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Scotland Golf Review and Travelogue
23 Mar 2015
see also: Cruden Bay Golf Club, All Course Reviews

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Sunset at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Scotland
Sunset at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Scotland
Scotland - "What I did on my Summer Vacation or the Trip of a Lifetime.”

In December 2013, a few weeks after the worst time of my life when my wife suddenly passed away, one of my good friends asked if I was interested in going to Scotland for eight days of golf with he and his son. Since it was the top item on my bucket list, I decided to jump in. What follows is a journal of the trip. The three of us have single digit handicaps, so we played as far back as each club would allow(except Trump). We played 198 holes in 7 days and figure we walked over 70 miles just playing golf!

GETTING THERE

Thursday, June 26th and Friday June 27th.

We left Charlotte, NC and flew directly to Heathrow in London, where we connected to another airline for the short trip to Edinburgh. A few tips:  Heathrow is a very time-consuming airport to get through (with tight security and fairly long customs lines) so make sure you have enough of a layover to make your connection.  We barely made it. We were scheduled to play Royal Aberdeen that first day around 3:30pm, but our clubs didn't make it on the first flight. Although we were initially upset, it was actually a blessing in disguise. By the time we made it to Aberdeen, we were beat. So, another tip is don't schedule golf on the first day. The final part of day was the drive to Cruden Bay -- which is north of Aberdeen — where we re-scheduled missed round to the following day, in which we would play 36- holes. We checked into the Kilmarnock Arms hotel in Cruden Bay and had some dinner.

SATURDAY, JUNE 28 - DAY ONE OF THE GOLF MARATHON

Round 1 – Trump International Scotland

We were able to reschedule our first day golf to include both Trump International Scotland and Royal Aberdeen.  As we drove into the Trump facility you can tell that “The Donald” was involved, everything was immaculate. I had heard that Trump International Scotland was the finest links course in the world and this would be my first experience with links golf. Trump International Scotland did not disappoint. It may be the best course I have ever played. The fairways are generous, reasonably flat and firm, but once you got out of the fairway, the thick heather was waiting.  The bunkering is very similar to the courses that followed in the week. The green complexes are large, firm, very undulating, and in perfect condition. The views from a few of the tee boxes(11th, 14th, and 18th) are absolutely spectacular. You are never very far from the North Sea and it is visible on most holes. It has a full practice facility, which was unusual for this trip.  Caddies are available, but this is one of the courses that you can get away with just using the yardage book provided. If you are traveling to Scotland, this course is a must play. 

Round 2.  Royal Aberdeen
We drove south from Trump to play Royal Aberdeen in the afternoon. Royal Aberdeen was founded in 1780 and claims to be the 6th oldest golf course in the world. Royal Aberdeen is what I was expecting for old school links golf. Royal Aberdeen is defined by its narrow, undulating, and very firm fairways cut through the dunes. A caddie here would be a definite plus. The complimentary yardage book was helpful, but a knowledgeable caddie would be even better. We got our first taste of Scottish weather for about 15 minutes that afternoon. The wind started to blow and it poured for about 10 minutes.  As fate would have it, the rain and wind came on the 9th hole and it may have been the most difficult hole we played all week.  Thankfully, this was the only real rain we had for the 8 days.  We did not play it in the prevailing wind so the back 9 played much easier that the front. Since the Scottish Open was scheduled the next week at Royal Aberdeen, it was fun experience to play a course with the bleachers installed and some of the TV platforms constructed. The course was fun to play and the staff treated us very well. We finished the day with dinner at the Cock and Bull restaurant right across the street from the entrance to Trump International. Good Steaks and Chicken dishes.

SUNDAY, JUNE 29

Round 1 – Newburgh-On-Ythan

We wanted to experience true public golf in Scotland, so we scheduled a round at a local course near Curden Bay. Newburgh-on-Ythan is a city course just south of Cruden Bay. The first nine is a heathland style course that runs up and down the hills across the street from the Ythan River that feeds into the North Sea, the back nine is a true links that runs right along the river. After getting beat up on the two courses the first day, Newburgh- on-Ythan was a welcome rest to make a few birdies as the fairways were generous and not as much heather or gorse.  This is a no frills course but was in decent shape and would be a fun 2nd round of the day if you are staying in northeast Scotland.  

