Everyone wants to play golf in Scotland and Ireland. Fact. Maybe this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, or perhaps an annual pilgrimage. The bucket lists will be overflowing with your old courses, whether that’s at Portmarnock or St. Andrews! The Open Championship courses will roll off your tongue, including Portrush, back on the rota, and rightly so. There will even be the must-plays that very few can play, unless well connected, financially sound, or both.
I can understand why the usual suspects are always on the golf itinerary. And, by writing this, I don’t want to question their appeal, or their quality. But my argument lies in that in this day and age of travel and tourism, it is all about going off the beaten track, exploring, living a little, and not conforming. Some may argue my selections aren’t off the beaten track enough, but they’re there to debate!
It is with a great deal of smugness that I present to you 10 golf courses (11 if you include two at Moray) I have experienced — five in each country — where you can be assured of as Scottish and Irish golf experience as you richly deserve.
Protruding deep into the Atlantic on the west of Ireland is Carne Golf Links. The village of Belmullet lies almost exactly 3,000 miles from New York City, and Carne idly inhabits an area that is low on population, but highly populated with dunes. Sand dunes of the highest order! Now offering 27 holes, you will think you are driving to New York, but just before tipping off the edge of Europe, the dunes come into view. They are something to behold.
Traveling farther down the West Coast and driving beyond the practice greens of Ballybunion, Lahinch and Tralee is Castlegregory on the Dingle Peninsula. Surely I am not recommending a 9-holer? I will grant you access to one of the usual suspects in the morning, but following a couple pints of Guinness while watching the boats bob up and down off the Inch Peninsula, it seems appealing to play nine more, doesn’t it? Castlegregory gifts dramatic views across to Tralee, the steep-sided Mount Brandon as a backdrop and a challenge that simply not enough people know about. But, that’s its charm.
The Wild Atlantic Way, the world’s longest defined coastal route, should send you in the direction of the Ring of Kerry. A beautiful stretch of road and home to Waterville and Dooks, but perhaps controversially we will head cross-country to County Wicklow on the Irish Sea.
Pat Ruddy designed The European Club. In fact, he is still designing the European Club. Heading out with his spray can, he will mark where bunkers need to be tweaked and changed before heading in again to talk to his golfers about Tiger’s course-record 67, how Padraig Harrington has his three majors thanks to the European and how Rory thinks it’s the best links he’s ever played. Oh yes, I forgot, you get 20 holes for your money and the world’s longest green.
Not too far away and inland is Druids Glen. Sometimes referred to by the over-used phrase of the “Augusta of Europe,” they may be right. This is as close as I have come to what I imagine Augusta to be like. Spectacularly manicured, fascinatingly interesting, wonderfully unexpected and a lot of fun. Monty has won twice at Druids, while Sergio won his first tour event here. It goes to show it’s not just about how pretty the golf course looks; it’s tricky, too.
At the end of the 19th century, golf was steadily becoming more popular with the elite of the day. The Island Golf Club north of Dublin was originally a spur of land opposite Malahide. One fine day, a Syndicate of gents jumped in a boat and acquired the slice of land for their golf course. You could still get a boat to the course until 1973, with the clubhouse putting up colored disks to draw the attention of the boatman. Once on dry land, the dunes loom. It’s hard to tell just how big they are when you’re in Malahide, but after 18 holes and a couple pints of Guinness, trust me, they’re massive.
Hidden gems is a phrase too often used. Because a lot of the time, how you feel about a course is dependent on how you play and what type of courses you prefer to play. My challenge in Scotland is to demonstrate that no matter how low or high your handicap, or how close to it you play, you will still walk away appreciating what has just happened. This must be the reason we play? Personally, if I play poorly then I appreciate the view. If I play well I appreciate the scorecard, not forgetting the view. In Scotland, we will start by sauntering down the Edinburgh coast.
The views of the Bass Rock extend out into the North Sea, while 150,000 gannets stare at you as you hover over the birdie putt. The ninth at The Glen Golf Club, North Berwick Glen drops to the seashore and has the rock as its aim. A visual treasure, and perched up high so susceptible to the odd breeze, it’s hard to concentrate on the swing when there is so much else to consider. The pretty town of North Berwick is a pleasant 5-minute stroll along the beach if you fancy a boat trip to see the birdies.
It’s not all about the sea and links, though, if you truly want to experience Scottish golf. The hills, the heathland, the contours and the gradients have helped assist the Queen’s at Gleneagles. Slightly over-shadowed by its bigger brothers of the King’s and the PGA Centenary (venue of the 2014 Ryder Cup), on a summer’s evening the views across the Ochils are worth the trip. Deer and rabbit will frolic in the rough, while the swans will serenely cruise on the loch at Nos. 13 and 14.
