Golf originated in Scotland some time before 1574 in a field stretching along the coastline of the St. Andrews Bay in the North Sea. The area was developed into the 18-hole Old Course at St. Andrews in 1764.
As a nongolfer who has accompanied my husband on both Scotland and Ireland golf trips I can attest to the wild beauty of the links courses in Scotland. They are a pleasure to walk as they are known for their coastal sand dunes and open parkland. Links courses are formed from whatever shapes nature provides, they are not groomed into perfection, and this is what makes them so beautiful to me. Walking a links course is like walking through a beautiful park or scenic countryside.
The following were some of the key factors to consider as you plan your golf trip to Scotland:
Select the Time of Year to Visit
Golf trips are typically scheduled between April and October with prices being higher for the months of June through August. If you do travel during the summer months, late tee times are possible due to the length of daylight. If possible, try to travel in April or October but remember that temperatures during these months will likely be 10-15 degrees cooler.
If you hope to visit Edinburgh, August is a time in which the city is full of tourists attending festivals and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Another factor to consider in planning the timing of your visit is the closure of the St. Andrews golf course for several weeks in September and early October for the European Tour. Check here for the listing of course busy/close dates as you begin to plan your trip.
Determine Where to Play
Scotland has over 550 golf courses which are organized into golfing regions. To maximize our time playing golf (versus moving from point to point) we chose to use St. Andrews and Trump Turnberry as our home base in Scotland.
The following are the regions that we visited during our 10-day golf trip to Scotland:
St. Andrews, Fife
Home to The Royal & Ancient Golf Club, St. Andrews is also home to over 50 golf courses. We were fortunate to rent a home in the village of St. Andrews and unpacked for a lovely 5-night stay. With a population of almost 18,000, St. Andrews was accessible on foot with pub and restaurant options after watching the sunset over the Royal & Ancient Golf Club or a visit to the British Golf Museum. For more information: visitfifegolf.com
Due to its proximity to St. Andrews, we made a day trip to play Carnoustie Golf Links. Golf has been played in Angus since the early 1600s. In addition to Carnoustie, this region is home to Montrose Golf Links, the world’s fifth oldest golf course. For more information: carnoustiecountry.com
Ayrshire & Arran
This area of Scotland is home to over 50 courses and one of the largest collections of Open Championship courses including Royal Troon and Trump Turnberry where our group played the Ailsa course. Our two-night stay at Trump Turnberry found us at the bar at sunset, listening to the lone bagpiper play as the sun set over the Turnberry Lighthouse on the coastline of the Irish Sea. For more information: ayrshiregolfscotland.com
Unfortunately, we did not have time to get to the regions of the Highlands or Aberdeenshire to see the historic castles. But this region is home to Inverness Golf Club, Castle Stuart Golf Links, Royal Dornoch, and Royal Aberdeen along with many other beautiful parkland and heathland courses. For more information: golfaberdeen.com
Another desired stop would have been to the region of Perthshire to stay at the luxurious Gleneagles Hotel. As you can tell, there is a lot of golf to be played in Scotland and hundreds of beautiful, wild links courses to walk!
Not surprisingly, the more well-known courses charge higher greens fees. For example, a golf trip to St. Andrews and Ayrshire will likely be more expensive than a trip to Aberdeen or the Highlands.
Research & Book Visitor Tee Times a Year in Advance
Several of the top courses only provide tee times to visitors on specific days. You will need to plan your itinerary accordingly. If you want to play St. Andrews’ Old Course, you will need to either pay a tour coordinator for a guaranteed tee time or work the lottery option. It isn’t unusual for the top courses to get booked a full year in advance. Also, if you know you want to play a course twice, ask if they have a replay rate which will allow you to play the course again on the same day or within a week’s time.
For insider information on getting a tee time at St. Andrews consult Graylyn Loomis’ Scottish golf resource website. This website is loaded with helpful information.
Figure Out How You are Going to Get Around
So, let’s start with the fact that people in Ireland drive on the opposite side of the road from people in the US and typically in a manual shift car! While this isn’t “difficult” per se (with the exception of right-hand turns and a topic for an entire blog) it’s a lot of work to remember where you are on the road. Not to mention how narrow the roadways are around most of the links courses which are located in the middle of a small village or a pasture. The good news is that a cluster of courses can be within a few minute’s walk making a car unnecessary.
My recommendation is to arrange for airport transfers to and from where you will be staying and then utilize a taxi or a car service when you are moving from point to point. If you are exploring without your golf clubs the train may be a viable option as well.
It’s also worth noting that in Scotland a beer puts you at or just over the legal limit. So, that visit to the 19th hole after a round could become the stuff of legends if you are drinking and driving.
Decide Where You Will Stay
There is a wide-range of accommodation options for Scotland golf. They include everything from a home or apartment rental through VRBO or AirBnB to award-winning hotels and resources. It’s important to match your accommodations to the preferences of the group that you will be traveling with. For example, when we stayed in St. Andrews, we stayed near the Royal & Ancient to make it easier to take a few clubs at the end of the day to putt. Trump Turnberry was chosen because of its all inclusive access to its famous courses. Of course, both of those choices came with an impact on the budget.
In order to minimize the cost, our 2-bedroom apartment in St. Andrews was functional but not overly spacious and our room at Turnberry did not have a view. But being on the property made up for the lack of space and a view. We didn’t want to sit in our room and look out, we wanted to be out of our rooms, enjoying the links courses and the gorgeous views from the veranda and hotel grounds.
To Share a Room or Not
Since my husband and I were traveling with another couple this was not an issue. But when traveling with friends a single versus double occupancy will have an impact on the cost of the trip. Scotland golf tours are typically priced based on double occupancy so if you choose to room by yourself it could increase the cost of the trip by 50%, depending upon which properties you stay in and their approach to pricing.
To Utilize a Tour Company Or Not
If you have a lot of free time to research the trip you will likely be able to put the trip together. However, if you are tight on time and have a medium to large budget, I would recommend hiring an experienced Scotland golf tour company. The tour companies eliminate any negative surprises and can secure tee times at the courses that you want to play, including the Old Course at St. Andrews.
To Take Your Clubs or Rent Clubs While You’re in Scotland
My husband and our friends chose to take their clubs but all commented that it was not worth the trouble and wished that they had rented their equipment. This was reinforced as they checked out the top of the line rental equipment that was available at the various pro shops on the courses they played. Your tour company can arrange for club rentals or you may rent clubs from ClubstoHire at the Edinburgh airport.
Scotland is definitely a golfers bucket list trip. I would recommend the trip for both golfers and nongolfers for the ancient history and the profound beauty of the links courses.
Mary Beth I have a passion for creating and experiencing unforgettable moments and sharing those with others. I hope that this story has helped you experience one of those moments.