Round 2 -- Cruden Bay 

Our last afternoon in Cruden Bay was spent on a bright sunny day at Cruden Bay Golf Club. Cruden Bay was designed by Old Tom Morris and opened in 1899. It is ranked in the Top 50 courses in the UK by a number of different publications and it’s Matt Ginella’s(Golf Channel travel guy) favorite course in Scotland. It a true old style links course where the ball can bounce all over the place. The greens are undulating, but not crazy.  For the first 8 ½ holes, I was wondering what the fascination was, as it was similar to the other links courses we had played. When I arrived at the middle of the ninth fairway after a blind uphill tee shot, I discovered why it is so highly ranked. From the middle of the 9th fairway until you leave the 16th tee box, you have unobstructed views of the North Sea, some of the views are from 100ft above the sea, running down to some holes right along the sea.  This course has a mix of some really easy holes to some really difficult holes. It did have the most unusual hole we encountered. The 15th hole is a 245 yard blind dog-leg par 3! You drive over a large hill to a green tucked in a hollow at the base of the dunes.  A caddie would definitely help at this course.

We completed the day eating dinner in the restaurant at Cruden Bay GC. They had a number of different dishes available and it was not fancy but good. 
The one sightseeing excursion we made in Cruden Bay was to walk the 15 minutes up to the ruins of Slain’s Castle that sets on a bluff 100ft above the North Sea. It is a nice walk and the views from the castle are spectacular. The legend is that while staying at Slain’s, Bram Stoker got the idea for writing the 1897 novel, Dracula. 

MONDAY, JUNE 30

Carnoustie

We drove south from Cruden Bay towards Carnoustie having to navigate through Monday morning traffic in Aberdeen. Aberdeen traffic was a mess both Friday afternoon and again on Monday morning, so leave yourself plenty of time when traveling around Aberdeen. The only disappointment in our trip was Carnoustie. I had heard from everyone that had played there that it was the most difficult course they had ever played. First, we were not allowed to play the back tees and Second, the weather was perfect, no wind nor rain.  It was not a bad course, but ended up being the easiest we played. The last three holes were really good though! Carnoustie was our first experience with caddies. We found out that the quality of caddies is kind of pot luck, we had two good caddies and one that was basically a bag carrier. Based on our experience, if you tee off very early in the morning or just after lunch, you have a better chance of getting an experienced caddy. If you tee off late in the morning or later in the afternoon or early evening, you may get someone that can just carry your bag.

We left Carnoustie in the late afternoon for the 60 minute drive to St. Andrews. On the way, we saw the only McDonald’s restaurant on the entire trip. We had to stop! After a Big Mac, fries, and a soft drink, we were back on our way to St. Andrews. The best part of the McDonalds stop was to get a drink with lots of ice! If you like cold drinks, make sure ask for a lot of ice. Otherwise, the ice will be gone in seconds. Driving in to St. Andrews from Carnousite was exciting. We were not sure where the Old Course was, but all of a sudden, there was the Old Course hotel and the Old Course next to it. We had arrived at the home of golf. We found our accommodations (Old Fishergate House B&B) and settled in.

TUESDAY, JULY 1

Round 1 -- St. Andrews (Castle Course)

Since we were not playing the Old Course until 4:45 in the afternoon, we decided to try the St. Andrews Castle course on the bluffs above the town of St. Andrews. It’s only 4 miles out of town as you head towards Kingsbarn. Castle was a pleasant surprise.  Every hole has a view of St. Andrews Bay, the North Sea and you can look down on the town of St. Andrews on a number of holes.  We watched RAF fighter jets practice takeoffs and landings all morning and it appeared we were looking down on them the whole time. The course is really fun to play and it is similar to the Trump Course in Aberdeen. It’s modern links golf.  The fairways are flatter than the older courses, but the greens are over the top with undulation. They had the most undulation of any greens we played.  The weather and the views were fantastic. It was another course where a caddy is not necessary.

