Scotland offers many links courses

The Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland is clearly a golfer’s mecca. Diehard golfers fly to Glasgow or Edinburgh, then rent a car or hop on a bus to take them to the birthplace of their obsession.

Nobody knows who designed these ancient links (originally the term “links” referred specifically to a seaside course), but St. Andrews is the model for courses everywhere-a place of learning and a place of history. The course is public, so visitors can play for 85 pounds (about $187 Cdn)-if they’re lucky enough to get a tee time.

But the six courses at St. Andrews are far from being the only site to enjoy the royal and ancient game in Scotland. Instead of limiting yourself to St. Andrews or the other famous British Open sites-such as Carnoustie, Muirfield, Royal Troon and Turnberry-visit some of the other friendly clubs where the green fees are far less expensive and the tee times easier to get.

&l;IG hspace=”5″ src=”” align=”left” vspace=”5″ border=”0″>Other wonderful links
In the St. Andrews area, golfers can drive less than 30 minutes and find wonderful old links such as Leven, Lundin, Crail and Elie. Malcolm Campbell, a member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, writes about these courses in his superb guide, The Scottish Golf Book (Lomond Books, 1999):

“The great championship links are the icons of Scottish golf and rightly revered the world over,” Campbell writes. “But the backbone of the game in the Home of Golf is formed of the dozens of lesser-known links largely hidden from the wider gaze.”

These “hidden gems,” as Campbell aptly refers to these courses, offer no end of surprises. At Elie, on Scotland’s east coast, visitors talk about the Second World War submarine telescope that sits beside the first tee. The opening hole scoots up a hill, making it impossible to see over its brow. The periscope is necessary to ensure you don’t bean the golfers ahead.

Fall golfing
Campbell advises visitors that some of the best golfing months in Scotland are in the fall — even into late October and through November. While nobody goes to Scotland expecting the weather of Arizona or Florida, there’s no reason to believe that frozen ground and storms that blow one sideways will necessarily greet you in autumn. And because the summer crowds have departed, it’s easier to get on the courses. There’s nothing quite like the links on a bright fall morning soon after sunrise or in the evening as the sun is setting.

About 11 kilometers from St. Andrews, on a cape called Fifeness, is Crail. The course includes six par-threes, plays to a par of 79 and is less than 6,000 yards. Not much of a challenge, you might say. But wait. Wait until the winds blow off the sea and your ball bounces every which way on the hard turf and into a pot bunker.

Sea views
Crail Balcomie is a trying game of golf but, more important, it’s gorgeous golf. Players can gaze out to the sea on every hole. The Hon. Arthur Balfour, a keen golfer and former British prime minister, once said of golf by the sea:

“A tolerable day, a tolerable green, a tolerable opponent supply, or ought to supply, all that any reasonably constituted human being should require in the way of entertainment. With a fine sea view and a clear course in front of him, the golfer may be excused if he regards golf, even though it be indifferent golf, as the true and adequate end of man’s existence.”

Now you might think that Mr. Balfour was overstating the case here, but only if you have yet to experience the sublime pleasures of links golf. If you’re willing to be adventurous, then a fascinating world awaits you in Scotland.

Discovery tips
Years ago, I found myself in the lounge of an Edinburgh drinking establishment. “Don’t turn your nose down at the nine-holers,” a fellow advised. “They’re fine courses, but most of the visitors miss them because they go for the big courses.”

His advice to follow one’s nose was excellent. In fact, the best way to travel around Scotland on a golfing holiday is to take it one area at a time.

  • Don’t try to do the entire country in one visit.
  • Focus on the St. Andrews area and play the lesser-known courses.
  • For a treat, include the tremendous new Kingsbarns links, eight kilometers southeast of St. Andrews. It’s expensive at 105 pounds ($230 Cdn), but you’ll save money and energy by not driving all over the country.
  • If you’d like to play inland, try The Duke’s Course in St. Andrews, designed by the five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson.

St. Andrews is the ideal starting point for the wayfaring golfer looking for special places to play the game. But stray from the path of most golfing tourists to the lesser-known courses and you’ll walk into the soul of the game-and its finest people. Guaranteed.