Out & about: Highlands
Boasting the perfect combination of quality golf, famous landmarks and a plethora of sightseeing opportunities, the Scottish Highlands should not be overlooked...
Lochs, mountains, remote glens and world class links golf. Whilst St Andrews and the south west coast of Scotland draws the attention of most avid golfers, the Scottish Highlands should not be dismissed. This region offers the perfect blend of quality golf, famous landmarks and a plethora of sightseeing opportunities.
Whether that be golf at Royal Dornoch, road tripping around the remote north west Highlands, visiting Whisky distilleries or taking a trip down Loch Ness to visit ancient Urquhart Castle, the Highlands has options to suit all tastes.
Where to stay
Inverness, known as ‘The Capital of the Highlands’, is where most people stay and the 4* Kingsmills Hotel in Inverness is an excellent choice. A higher price point than most accommodation options in this city it is a perfect option for those looking for quality and a great location in the heart of Inverness.
For those not looking to spend too much on accommodation then the 3* Glen Mhor Hotel is the best choice. It offers a very convenient location on the banks of the River Ness just a 5-10 minute walk from downtown Inverness with well appointed rooms.
Where to play
If you are venturing north to the Highlands, then Royal Dornoch must be on the itinerary. Not only for the purest links experience you will find in Scotland but also for the beautiful setting and relaxed, friendly atmosphere that the club promotes.
Situated approximately 45 minutes north of Inverness, this links course has been consistently ranked as one of Scotland's best courses. If not for its remote position it almost certainly would have been a contender to host the Open Championship. It is no wonder that the great Tom Watson declared golf at Royal Dornoch as “the most fun I have ever had on a golf course.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum to Royal Dornoch in terms of history and age is Castle Stuart Golf Links. This Gil Hanse design truly is a modern great, in the mold of a Bandon Dunes it feels like a course that has been laid down for centuries.
15 minutes from Inverness and 5 minutes from Inverness Airport, this course should feature in your itinerary just for the views of the Moray Firth alone, add to that a superb layout and a fantastic clubhouse and you have another jewel in the crown of golf in the Scottish Highlands. This is also a great option for higher handicappers with its generous fairways allowing for a good score to be made.
Nairn Golf Club also deserves an honourable mention. Host course of the 1999 Walker Cup this is another excellent links course that compliments a golf tour in the Highlands. Perhaps not the first course that springs to mind when thinking about golf in Scotland but this course is very much a classic links course with the beach being in play on the right-hand side for the opening 6 holes! Nairn Golf Club is situated about 30 minutes east of Inverness in the town of Nairn.
If you like ‘hidden gems’ then a trip to Brora Golf Club should be undertaken. This James Braid design is situated 20 minutes north of Dornoch and is a real treat to play. A shorter course by modern standards (6,200 off the back tees) but certainly not easy as the greens are hard to hit and difficult to read. The views from this course are superb and if you are taking the trip to visit Royal Dornoch then take the time to add this course to your itinerary – you will be pleased you did.
Tain Golf Club is another hidden gem, always in immaculate condition and a very good test of golf with its mix of links and heathland style golf but is so often overshadowed by its illustrious neighbour Royal Dornoch. This Old Tom Morris design (Architect of the Old Course in St Andrews no less) should definitely be included in the itinerary if you are looking to spend a few days in the Highlands. In fact a stay in Dornoch, playing the trio of Royal Dornoch, Tain and Brora would make for a superb Highlands golf swing.
Things to see & do
Inverness is in a prime location for sightseeing. Approximately 40 minutes from Inverness is the picturesque Urquhart Castle. One of the most photographed landmarks in Scotland, this castle sits on the shores of Loch Ness, arguably the most famous location in the whole of Scotland. For some history, you can visit Culloden Battlefield just a few miles outside of Inverness – the site of the last ever pitched battlefield on British soil.
If you wish to sample Scotland’s finest export, then visits to the Glenmorangie Distillery in Tain or a Whisky tour of Speyside should not be missed.
For those who have the time and want to experience something completely different it is recommend to take a round-trip train journey from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh on the west coast near the Isle of Skye. The West Highland Line is widely regarded as Britain’s most scenic train ride.
Inverness offers some good options for evening entertainment. For traditional Scottish music, a brilliant atmosphere and a good pint then Hootananny is well worth a visit. Jonny Fox’s bar is also a good place to meet locals and a good place for group’s to visit.
If good food is more your thing, then the Rocpool Restaurant is highly recommended for fine dining or for quality Scottish Seafood the River House Restaurant should be visited.
A few nights in Aberdeenshire can also be combined with a stay in the Highlands with the city of Aberdeen just 90 miles from Inverness. A stay near Aberdeen can allow golfer’s to experience some of the best Scottish Links courses such as Cruden Bay and Royal Aberdeen.
The latter part of 2017 saw British Airways open up a new daily route between London Heathrow and Inverness making the Highlands much more accessible. This, combined with direct routes to/from Dublin and Amsterdam make this a convenient place to take a vacation from the United States.
Senior Golf Vacation Specialist
Senior Golf Vacation Specialist, I advise clients on golf courses and accommodation options across the US, Mexico, and Caribbean