Best links golf courses in Scotland
We picked a selection of some of the finest courses on the planet in the Home of Golf.
We picked a selection of some of the finest courses on the planet in the Home of Golf.
Not only is Scotland known as the Home of Golf, but it’s the unequivocal home of links golf too! The selection of courses along the Ayrshire, Aberdeenshire, East Lothian, and Fife coastlines are some of the most highly rated in the world, with their sand-based terrain ideal for creating enviable links routings.
The layouts of many of these courses are familiar to golfers around the world, as hosts of the sport’s oldest Major, there is plenty to be discovered on our best Scottish links courses list.
Where else could we start? The most famous links course in golf, and the one that tops many golfers’ bucket lists. The Old Course is a regular host of The Open and has seen some of the most iconic moments in golf played out across its hallowed turf.
The magic of The Grand Auld Lady of St Andrews isn’t purely sentimental, with its traditional out-and-back layout, the template created a blueprint for golf course architects for generations to come. From the shared fairways and greens to the treacherous bunkers (each with its own name and history), it’s a course that every golfer must experience during their lifetime.
A fellow Open rota golf course that has recently undergone one of the most scrutinized renovations in the history of our sport! Fortunately for all involved, the changes made over recent years have been met with universal approval, with the iconic lighthouse turned into perhaps the most extraordinary halfway hut in golf.
The current Turnberry routing makes the most of the coastline and is stretched back, ready for its next opportunity to shine on the world’s stage. In the meantime, it’s a phenomenal place for a vacation; particularly with the excellent Robert The Bruce course also on-site.
One of the more private Open Championship courses, Muirfield has become more welcoming to visitors over recent years – even adding a Pro Shop for visitors to grab merchandise for the first time in its history! It has hosted a major in every decade since 1892 and is third only to St Andrews and Prestwick in terms of total Open’s held.
The turf at Muirfield has more of a sponginess to it than many of the other links courses on this list, creating a glorious sensation when clipping iron shots towards its devilishly tricky putting surfaces. Reviews for Muirfield are always glowing, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s often cited by the world’s best golfers as their favorite course in Scotland, with quality oozing throughout the destination.
Royal Dornoch has become a somewhat fabled golfing venue. With not being a host of The Open, many have underestimated the sheer brilliance that the course possesses, highlighted by its constant anchoring within the lists of Top 20 golf courses in the world.
Raised greens place an emphasis on distance control, which can be tricky with the course running firm and fast through the summer months (in true links fashion). In addition to this magnificent golf course, Dornoch also introduced famed architect Donald Ross to the world, noted for his work at Pinehurst #2 which bears some resemblance to the links in his hometown!
Arguably the best quirky golf course in the world, North Berwick has some of the most copied holes in golf – particularly the par 3 ‘Redan’. It’s a true delight to play, with the dykes and stone walls that come into play throughout your round paired with truly terrifying tabletop greens!
The course isn’t long by modern standards, particularly during the summer months – but the emphasis is on how you can get your ball into the hole. Nowhere is this more evident than on the par 4 16th hole. The green is super narrow, with two raised plateaus separated by a gully. It’s not uncommon to see golfers playing multiple chip shots to this green as their first one sails by the flag and off the other side!
Car-nasty as it’s often known has a reputation for being one of the more fearsome tests in golf. Ben Hogan famously won The Open here in 1953 on his only visit to play in the tournament, and in the process being responsible for the 6th fairway being renamed ‘Hogan’s Alley’.
Carnoustie is a course that takes patience and guile throughout the round, with the elements playing a huge factor in the day’s scoring. With a habit of turning brown in the summer, golfers can see their ball travel for vast distances when aided by a strong breeze. However, with some of the best-placed and most penal bunkers in golf, it’s often advisable to lay up well short of them! And then, there’s the famous clubhouse overlooking the 18th green.
It’s one of the most splendid sights in all of golf, unless of course, you’re Jean van de Velde, stuck in the burn that runs across this final fairway …
One of the more recent additions to the higher echelons of Scottish golf, Kingsbarns was opened for play in 2000 after architect Kyle Phillips had studied many of the other courses within this article for inspiration.
The course is often a haven for visiting golfers, more so than some of the other courses that it lays close to – notably Crail – and as you’d expect, the welcome is first-class. Holes 3, 12, 15, 16, 17 hug the coastline; creating some incredible views, with the land movement that was undertaken to create the course some of the most carefully considered in all of golf.
As a result, despite its relatively recent opening, it’s a layout that looks as though it could have been here forever!
There’s plenty of excellent golf to be found in Scotland when heading north of Edinburgh and Glasgow. A journey up towards Inverness will reward you with the sheer delight that is Castle Stuart. Another recent addition to Scotland’s golfing landscape, the property was developed after the original owner was inspired by a trip to Kingsbarns.
The opening holes on each nine are played along the coast, with the iconic clubhouse sitting atop a cliff that overlooks the Moray Firth. The quality of the build here was evident from its opening in 2008, signified by the club’s hosting of the Scottish Open as early as 2011. Memorably, Phil Mickelson won here en route to his Scottish Open / The Open double in 2012.
Over on Scotland’s east coast is the links at Cruden Bay. Just a short trip north of Aberdeen, it ties in perfectly with a trip to this area, with the links here more than a century old. The club was commissioned by the Great North of Scotland Railway Company as a way to attract visitors to the region, with the strength of the design ensuring golfers still make the pilgrimage up to Cruden Bay to this day!
Not a long course, stretching out to 6,600 yards, Cruden Bay weaves between the dunes to ask the player testing questions if they’re to play to their handicap around here. With only two par-5s, you’ll also need to rely on your iron play (rather than a demonstration of brute strength) throughout your visit.
A final addition to the east coast, and one that has garnered much praise since opening in 2012, Trump International Golf Links (often referred to as ‘Trump Aberdeen’), is laid out over a breath-taking piece of land.
The large dunes border immaculate fairways and create dizzying teeing grounds from which golfers are blessed with spectacular views of both the property and the sea. Due to its northerly location, golf can be played here late into the evening in the summer months, meaning 36-hole days are definitely an option; perhaps visiting another course on the coastline beforehand.
It says much about golf in Scotland that our final course is yet another Open Championship venue. Located on the Ayrshire coastline, Royal Troon is famously the home club of Colin Montgomerie, who was given the honor of hitting the first tee shot of The Open here in 2016.
The iconic Postage Stamp par-3 is one of the most photographed holes in all of golf, causing all sorts of issues for those that miss its minuscule green! Royal Troon is another out-and-back layout, and with a railway running down the right-hand side of several of the holes on the back nine, a strong breeze off the sea can make it one of the most daunting closing stretches in golf; although that didn’t appear the case for Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson who carried out one of the most impressive battles in golfing history here, shooting 63 & 65 on the final day!
Senior Golf Vacation Specialist - UK & Ireland
Senior Golf Vacation Specialist, I help golfers find their ideal golfing getaway overseas
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