An Expert Guide to Playing Golf in Scotland

Published on 06/16/2023 · 9 min readWondering where to play golf on your trip to Scotland? Golf Expert Jorge Arteta lists his top three courses you should pay a visit to during your stay.
Jorge Arteta, Golf Expert
By Golf Expert Jorge Arteta

Photo courtesy of yourgolftravel

Welcome to the Holy Grail of Golf.

In the United States, golfers frequently go to Hawaii, Florida, Pebble Beach, and Arizona for golf vacation destinations. Those locations have fantastic views, greens, fairways, and bunkers and are considered some of the best golf courses to visit.

I'm here to tell you that, in spirit, none of those compare to the over six centuries-old birthplace of golf and the most talked about golf trip on anyone’s bucket list. But, of course, I am talking about golf in Scotland!

The names and places such as the Old Course in St. Andrews, Royal Troon, Carnoustie, Prestwick, and Royal Dornoch are heard often.

As a golf professional, I've had the great fortune to play many spectacular courses worldwide, but the most memorable experience was playing in Scotland. I visited the country not once but twice, and I was so happy to golf there. My best friend and I got to play many of the courses.

This guide shares my more memorable experiences with some of the most noteworthy courses in Scotland. Whether they host a famous tournament or have a deep history, these courses should be in serious consideration for any visit to Scotland.

The Old Course in St. Andrews

Photo courtesy of Jorge Arteta

  • Location: St. Andrews, Scotland
  • Holes: 18
  • Par: 72
  • Rating: 73.1
  • Slope: 132
  • Yardage: 6,721

This place is everything you have heard, seen, and imagined. I have played the Old Course, which is part of St. Andrews Links twice, and the memories will stay with me forever. The Old Course is one of the seven courses on the entire property. While you can play any of the other courses with a standard reservation system, a ballot (lottery) system is in place to play on the Old Course and it is restricted to only this course.

I used a caddie for both rounds and it was the best thing I did to make the golf experience more enjoyable. Of course, caddies are optional, but when you’ve traveled across the world, having a caddie is invaluable. My caddie was knowledgeable, courteous, and didn’t interfere with my play. He was a complement, and it worked out great.

We walked the course and took in the over 600 years' worth of history of the links. The most surreal moment on the Old Course was walking on the famous Swilken Bridge. To be able to walk the bridge as many others have done in the past 600 years was just unbelievable. We don’t have places this old in the USA, so to me, it was being part of history. I loved the nostalgia and the feeling of what life was like many years ago. The greats like Tiger Woods, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player have all walked across the bridge. What a memory.

Photo courtesy of Jorge Arteta

My favorite hole was Number 17—the road hole. It was windy the first time I got to it. All you see is the corner of the hotel with the course going around the end of it. The caddie gave me a target and told me to swing away. As I looked at the target, which is the logo as seen in the picture, I had no idea what I was doing because I had not seen the other side of the hotel and where the ball might land.

This was nerve-wracking! I was anxious, and I had to have the ultimate faith in my caddie. As I moved to the ball, I kept my same pre-shot routine, did my same practice swings and when I got to the ball, it was just “breathe and swing.” The ball went right over the target, the corner of the hotel, it had plenty of height and the caddie said, “you’ll be okay, lad, you’ll be okay.” Of course, I didn’t believe him until we walked past the hotel and my ball was sitting in the fairway, looking at me like, “we got this”. What a memory!

When visiting this course, golfers should also be prepared for sharp weather changes. I was there in May and it was a cool day with temperatures around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. During my round, it rained and the wind blew up to 50 miles per hour. Moments later, the sun came out as if there was never a storm. All this was experienced during a five-hour round.

To make it simple, if you can get to Scotland and the Old Course, you will never forget being at the home of golf or being on the oldest golf course. I’ll remember my times at the Old Course, and I hope you check that off the bucket list too!

Golf at Fairmont St. Andrews

Photo by Jorge Arteta

  • Location: St. Andrews, Scotland
  • Holes: 18 Torrance / 18 Kittocks
  • Par: 72 Torrance / 72 Kittocks
  • Rating: 74.9 Torrance / 75.0 Kittocks
  • Slope: 138 Torrance / 136 Kittocks
  • Yardage: 7,320 Torrance / 7192 Kittocks

Let me introduce you to one of the most surprising courses in Scotland. The Fairmont Hotel in St. Andrews has two golf courses: The Torrance and the Kittocks. They are both on the water, and the views are spectacular. The hotel is fantastic and offers five-star accommodations, and its property is located just a few minutes up the road from the Old Course.