Round 2 -- St. Andrews (Old Course)
After a few days of warmup, the Old Course was next on the list. When I stood on the first tee, three things came to mind. First, you think about all the golfers that have played from that same tee since the mid 1700’s. Second, if you have ever made fun of Ian Baker-Finch for hitting it OB left during the Open Championship, you want to make sure you don’t duplicate it. Third, there are so many people standing around, you want to hit a decent shot. It was a perfect day, sunny and no wind. Our handicaps allowed us to play the Medal tees, there are still a few tees that they use for the pros that we could not use, but we got to play most of the course. Caddies are a must at the Old Course as many of the bunkers are hidden. The Old Course is a lot like Pinehurst #2. A really good golf course with tons of history, but not many truly memorable holes. The one thing you notice when you finish 9 holes is how far you are away from town. I think it is like three miles out and three miles back!

WEDNESDAY, JULY 2

Kingsbarns

Kingsbarns was next on the list. It is only seven miles from St. Andrews. Golf has been played on the present site since 1793 when the Kingsbarns Golf Society was established as the 11th earliest golf society in the world. The current Kingsbarns course was redesigned and reopened in 2000. It is similar to Trump International as it is more a modern links course. It had a good mix of holes and like most of the courses we played in Scotland, the last four or five holes are played against the prevailing wind.   Caddies are available. We had one in our group and he was helpful, but with the yardage book, a caddie is not necessary. One of the highlights of our trip occurred on the 13th hole, when the 17-year old son of my friend that planned the trip made his first hole in one. What a fantastic memory for them.  Kingsbarns is a definite must to add to your playlist, especially if you are based in St. Andrews.

[Editor's note: Want to know more? View our Kingsbarns Golf Links review, which includes a stunning course video]

THURSDAY, JULY 3

Round 1, St. Andrews (New Course)

The New Course at St. Andrews was next on the list. It runs just to the right of the Old Course.  New Course is a relative term as it was built in 1890. The caddies call the New Course a slicers course as it goes out on the left and returns on the right. They refer to the Old Course as a hookers course as it goes out on the right and returns on the left. Again, a caddy is very helpful. The New Course is a lot like the Old Course and was in the same condition and is less expensive. It is also much easier to get access to play. From 8 to 9:30 in the morning, there are no tee times. You just show up, pay your green fee and start when it’s your turn. We only had to wait for one group to tee off in front of us. It was mostly locals the morning we played!  I would definitely play the New Course again, but leave a couple of days between the Old and New courses as they are very similar.

Round 2, St. Andrews (Castle)
We enjoyed Castle so much, that two of us decided to go back and play it again. Part of the reason was that we had a 50% of coupon for replaying within a week. Another fantastic afternoon of weather. We basically had the course to ourselves.  We teed off around 5pm and finished just before 8pm.

FRIDAY, JULY 4

Final Round -- Panmure Golf Club

Panmure Golf Club is a private club located about two miles from Carnoustie. Before the 1953 British Open, Ben Hogan spent two weeks practicing at Panmure to escape the busy Carnoustie course. It has hosted a number of important events, including the 2009 British Senior Amateur.  It is just a good basic combination of a links course and a heathland course. Nothing fancy, no North Sea views, just good golf. If you are looking for a 2nd round in a day after playing Carnoustie, Panmure would be a good choice.
Footnotes:

Travel: 
As I said earlier, unless your first round is very close to your arrival airport, I would advise against planning to play the first day. I would try to schedule your courses so you don’t have to drive too much. We spent too much time driving.

Food:
I hate to say the food was bad, but it did not fit my palette. The three of us were not fans of fish or seafood, so that limited our selection. We did find a great pizza place (Pizza Express) and Italian restaurant (Little Italy) in St. Andrews that were great. The funny thing was that the two busiest places to eat during the day in St. Andrews were Subway and Dominos. That had a lot to do that they are very near St. Andrews University. I am sure that there are many fine places to eat in an around St. Andrews, but many of them stopped serving food around 9pm and we were playing so much golf, we just grabbed food whenever and wherever we could.

Golf: 
A caddy on many of the very old courses is a must because of all the hidden bunkers and mounds.  If you are planning on playing the Old Course, I would schedule it the middle of the trip. It will give you a couple of days to figure out how to play links golf and you will not be too tired to enjoy it. Make sure you have a couple pairs of really good golf shoes, it’s all walking in the UK. Unless you are an absolute nut about golf(like I am), seven days in a row of golf, maybe to many, especially if you play multiple times a day. If you are planning on playing just once a day, that maybe fine. Finally, it was a fantastic experience and cannot wait until I return.   I will probably try western Scotland for the next trip or Ireland.

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