Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of golf in Scotland is the way visitors are welcomed at even the most exclusive clubs. Consider, for example, that when you secure a tee time at Prestwick or Muirfield, which are the Scottish equivalent to Cypress Point and Augusta National in the U.S., you essentially acquire membership privileges for the day and are able not only to play those magnificent golf courses but also to use all the clubhouse facilities.
If you do indeed go to Prestwick or Muirfield, be sure to allow time to partake of the famous lunches there. These are not modest repasts but extensive meals that begin quite delightfully with a Pimm’s Cup or a Whisky Mac, which is a combination of whisky and Crabbie’s Green Ginger Wine. Then, there are salad, meat and vegetable courses as well as wines, cheeses and desserts. Jacket and tie are required, lending a charming formality to the occasion, and seating is communal, which nurtures a pleasing sense of camaraderie among the dining golfers.
One of the most popular parlor games in golf is ranking the best golf courses. Players do it all the time, often over a pint of ale post-round, and it is also common practice among the preeminent golf periodicals in the world. Opinions on such matters can vary wildly, but there is very solid agreement in the media when it comes to selecting the top tracks in Scotland. The first four on the Golfweek, Links and Golf magazine lists are the exactly the same: the Old Course in St. Andrews followed by Muirfield, Royal Dornoch and the Ailsa Course at Turnberry. As for Golf Digest, its raters also pick the Old and Muirfield as Nos. 1 and 2, but give Turnberry the 3rd slot and Dornoch the 4th.
I organized a pair of golf-specific massages before I embarked on my latest Scottish golf expedition - at the Kohler Waters Spa at the Old Course Hotel in St. Andrews and also the spa at the Turnberry Resort. And they helped to keep me loose and flexible amid all the swinging, walking and driving. Both spas boast excellent massage therapists, and the one at the Old Course Hotel also offers a menu of unique water treatments.
Far too often, golfers try to sample as many different courses as possible when they travel to Scotland. My advice is to think instead about playing the better tracks a couple of times, so you get a keener sense of their designs and characters. Also, by organizing an itinerary, for example, that includes a round at the Ailsa course at Turnberry one afternoon, and another on the same layout the following morning, you can experience a classic track in different weather and wind conditions (as both are apt to change day-to-day). And seeing a course a second time gives you a chance to avoid the mistakes you made the first time around, and also to improve your scores.
The modern British Open Championship is contested on a modern rotation, or “Rota,” of nine golf courses, five of which are in Scotland. And qualifying tournaments for possible entry into the Open are held on layouts within close proximity to that year’s Championship site. Experience tells me those very good but generally lesser-known layouts are well worth playing, too. So, as you plan your Scottish golf adventure, consider where the Open Championship is being played, and see which courses are serving as qualifying sites. Then, add one or two of them to the itinerary.