Top 12 most underrated golf courses in Scotland
We explore our top 12 lesser-known courses in Scotland, the Home of Golf. These courses are a must-play on your next Scottish golf break!
When golfers worldwide contemplate the courses of Scotland, they will instantly be drawn to the historic layouts of St. Andrews, Royal Dornoch, Carnoustie and Muirfield. The Ayrshire championship venues of Prestwick, Troon and Turnberry will also garner much fanfare, while modern classics such as Kingsbarns and Castle Stuart have rejuvenated the revered portfolio of attractions within the Home of Golf.
However, with approximately 600 courses packed into a relatively small area, there are many gems and stunning locations that are largely overlooked and left unexplored by visitors. That is understandable for those making a once-in-a-lifetime trip across the pond to tick off the iconic golfing landmarks that have defined the history of the game. But for those seeking an alternative experience, there are numerous examples of lesser-known courses that have a quality and beauty to match (and occasionally surpass) those venues that have significant name recognition.
Here are twelve of them.
Nestled in the small town of Nairn, the Championship Course is not only among the best links courses to be found in the Highlands but in the entirety of Scotland. Despite that fact, and having notably hosted the Walker Cup in 1999, this wonderful and testing layout is largely an unsung hero.
Situated alongside the edge of the Moray Firth, Nairn is a short drive from Inverness and is a must-play for anyone in the vicinity planning to play the likes of Royal Dornoch and Castle Stuart. It is more than a compliment to those more publicised courses, with each of the imaginative holes possessing stunning views of the water.
There is a refreshing variety to Nairn; with an opening half of the front-nine running along the Firth, before the course loops further in-land around the turn. It concludes on a par five that finishes in front of the modern clubhouse.
Having been the host course of the Scottish Open in 2015 – where American star Rickie Fowler was the victor – it could be argued that Gullane No. 1 now receives the recognition that it deserves, but that certainly wasn’t the case prior to that huge event.
Resting nearby to the legendary Muirfield, Gullane is a warm and welcoming club that boasts three excellent courses that link the stretch of links-land that has led to East Lothian being marketed as Scotland’s Golf Coast. It is hard to disagree, and No. 1 is among the best of the region’s courses.
Always in excellent condition, Gullane is littered with an array of strong holes, with the seventh being a particular highlight; it presents you with a downhill tee shot and mesmerising views across the expanse of the area. You will find it intoxicating.
Found in the far north of the country, Brora is the quintessential Scottish links course. 16 miles from Dornoch, the small village possesses an absolute gem of an experience, combining a beautiful location with a posse of intelligently classic holes and just a few quirks to keep it interesting.
You will find it a particularly crowded layout, which may come as a surprise considering its remote location. However, those playing companions aren’t humans, but sheep and cattle that roam the edge of fairways and serve as uninterested spectators. Don’t worry, the greens are protected by small electronic fences that do not inhibit play. Despite that infrastructure, the course reaffirms a tangible sense of stepping back to the birth of the game, which is undeniably appealing.
Five-time Open Championship winner Peter Thomson once commented that Brora was “the best traditional links course in the world.” It is organic, thrilling and arguably James Braid’s finest.
While famed for its seaside delights, most of Scotland’s courses are to be found in-land, with the Rosemount at Blairgowrie among the best of them. Its holes are immaculately cut through dense woodland, providing a pleasant sense of peace and tranquillity to this jewel of Perthshire.
The course is extremely challenging; with the stunning forest potentially turning into a fatal hazard for wayward drives, it will find favour with players that can boast accuracy in their arsenal. Having been touched by the likes of James Braid and Dr Alister MacKenzie (designer of Augusta National), there is an undoubted quality and a genuine sense of class at Blairgowrie.
It is one of the best non-links experiences to be had in the country.
Rosemount Course, Blairgowrie
Just a handful of miles away from the legendary and formidable Carnoustie, Panmure is a wonderfully varied and testing course. It was famously where Ben Hogan practised ahead of his iconic Open victory at the nearby Championship Course.