The Torrance Course

The Torrance course was designed by Sam Torrance, a famous Scottish professional golfer who played on the European Tour and multiple Ryder Cup teams. The course has hosted Open qualifiers and has been recognized with many hospitality awards.

What I remember most about this course was the peace and tranquility that I felt just walking along with my friend on land that was hundreds of years old. We were the only ones on the course that afternoon, and it was magical.

Oddly enough, the airlines lost my clubs and I ended up playing with rentals. Turns out the rentals were pretty good, and I felt a certain connection with the course because I had none of my own equipment—everything was from the pro shop in St. Andrews. This course gave me a calmness that I could play and just be in the moment. It was refreshing out in the 45-degree temperatures.

The Kittocks Course

The Kittocks course is one of my five favorite courses in the world. Bruce Devlin designed it, and he had an assistant named Gene Sarazen. You may have heard of him, he’s only one of the most famous golfers of all time. The course is bordered by the Fife coastline, and the views from it are some of the best in Scotland. The landscape takes your breath away. As I did with the Old Course in St. Andrews, I walked this course. This allowed me to feel connected in a way that is not the same as if I was experiencing the course from a golf cart. The views, the weather, and the course being less busy on this particular day made it all one of the happiest memories of my life. The course has been widely recognized also, and the hype is all true.

Photo courtesy of SGH Golf

  • Location: Carnoustie, Scotland
  • Holes: 18 Championship course / 18 Burnside course / Buddon course
  • Par: 72 Championship / 68 Burnside / 68 Buddon
  • Rating: 75.2 Championship / 69.5 Burnside / 69 Buddon
  • Slope: 139 Championship / 125 Burnside / 120 Buddon
  • Yardage: 6,945 Championship / 5,943 Burnside / 5,921 Buddon

Carnoustie Golf Links was founded in the 1830s and is home to three courses—the Carnoustie Championship course, the Burnside course, and the Buddon course.

The Championship Course

This is the course where the Van de Velde collapse happened. It is considered one of the most challenging golf courses in the world. In the 1999 Open Championship on the 18th hole, golfer Van de Velde only needed a double bogey to win one of the most prestigious golf tournaments in the world. Unfortunately, through a series of wild shots, Van de Velde ended up with a triple bogey and lost in the playoff.

The Burnside Course

There are many memorable moments on this course, including Molinari defeating McIlroy and Tiger in 2018. Ben Hogan played the Burnside course in an Open qualifier and won the 1953 Open. At just over 6,000 yards it may seem a bit short, but the course has its own memorable charms and challenges. The fairways are tight, and you sometimes feel as if you have to play this course with irons only just to get through. Pot bunkers galore! The journey to the flag is tough. The greens are small and are not flat, forcing even the most advanced players to take a second or third look at the break.

The Buddon Course

Like the Burnside, the Buddon course offers challenging play for any golf level and forces you to carefully watch your iron shots. Created in 1981, the holes are named after battles from various wars. It’s a nice combination of links-type holes and tree-lined holes, giving a different look within the same course. Near the water, some of the views are postcard ready! At par 68, it’s a fun course and memorable.

Conclusion

While this article focused on three of my favorite courses in Scotland, The Old Course, the Kittocks at The Fairmont, and Carnoustie, there are many other courses to choose from and visit. As mentioned in the beginning, many well-known names provided great moments in tournament golf at these locales. Seeing those places firsthand alone is well worth the visit.

Scotland is a magical place, steeped in rich history. The people are some of the friendliest anywhere because the residents care about their country and show pride in their surroundings. I would highly recommend a destination trip to see its courses. I plan to return and see if I can visit even more golf courses, and play a third time at the home of golf. See you there someday, in Scotland!

If you need help finding the right golf gear for your trip, chat with me or one of my fellow Golf Experts here on Curated for free, personalized recommendations.

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Read next

New and Noteworthy