ross Parker

Scotland is home to some wonderful championship venues, but as Mark Alexander explains, even greater riches lie beyond.

A

mong its glens and lochs and in between its castles and crofts, Scotland is home to arguably the finest collection of golf courses anywhere in the world. At the last count there were 597 to choose from, each with an enduring story to tell. There are the headline grabbers; the courses you know like the back of your hand after seeing them year after year on television. St Andrews, Turnberry and, this year’s Open

The short but splendid Glen Golf Club in North Berwick, one of the most underrated courses in Scotland 64

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Championship venue, Muirfield are as familiar to golf fans as their own local clubs. These trophy courses have become engrained into our collective consciousness establishing Scotland as the place where history walks hand in hand with beautiful landscapes and a brisk breeze. But Scotland’s treasures are etched deep into the country’s DNA. Great golf courses are part the landscape and even greater riches can be found beyond the Open Championship rota.

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Royal Dornoch Golf Club

Cruden Bay Golf Club

Mark Alexander

Clockwise from top: Vast sand hills surround the eighth green at Cruden Bay; The North Berwick Golf Club, one of the most historic courses in the world; a view of the 13th green at the magnificent Royal Dornoch Golf Club 66

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Take Cruden Bay, for instance. Found on the north east tip of Scotland, the remarkable view from this friendly club will stop you in your tracks. If the clubhouse view over pristine duneland stretching as far as the eye can see doesn’t get your golfing juices flowing then nothing will. Thankfully, in this case, beauty isn’t just skin deep. Like the shorter nine-hole St Olaf course, the Championship course was laid out by Old Tom Morris and Archie Simpson and then redesigned by Tom Simpson in 1926. It follows a figure of eight around a magnificent bay which at one end harbours a colourful collection of fishermen’s cottages while at the other golden stretches of sand are home to hundreds of seabirds. High above it all on a northerly headland, is the sinister silhouette of Slains Castle, reportedly the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.   The buzz of playing a links course that weaves its way through towering dunes is a good enough reason to love Cruden Bay, but a run of holes on the back nine add something special to your round. The 14th, for instance, is described in the official course notes as “a great driving hole, with the North Sea on the right as a lateral water hazard … the second shot to the sunken green [is] completely blind.” If you’re playing the course for the first time, the option to hit-and-hope has never been more apt. crudenbaygolfclub.co.uk

The North Berwick Golf Club

If you like your courses quirky, then you might want to also consider the West Links at Nor t h Ber w ick . R at her t ha n b ei n g planned, the course gradually emerged from the East Lothian coastline adapting to the humps and hollows that were already there. The result is an idiosyncratic course with unexpected twists and unconventional holes that are fun and challenging.   F e w p e o p l e f i n i s h t h e i r r o u n d at North Berwick without a smile on their face or their golfing soul suitably topped up to overflowing. The short and teasing closing hole certainly plays a part in this sporting nourishment, but the real work has already been done early on.   By the time you reach the short 13th (known as “Pit”) you’re hooked. In fact, this curious par four, with its sunken green guarded by a wall running the entire width of the approach apart from two small openings, begins a stretch of mesmerizing holes that includes the famous parthree 15th (“Redan”), which is one of the most copied holes in all of golf. northberwickgolfclub.com  

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In terms of golfing aristocracy, you couldn’t find a more regal setting than Royal Dornoch. Each hole of this magnificent course embraces that rare combination of a distinctive design and blinding playability ensuring a prominent position among Scotland’s top tracks.   Found on the far easterly coast of Sutherland, Dornoch may be tricky to get to but its impact is immediate. The first two holes serve as a fine introduction, but it’s not until you reach the third and panoramic views over the links that you find out what all the fuss is about. The sheer beauty of the place is breathtaking, and the golf isn’t bad either. The fairway of the par-four 8th (“Dunrobin”), for instance, drops down 50 feet to a lower tier presenting you with a 150-yard approach shot to a tantalising green with the humps and hollows offering up a kaleidoscope of golfing possibilities. The following par-five (“Craigliath”) is a classic links hole with a beach battered by crashing waves running down the left-hand side and raised-beach plateaus to the right. Tackled on a windy day, this is one of the most perilous drives on the course.   One thing that holds true throughout your round at Dornoch is the beguiling nature of the links that for centuries have drawn lovers of golf from far and wide. It may be the greatest course never to have held an Open Championship, but it also one of the best places on earth to simply enjoy a game of golf. royaldornoch.com  

