Scotland Beyond St. Andrews: The Highlands boast rugged and stunningly beautiful golf courses
Golfers the world over know St. Andrews is where the game began. Consequently, a pilgrimage to golf's homeland is high on the wish list of all those who care about golf's history and traditions.
There's much more to Scotland than simply St Andrews, however, and hundreds of fabulous golfing delights are located outside the Kingdom of Fife. Some are renowned throughout the world, while others are comparatively unknown. But because of the democratic nature of golf in Scotland, nearly all welcome visitors.
With that in mind, let's take a look at golf in the Highlands of Scotland.
The Scottish Highlands lie well to the north and west of Glasgow and Edinburgh and away from the east coast until the region broadens in the north to cover the whole width of the country. It's the most rugged, mountainous and sparsely populated area of Scotland and contains some extraordinarily beautiful and spectacular golf courses.
Boat of Garten Golf Club
The curiously named Boat of Garten Golf Club lies right in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, 1,000 feet above sea level and about as far from the sea as you can be in Scotland. The name derives from the ferry that used to cross the mighty River Spey -- arguably Scotland's best salmon river -- that surges past the golf course.
Although its origins are 19th century, the course was expanded and remodeled by the legendary James Braid in the 1930s.
Short but still very challenging, it delightfully threads through the silver birch, heather and gorse with a spectacular mountain backdrop adding considerably to the experience.
Moray Golf Club
Follow the salmon down the river and eventually you will enter the North Sea just a few miles east of Lossiemouth, which is where the Royal Air Force's has its largest and busiest jet base. Right next door is the truly wonderful links course at Moray. Designed by none other than Old Tom Morris more than 100 years ago, Moray's Old Course is magnificent with everything you want from a links, including revetted bunkers, glorious gorse and immaculate greens.
Venue for both the Scottish Amateur and Scottish Professional championships, it would be a strong candidate for the The Open itself but for one thing: the almost deafening roar of jets taking off and landing. Although a nuisance, the noise is the principal reason why the green fee at Moray is the best bargain in Scotland.
Treat yourself to a "wee dram" of the club's very own 10-year-old whisky to round off a perfect day.
Nairn Golf Club
Head east along the coast and you will soon arrive at another outstanding links golf course, Nairn. Both Old Tom Morris and James Braid have had a hand in the design of this classic links that goes straight out and back in the time-honored way.
The wind whipping off the Moray Firth, which is visible from every hole, is a real factor and stories abound of golfers turning at 3 under but finishing 10 over or worse.
The Walker Cup was played here in 1999. And in June 2012, the women will be battling out the Curtis Cup on Nairn's majestic links.
Castle Stuart Golf Links
Not all the best golf courses in Scotland are more than a century old, and if you travel a little farther west from Nairn you'll discover a new one that's creating a huge stir and sending mighty ripples right across the Moray Firth.
Mountains of praise have already been heaped on Castle Stuart Golf Links since it opened its generous fairways in 2009. Mark Parsinen, who, in partnership with Kyle Phillips, was responsible for the magnificent Kingsbarns Golf Links, has teamed up with fellow American Gil Hanse to produce another glorious gem. It's fair, forgiving and, most important of all, great fun.
Royal Dornoch Golf Club
From a modern masterpiece to an established star as we drive past Inverness, the unofficial capital of the Highlands, and head north to Royal Dornoch Golf Club, one of the truly great courses of the world.
Just 80 miles from the most northerly tip of Scotland, it benefits from long summer days and surprisingly little rainfall. Old Tom Morris first laid out the course, but Royal Dornoch is perhaps better known for having given the golf world one of the greatest course architects of all time, Donald Ross. Indeed, the raised greens at Dornoch will remind some of the fiendishly difficult "upturned saucers" at Pinehurst No. 2.
With revetted pot bunkers, rough that's tough but not impossible, gloriously springy turf, stunning views across Dornoch Firth and simply sensational holes, this is pure golfing heaven.
Brora Golf Club
Since you've come so far, you simply must travel another 30 miles north along the coast and enjoy one last slice of golf paradise. Rather quirky with cattle munching the rough but no yardage markers, Brora Golf Club is another classic out-and-back course.
Lying comfortably between a beautiful beach and the purple heather-covered mountains of Ben Bhraggie, it is home to the James Braid Society. Braid, who is Scotland's most prolific course architect, redesigned Brora in 1924 and produced something truly special.