Hole No. 5 on the Old Course at St. Andrews, the ancestral home of golf.
The Open Championship, known outside the U.K. as the British Open, may be wrapping up Sunday at Muirfield in Scotland, but the country is a great golf destination year-round.
A recent trip there gave me the chance to not only play on many famous courses but also get a taste of Scottish culture.
With precise route planning, course selection, timing (May-September have 18 hours of sunlight), and a rental car, it’s easy to augment a memorable golf experience with a fascinating history lesson and sightseeing tour.
I played eight rounds in five days of this golf-packed trip, but with a willingness to drive and play all across Scotland, I was able to see different landscapes, hear and learn about the country’s past, and indulge in its cuisine.
My journey started in the village of Campbeltown, which is on the peninsula of Kintyre, and a four-hour picturesque drive from Edinburgh. The area was not only a hideout for Sir William Wallace at the turn of the 13th century but also the inspiration for Paul McCartney’s 1977 song “Mull of Kintyre.”
In fact, Sir Paul’s massive farm estate overlooks two fantastic links courses — The Machrihanish Golf Club and Machrihanish Dunes.
Designed by “Old” Tom Morris in 1851, the Machrihanish club is renowned for its breathtaking par-4 first hole, which Jack Nicklaus dubbed “the world’s greatest opening hole” since it requires a long drive over a bit of the Atlantic Ocean.
Adjacent is Machrihanish Dunes, a five-year-old course that looks like it’s been around for centuries. The course received top billing as the most environmentally friendly golf course in the world by the Golf Environmental Organization. “Mach Dunes” uses no pesticides, chemicals or irrigation. The course is incredibly self-sustaining, relying on both Mother Nature and Hebridean black sheep to tidy up its daisy-covered fairways.
Bunker shot at Turnberry’s Ailsa course will test your skill.
Both courses have natural beauty, and on a crystal-clear day, across the Irish Sea, I could see the northeastern tip of Ireland.
After the round, I took a tour of the Springbank whisky distillery. Built in 1829, it is the oldest family-owned distillery in Scotland and the only distillery to carry out the full production process on site. Springbank offers daily tours that show this hands-on production in which a single bottle is handled by almost 20 employees. At the end of the tour, be sure to compare all three of their single malts in the tasting room.
After a night at RCI’s award-winning Ugadale Cottages, I then took a picturesque horseshoe-shaped drive up and alongside Loch Lomond, which is Great Britain’s largest freshwater lake and is located in the heart of Trossachs National Park.