For Scottish golfers, it’s called home. For every other golfer, it’s one destination to tick off the bucket list. Scotland, the home of golf, is renowned as one of the world’s greatest places to play the game. But if you’re wanting to sample a small but very authentic miniature version of the home of golf, it really doesn’t get much better than the South West of the country. With over 100 courses to choose from, 200 miles of coastline to explore, a mild climate and a golfing history that has set the tone for the game that we know today, the South West is every inch a world-class golf destination in its own right. If money is tight or your time is limited, this is the place to quench your golfing thirst. It’s time to get excited.
1. It is the home of the Open Championship
It was at Prestwick in 1860 where the Open first took place. When Allan Robertson, who was considered the best professional golfer at that time, died from jaundice in 1859 at the age of
44, his peers decided to hold
a tournament in his honour. They would play for the honour of being named the ‘Champion Golfer of the Year’. The Open, as it later became known, is the oldest of the four major championships and, as such,
the most coveted. Prestwick remains a joy to play and was played this year by Scottish Club Golfer’s Michael McEwan, who described it as “brilliantly quirky… an absolute joy from start to finish”.
It should be your first introduction to Open golf in this area. Next on your list should be Royal Troon, which hosted this year’s championship. It proved to be a titanic tussle of epic proportions between Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson, with the Swede outlasting the American to land his first major title in thrilling fashion. It was a contest for the ages, largely helped by the stunning test thrown down by Troon, one of the world’s great links. The beauty of Troon is its simplicity. There are no tricks, something that Rory McIlroy says is the sign of a good test.
“I think the course is pretty self-explanatory,” said McIlroy before this year’s Open in July. “The greens are quite flat.
One of the big things here… you just have to keep it out of the bunkers. There’s not a whole lot of learning of the golf course to do. Just make sure you’re comfortable with the clubs you’re hitting off the tees. Once you put it in play, you’ve got a chance to make some birdies.”
According to former Ryder Cup-winning captain Colin Montgomerie, who grew up playing his golf at Troon whilst his father was club secretary, there’s never been a better time to play the course than right now. “I’ve never seen the course look as good,” he said. “The way it’s manicured, the way the bunkers have been done, the greens are running fast and true. I’ve never seen the course look as good. It looks fantastic.”
The last of the Open trio that you should pay serious attention to, if ‘big names’ is your thing, is Trump Turnberry. Its redesigned Ailsa opened to a great fanfare this year and the reviews were immensely positive. That’s because the course is a vastly improved version of what was already an excellent test of golf. The hotel is in the process of being completed (it is still open for business as normal) whilst the clubhouse has been completely redone, with an impressive new pro shop. It, incidentally, was recently named the ‘Pro Shop of the Year’ at the 2016 Scottish Golf Tourism Awards.
One footnote to Open courses in this region: don’t ignore Gailes Links. It is the R&A’s only Open Final Qualifying course in Scotland, from 2014 through 2017, and last year saw Montgomerie earn his spot in a field of world-class talent. Gailes Links is a classic links test that is always in resplendent condition and well worth a look. If you can, squeeze in a round Dundonald Links, too. It makes its Scottish Open debut in 2017 and is a world-class, often tough, but always enjoyable test of championship links golf.
2 You’re not short of places to stay
You have numerous options for accommodation - and, with it, access to superb value. One thing you need to get right on a golf break is finding the best place to stay for your needs. Fortunately, this corner of Scotland is home to some of the best golf hotels
in the country.
Whether you want to stay by the coast, inland, or in and around busy hubs, you will find something to cater for your needs. Many hotels are well-versed in dealing with visiting golfers and will go out of their way to make you feel at home.
In addition to that, many hotels offer special rates to guests to eat in the hotel, which is always a good invitation to accept.
It should also come as no surprise that the food in this region is unsurpassed. Whether it’s the finest Galloway beef, award-winning smoked salmon or sumptuous catch-of-the-day fresh fish, you’ll be served something truly special, and truly Scottish. If you plan to give yourself a day off from the golf, why not take in a whisky tour? It’s what golf trips are made of.
3 You have access to some of the best island golf
You can, of course, be as adventurous as you like and travel to islands far and wide. Scotland is home to almost as many islands as there are golf courses but one of the best
ways to sample a Scottish island is to jump on a ferry from Ardrossan and head to Arran. The journey to the island will take just under an hour, where seven fantastic courses lie in wait. Brodick is an excellent layout - founded in 1897, no less - that skirts the edge of the beach. It throws up a fun challenge - arguably one of the best on the island - and is closely matched in that regard by Shiskine, a unique 12-holer. Whiting Bay, Corrie and Lamlash will each provide you with experiences to savour, too.
4 It’s home to the world’s best par-3
Phil Mickelson says he loves it. Rory McIlroy took ‘an 8 or a 9’ in a practice round this year and says he still loves it. Local hero Monty reckons it’s a ‘special’ test of golf. One thing is for certain: the Postage Stamp - Royal Troon’s 123-yard, par-3 eighth hole – lives up to the hype.
It is the shortest hole on the Open rota and was the shortest hole in major championship golf this year, which is no real surprise considering how the game has changed in recent years. But what is lacks in length it makes up for in character. At the Open Championship this year, Montgomerie was one of many top players to talk about the challenge of the Postage Stamp and, having played it hundreds of times, his description was probably the most memorable of all.
“There’s never been a decent par-3 over 200 yards, in my opinion,” he said. “123 yards. The expectation raises dramatically… you are on that tee and you are a professional golfer. It’s your job and you’re expected to hit this green at 123 yards. You could throw it on, really... I wish I could. And that’s why it’s difficult. Whenever you’re expected to win something or do something, it’s always more difficult to achieve. And that’s why that hole is fabulous. Its drama. If you do happen to miss the green, well, game on. Drama unfolds from then on, depending where and what lie you’re in.” He then added: “But it’s amazing. The first seven holes are relatively downwind, down out the right. That’s the normal prevailing wind. And it’s the first hole on the golf course that you turn into the wind. It’s the
first shot you’ve got
into a wind. It’s a change. You haven’t done this for two hours…then
you suddenly have this shot. You’re in two minds, and self-doubt
comes in and hesitation. It’s a great hole.”
5 It has the best of both worlds – links and parkland – meaning you get more variety for your trip
Scotland is famed for its links courses, and rightly so, yet its inland designs are highly-rated and often unfairly overlooked. The Ryder Cup at Gleneagles helped put Scotland on the global stage and, for a nice change, it didn’t showcase the home of golf by the seaside. There is so much more to golf in Scotland when you head inland, away from the lapping waters, and that is even more evident when you’re in the South West, which has the
best of both worlds.
There are plenty of top parkland courses to choose from. Cardrona and Peebles are close together and well worth venturing out on during your trip whilst Torwoodlee, in the heart of the Borders, is a treat to play and one of the friendliest courses in the area. Another stand-out is The Roxburghe, home to the preliminary stages of the European Tour Q-School.
If you’re looking for supreme value, then try your hand at Belleisle, one of the Scotland’s very best municipals, and only a short drive from the centre