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Askernish Golf Club

Musselburgh Links

If you’re looking for real history, look no further than the ancient, free-draining turf of the Old Course at Musselburgh, which is located just six miles east of Edinburgh. The unassuming nineholer, which is circled by a horse-racing track, was home to some of the greats of the game. Legends like Willie Park Sr and Jr, Mungo Park, David Brown and Bob Ferguson all made a name for themselves here. It is believed the gametransforming Guttie ball was developed in the club-making shops that surrounded the course and, as significantly, six Open Championships were decided at Musselburgh which eventually got its full complement of nine holes in 1870.   During a golden era when the tentative green shoots of the modern game were first emerging, Musselburgh was, without question, at the centre of it all. In fact until recently it was considered to be the oldest course in the world until a little-known revision gave the distinction to St Andrews in 2010. Today, you can play the modest layout without breaking the bank or making a reservation – in a surprising twist, Musselburgh is all but overlooked by visitors to Scotland making it one of the most remarkable oversights in golf. musselburgholdlinks.co.uk

Mark Alexander

On South Uist, where 20 miles of brilliantwhite shell beaches run continuously down the west coast of the island, the pure love of golf has inspired a group of enthusiasts to resurrect a lost course. Lying roughly 60 miles west of the Scottish mainland, somewhere towards the outer extremities of the UK, a golf course has been built by hand on a pristine stretch of stunning linksland. Most importantly, it has been built by those who treasure the game and its origins.   Records show that Askernish Golf Club stretches back more than 120 years to the time of the grand master of golf himself: Old Tom Morris, who first conceived the twists and turns of this enigmatic place in 1891. But after years of neglect, this historic plot returned to grazing until a chance discovery by master greenkeeper Gordon Irvine a few years ago. Inspired by the tales of Old Tom, Irvine enlisted the help of some esteemed friends and resurrected the track with spectacular results. The rest, as they say, is history. askernishgolfclub.com  

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The Glen Golf Club

But perhaps the most overlooked course, certainly in the vicinity of Muirfield, is the extraordinary cliff-top track at the Glen Golf Club. Recently voted as Scotland’s best value golfing experience, the North Berwick club enjoys extraordinary views across the Firth of Forth ensuring a genuine treat for those adventurous enough to seek out this golfing treasure. Originally laid out over nine holes in 1894, it was consequently extended to 18 in 1906 with James Braid and Ben Sayers providing the design know-how. The result is one of those indisputable pleasures that sneaks up on you, surprising you with its charm and not inconsiderable challenge.   Take the totally blind 13th, for instance which is a devilishly tricky par three that ends up at a sunken green surrounded by rocks, cliffs and a beach. From the tee, it strikes fear into all who play it. At the green, it is one of the finest golf holes anywhere in Scotland, epitomising perfectly the scenic qualities of golf. Best of all, it has retained the rawness that makes it special.   Like Scotland, the Glen offers a magical golf experience for those willing to look beyond the A-listers. Yes, there are the must-play championship courses, but beyond these lie a host of unique and beautiful layouts that are equally as magical and just as rewarding. Scratch beneath the surface and you will find a treasure trove of Scottish gems. glengolfclub.co.uk  

Clockwise from top: Race day at Musselburgh Links, host of six early Open Championships; the scenic 11th hole at the resurrected Askernish Golf Club on South Uist; rolling and rustic, the 15th at Askernish HK Golfer・JUL 2013

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