Although it’s a distance from the coast, Panmure features many classic links characteristics, such as undulations and small dunes that add a sense of character to the layout. However, it also possesses some heather and trees that are reminiscent of more conventional heathland courses.
Panmure simply doesn’t receive the appreciation that it merits, even with some brilliant holes; the sixth (named after Hogan), 12th and 14th being standouts.
One of the most highly regarded golf resorts in the northern hemisphere, Gleneagles boasts three significant courses in its repertoire. The PGA Centenary (the Ryder Cup venue) is the weakest of them, with the immaculate Kings providing a much more interesting and varied challenge.
However, for absolute beauty and charm, the Queens is hard to surpass. Its many enchanting vistas across the rolling hills of Perthshire, and some wonderful holes, make it an inspiring place to play.
Deceptively longer than its overall yardage would suggest, the challenge is endearing and thoroughly dazzling.
Fraserburgh Golf Club
Located in the north-east of Aberdeenshire, the Corbie Hill links at Fraserburgh is one of the most natural and historic courses in Scotland. Home to the seventh oldest club on the planet, this is the ultimate seaside layout.
With its imposing dunes and meandering fairways, it possesses all of the aesthetic qualities that could be hoped for and combines them with a highly playable assortment of holes that show their teeth – as they should – in breezy or inclement conditions.
For a satisfying and well-priced taste of links golf, Fraserburgh is among the best.
Corbie Hill Links, Fraserburgh
Yet another one of those attractive and thrilling courses in East Lothian, Kilspindie is one of the most relaxing and welcoming clubs in the region and can boast a layout that is highly memorable and enjoyable.
Featuring small and tricky greens, undulating fairways, and even shots over a beach, this short course (at less than 5,500 yards) is becoming more prominent in the minds of experts and visitors, who are consistently enchanted by its traditional and charming qualities.
On a bright summer evening, there are few more agreeable and undisputed magical spots to play golf.
Largely overlooked and consequently underrated, Southerness is perhaps a victim of its location, being situated in Dumfries and Galloway, which is in the far south-west of Scotland.
It is such a distance removed from the popular golfing heartlands of East Lothian and Fife, that the breath-taking mountains of the Lake District (in England) can literally be seen across the Solway Firth. Having been founded in 1947, Southerness is a relatively modern layout and aligns a picturesque setting with some fantastic holes – particularly the excellent 13th.
This is easily one of the best Scottish courses that you will have never heard of.
Resting adjacent to the celebrated and world-renowned Royal Aberdeen, Murcar is arguably pound-for-pound a more balanced course than its more esteemed neighbour. And 36-holes on both would be hard to beat anywhere else in the country.
Beamed worldwide during the Paul Lawrie Invitational on the European Tour in 2015, Murcar boasts a stern but fair challenge, with tight fairways and deep bunkers placing a premium on accuracy; which should be a thrill for those players who relish a test of their game.
Featuring the classic seaside elements that visitors are most seeking, this Aberdeenshire links is a formidable addition to any Scottish golf itinerary.
Founded in 1786 Crail is one of the oldest golf clubs in the world and offers some of the best links golf in Scotland. It’s suitable for golfers of all levels and is the perfect spot to test your skills. The Balcomie links measures in at 5922 yards with various holes border the beaches, so the views are simply spectacular here. Just 12 miles from St Andrews means you’re not far from some of Scotland’s finest. Bonus: the clubhouse is perched just above the course and offers breathtaking views of the sea.
A traditional Golf Club set in the quaint town of Irving on the South West coast of Scotland, Western Gailes is a true hidden gem. Staying true to its original layout, it is a classic 18-hole links layout that is built on a narrow strip of dune land in between the Firth of Clyde and the Ayrshire Coast Line railway. The course can be compared to the likes of Royal Troon, Prestwick and Turnberry in excellence, yet is far more affordable. So if you’re looking for quality and value, you should consider Western Gailes. Watch out for the par-3 7th signature hole.
Request a quote if you are interested in playing any of these courses as part of your vacation with the golf travel experts at Golfbreaks.
Scotland & Ireland Team Leader