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Scotland Golf is Better – 18 Reasons

Scotland is the “Home of Golf” – after all, golf did originate here centuries ago.

As an avid American golfer, with the golden opportunity to play nearly a dozen rounds of golf at a variety of courses during a recent one month home exchange in Edinburgh, I can safely say that Scotland golf is definitely better in many ways…specifically 18!

Reason #1 – Links golf

Not all Scottish courses are links courses (built on the windswept land near the sea, unsuitable for agriculture and often featuring dunes, tall grasses, gorse, very few trees, pot bunkers, and sometimes ancient stone walls). Links courses are definitely worth seeking out. They offer great scenery – often with sea views. Links courses require a slightly different style of play – keeping the ball low and playing more bump and run style shots. Many American courses try to mimic links style golf, but few succeed.

Reason #2 – Historic courses

In Scotland, any course built after 1900 is considered “new”. Many courses are over 200 years old. The Old Course at St. Andrews dates to before 1574!

Reason #3 – Abundance

Scotland has an abundance of courses of all types (links, parkland, heathland, moorland) all packed into a fairly small but not densely populated country. Almost every small town has its own golf course.

Reason #4 – Easy tee times

Because there are so many courses, it’s relatively easy to get a tee time – especially in the peak of summer when the days are so long. In early July it doesn’t get dark until 10PM. Most of the courses use on-line tee time systems.

Reason #5 – No broken windows

Unlike many American courses that were built to sell real estate and snake through a housing development, it is rare to see houses near the course.

Reason #6 – Nearly everybody walks

They carry their bags or they use pull carts (“trolleys” in Scotland). Generally, the only golfers you will see riding carts (“buggies”) are the tourists, even on very hilly courses. Golf is great exercise.

Reason #7 – Scottish golfers play fast

An 18-hole round in Scotland averages 3 and a half hours and that is with most golfers walking. In my Scotland rounds, the longest was 4 hours while it’s often 4 1/2 hours in the USA.

Reason #8 – Pot bunkers

They are a real challenge to extricate yourself from, especially if your ball lies close to the steep face. Sometimes it’s best to just punch out sideways.

Reason #9 – Respect for the course

Scottish golfers take care of their courses – they rake sand traps, replace divots, and repair ball marks.

Reason #10 – Rock walls

On some courses, ancient boundary walls are built into the layout of the course and make for interesting hazards.

Reason #11 – Serious golf

Scottish golfers take their golf seriously. Yes, it is a game, but it’s also a way of life for many here. Most Scottish golfers keep an official handicap and like to compete. But if you’re a casual golfer, don’t be intimidated – you will still be welcomed and have a great time.

Reason #12 – Sober golf

Because they take their golf seriously, Scottish golfers don’t start drinking until the round is over. This is easy, because there are no beverage carts like in the USA. Although Robin Williams argued that the game was dreamed up by a tipsy Scotsman!

Reason #13 – Rules knowledge

Because they take their golf seriously, Scottish golfers know the rules of golf and play by them. They don’t take mulligans. They hit a provisional ball when appropriate.

Reason #14 – Golf etiquette

Because they take their golf seriously, Scottish golfers know proper golf etiquette. They are very respectful of other players. They don’t walk in your putting line; they don’t talk when you’re hitting.

Reason #15 – Folks are friendly (golfers and non-golfers)

I showed up as a single golfer for most rounds and was always paired with friendly locals or club members who were happy to offer their course knowledge and give advice about other courses in the area and things to do. Sometimes, we enjoyed a refreshing Scottish ale after the round.


Reason #16 – Let’s play 18 holes

The ninth hole is usually far from the clubhouse since most Scottish course layouts feature an out and back configuration.  So, most golfers play 18 holes.

Reason #17 – Affordable

Scotland has golf to suit any budget. Yes, you’ll pay more to play courses made famous in the British Open rota. But you can find many spectacular options for $40 and under, especially if you don’t mind teeing off in the afternoon.

