Take in a few castles on your next Scotland golf vacation

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Scotland has around 3,000 castles, and it's possible to see some of the more impressive on a tour through the country's many golf courses, including the Old Course at St. Andrews, Gleneagles, Carnoustie and Cruden Bay.

Balmoral Castle
Balmoral Castle is a great place to visit between rounds at Aberdeenshire's golf courses.
Balmoral CastleEdinburgh CastleKing's Course at GleneaglesDuff House Royal Golf Course - Scotland
If you go

EDINBURGH, Scotland - One of the great pleasures of a golf trip to Scotland is getting to see some of the estimated 3,000 castles in the olde country.

Of course, all castles aren't created equal. There are big castles with great, soaring spires and fascinating history and there are those little castles that make you say, "oh, that's great. Next." Some are little more than fortified farmhouses.

Also, that castle over there that makes you oooh and ahhh may not be a castle at all. It could be a tower house, for example.

So, if you do plan to mix golf with some castle viewing, it might be wise to do a little research prior to your trip.

Too lazy? No problem, we've done it for you. Here are some excellent castles close to excellent golf courses.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh is known as the "castle of castles," with more than 1,000 years of history. Its great walls sit atop volcanic rock formed 70 million years ago, where Bronze-Age man lived and didn't play golf only because it wasn't invented.

The castle dominates the city, with terrific views in every direction, one of the reasons a million people have visited. Castle guards have defended it until very recently, when they consented to allowing in tourists.

Edward I of England invaded Scotland and captured the castle, but Robert the Bruce re-claimed it. Mary Queen of Scots gave birth there, to Prince James. In 1688 the Duke of Gordon surrendered it to William and Mary, the last time the castle was seriously threatened. If you visit one castle in Scotland, make it this one.

Golf courses near Edinburgh: Six golf courses are at St. Andrews Links, including the Old Course, and it's about an hour or so from Edinburgh. There is also North Berwick, another true links course starting in the town center and stretching west along the shores of the Firth of Forth (not to be confused with the Forth of Firth).

In Edinburgh itself, there are several city-owned courses such as Braid Hills, Craigentinny, Carrick Knowe, Portobello and Silverknowes.

Drumlanrig Castle

Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfries is surrounded by 120,000 acres that encompass the Queensberry Estate, Country Park and Victoria Gardens. The estate offers some of the best fishing in Scotland, for salmon and sea trout on the River Neath, for instance. There are also Land Rover tours and wildlife walks on the estate.

The castle was completed in 1691 by William Douglas, first duke of Queensberry, and since the theft of the Leonardo da Vinci, they've been allowing guided tours. Called "The Pink Palace," the castle is made of pink sandstone walls.

Dumfries-area golf: About 30 golf courses are in the area, including Thornhill and Solway Links at Southerness, designed by Mackenzie Ross in 1947.

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle in Stirling is in central Scotland and sits atop high volcanic rock, like the Edinburgh Castle, with great views. It guards the lowest crossing point of the River Forth, and one story has it that the legend of Camelot was based on a castle here during King Arthur's time.

Scottish kings and queens have been baptized or died close by - at least one king was murdered while another did the murdering. It's been attacked or besieged at least 16 times, and, with the exception of the outer defenses, most of Stirling Castle dates to the period between 1496 and 1583. It's open to the public year-round.

Stirling-area golf courses: You won't have to go far: The Stirling Golf Club lies in full view of the castle, on a slab of the same ancient, volcanic lava, known for centuries as the Kings Park. It, too, offers some fine views of the Forth Valley and the Trossachs Mountains.

It was re-designed by Henry Cotton in 1966, and Tom Morris Jr. was the first pro, but the history of golf here dates back much further. They recently celebrated their 500th anniversary of golf, from the time when King James IV walked out of his palace at the castle to have a round with the Earl of Bothwell. They played over the king's park, which was then the royal hunting grounds. Mary Queen of Scots, who lived in Stirling Castle as a child, was Scotland's first recorded female golfer.

Scone Palace

Scone Palace in Scone is not a roadside attraction where you buy scones, but a place of coronation for Scottish kings. It's near Perth, and the present structure was built in 1608 for the Earls of Mansfield, but then extensively remodeled in 1776.

Made of red sandstone, Scone is a classic example of the late Georgian Gothic style. In the Middle Ages, it was the site of a major Augustinian Abbey. About 1,500 years ago, it was the center of the ancient Celtic church. Old enough for you?

Perthshire's golf courses: Scone is in Perthshire, home to quite a few golf courses. In Scone itself, there is the Murrayshall Golf Course, three miles north of Perth, an undulating, wooded parkland course 6,441 yards long. It has tree-lined fairways, large, white-sand bunkers and big, tricky greens with natural stone bridges over water hazards.

The more famous Gleneagles is 20 minutes away, while Carnoustie is 45 minutes away.

Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle in Ballater: Queen Victoria loved the joint and bought it in 1848; it's been the Scottish home of the British Royal Family ever since. The estate is set amidst 50,00 acres of heather, ancient woodland and the River Dee.

Golf courses in Ballater: Ballater has a population of 1,300 on the north bank of the River Dee and encloses the Ballater Golf Club. It's in Aberdeenshire, 42 miles west of Aberdeen. Aberdeeshire is also home to a number of courses, including scenic Cruden Bay, Banchory, Duff House Royal and Inchmarlo.

Braemar Castle

Braemar Castle is in Grampian, part of the Invercauld Estate, in the heart of the Cairngorm National park area, known as the Royal Deeside. It's been owned by the Farquharson family for centuries and fans out over 200 square miles.

They have grouse shoots, deer hunting and salmon fishing. Scottish pines, heather and all that abound.

Grampian golf: Braemar is also in Aberdeeshire, with its many courses, including those named above.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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