Back on track, the Aberdeen coast has recently been synonymous with the arrival of the Trump International Golf Links. No matter what your political persuasion, it’s a marvellous golf course. But a little farther up the coast is Royal Aberdeen, the sixth-oldest golf club in the world. It was founded in 1780 as the Society of Golfers at Aberdeen. The front nine is arguably the best group of links holes anywhere on the planet, yet it might depend on how well you’re playing. Either way, the tradition, the atmosphere, the welcome and the clubhouse are reassuringly characterful.
The farthest north I will head is Moray. I know some of the purists will cite Dornoch as THE Scottish golf experience, but the 36 holes of the Old and New at Moray will once again offer pure Scottish golf. It’s important to play one “Old” on your trip, so Old Tom Morris’ Old can then be followed by Henry Cotton’s New. That’s not a bad combination. They won seven Opens between them, so they knew what they were doing.
Heading back down the road, the steam from the Highlands’ only steam railway will welcome you to Boat of Garten. Home to the ospreys and nestling by the River Spey, the course was designed by the legendary James Braid. The railway also runs alongside the fourth hole, so don’t forget to give the passengers a wave, not a fore. It is a beautifully untouched end to the tour. There is not much flat terrain to be had, but then you are in Scotland.
It’s without question that Scotland and Ireland offer the ultimate golf experience. But it’s important to explore beyond the brochure. Where Turnberry and Ballybunion are our Colosseum and Eiffel Tower, the plethora of courses will equally fulfill your romantic notions of Scottish and Irish golf. With a Guinness or whisky in hand, come rain or shine, your tour of golf heaven awaits.
Club Junkie: Titleist T-Series irons – A deep dive with Titleist’s Josh Talge
Titleist’s new T-Series irons are out and have had a lot of use on tour as well as a lot of adoption by GolfWRXers. Josh Talge takes some time to talk with me about all the details of the T100, T100S, T200, and the T300. It is a deep dive into each iron and what tech has made them such good irons for all golfers!
Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Our take on the Professional Long Drive Championship and the new Foresight GC3
From watching bombs from the best athletes in the long drive sport, to analyzing how speed training can benefit you and diving into another piece of technology that can help sharpen your swing. This short excerpt will be smooth like a morning coffee.
Be the Number: 2021 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open fantasy, betting picks, and preview
Stats and strategy guru Spencer Aguiar (@teeoffsports) and former D1 golfer Josephine Chang (@jchang1020) dive deep into the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Tune in for picks, predictions, DFS, GPP, draws, fades, bets, and more!
Patrick Reed’s Twitter suggests that he’s fuming with Stricker’s Ryder Cup snub
‘My first-hand experience with Bryson DeChambeau’
Taking the backyard putting green plunge
4-wood vs 7-wood vs hybrid – GolfWRXers discuss
The Wedge Guy: More on learning – the grip
Jessica Korda calls out social media ‘hate’ as rise in online abuse continues
Justin Rose’s caddie calls into question U.S. player’s graciousness at Solheim Cup
Clement: This wrist position can add 30 yards to your drive
Steve Stricker shares positive news from Tiger Woods’ rehab
Report: Bryson calls out ‘Brooksie’ heckler following playoff defeat
Harry Higgs WITB 2021 (October)
Harry Higgs what’s in the bag accurate as of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Driver: TaylorMade SIM2 (8 degrees...
Rory Sabbatini WITB 2021 (October, Mizuno Pro 223 irons)
Rory Sabbatini WITB accurate as of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Driver: TaylorMade SIM2 Max (9 degrees) Shaft: Prototype...
Keith Mitchell WITB 2021 (October)
Keith Mitchell what’s in the bag accurate as of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Driver: Mizuno ST-Z (9.5 degrees)...
Rickie Fowler WITB 2021 (October)
Rickie Fowler what’s in the bag accurate as of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. We’ll confirm what putter and...
19th Hole2 days ago
Bryson reveals the cut-off point on money list where players make an annual loss on Tour
19th Hole2 weeks ago
Sergio Garcia’s wife fires warning to ’embarrassing’ U.S. Ryder Cup fans
19th Hole1 week ago
‘Patrick Cantlay p****d me off’ – European Ryder Cup rookie hits out at U.S. star
19th Hole3 weeks ago
‘What the f**k you doing?’ – Former Masters champ tells Brooks Koepka to ‘get a life’
19th Hole2 weeks ago
The ruthless message Tiger Woods sent to inspire the U.S team at Ryder Cup
19th Hole13 hours ago
Tiger Woods photographed back on golf course with son Charlie
19th Hole3 days ago
Why Harris English’s putter grip led to strange ruling at Ryder Cup
Podcasts1 week ago
The 19th Hole Episode 168: Long Drive Champ Maurice Allen discusses Bryson