Reason #18 – The 19th hole

Featuring fish-n-chips and a variety of Scottish Ales …. Aye!

Of course, even Scotland can’t be best in every golfing aspect. It does have some minor drawbacks.

  • Wind – Some say that wind is part of the challenge of golf, but when the ball won’t stay still on the green, it’s a bit much. Fortunately, this was not the norm, but the day I played at Cruden Bay was the Saturday they delayed play at the 2015 British Open due to intense wind. (Still a top 5 golf day!)
  • You will lose more golf balls here, even though there are fewer water hazards. The gorse bushes that line the fairways eat golf balls, especially on links courses. And gorse is usually not marked as a lateral hazard. Balls landing in the gorse are considered “lost balls” unless you personally dive into the cactus-like gorse and find it – it will be a stroke and distance penalty. And the wind doesn’t help.
  • Almost everybody walks the course and the 9th hole rarely returns to the clubhouse, yet I never saw a water dispenser on any course. Carry your own water. And beverage carts don’t exist either.

Almost all of the courses I played were great (Braid Hills, Swanston, Pumpherston, Musselburgh), some were outstanding (Fairmont Kittocks, Whitekirk), and some were incredible (Cruden Bay, Glen Golf Club). I wouldn’t hesitate to repeat any of them, but there is so much variety here and so many more courses to explore. Only one course (Silverknowes – an Edinburgh muni) wasn’t quite up to par.

You can bet I’ll be back someday to explore more.

Side story: On my first trip to Scotland (2001), I had the honor of playing the St. Andrews Old Course with my father. It was a beautiful day, and we thoroughly enjoyed our round. It is tradition to commemorate the experience by having your picture taken on the famous Swilcan Bridge as you play the 18th hole – the same bridge from which, in 2015, Tom Watson and Nick Faldo waved to the crowd and bid farewell to their British Open careers, as was done by Jack Nicklaus and other golfing greats in previous years.

So, my father and I stood arm in arm and posed on the Swilcan Bridge back in 2001. My dear mother was recruited and took a couple of great photos of us. But alas, I failed to explain to her the importance of the historic bridge itself so you can hardly tell we were even standing on a bridge (LOVE YOU MOM!!). So this year, even though I didn’t play the Old Course, Sheila and I toured the city of St. Andrews (and I played at the Fairmont Kittocks course just a couple miles out of town – highly recommended). The city of St. Andrews runs the Old Course and they generously let the public on the course to take pictures as long as you are respectful to the golfers.

So, here I am on the Swilcan Bridge, waving to the crowd and jumping for joy after my imaginary British Open victory. 

Trip date: July/August 2015. Playing golf in Scotland was part of a 6 week stay in the UK. We’ll be adding our stories about Scotland, Wales and England as soon as we write it all down! Stories include a dreamy home exchange in Edinburgh, an unexpected spectacular visit to Cruden Bay, frolicking at the fairy pools on the Isle of Skye, “ringing” the doorbell at #10 Downing Street, exploring gorgeous and ruined castles, speed-touring Wales, fun with friends in England and sailing on an outrageously engineered sailboat at the Cowes Week yacht regatta. SO many memorable experiences!

? What courses have you played in Scotland? Do you agree with Tom’s 18? Where do you love playing golf?

4 Comments

  1. September 6, 2015 at 2:37 AM — Reply

    What a detailed argument all of which are valid. I particularly like you’re awareness of pace of play and accessibility even to our best links courses.

    • Tom and Sheila
      September 6, 2015 at 10:46 AM — Reply

      Thanks Ru! Glad you liked our story. There’s so much more to say about the great golf Tom enjoyed in Scotland! Golf here in Colorado is pretty fabulous, but he’ll return to Scotland’s golf in a heartbeat.

  2. September 6, 2015 at 12:56 AM — Reply

    Thanks for the mention, let me know when you’re back over

    • Tom and Sheila
      September 7, 2015 at 11:18 AM — Reply

      Thanks Mike! Golf at Swanston was great and special thanks to your staff for pairing me with a couple of friendly members!

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