From Royal Aberdeen to Trump Turnberry: Connoisseurs Scotland presents a luxury Scottish golf experience
Scotland can be exhilarating and exhausting.
Weary from 17,050 steps and five miles a day, walking through a rugged landscape of legendary links golf courses, one must stop from time to time to soak up the scenery, feel cold rain and wind on your face, and observe a history that is ancient.
My lineup -- prepared by Connoisseurs Scotland -- reads like the wish list of avid golfers from across the globe: Royal Aberdeen, Castle Stuart, The Carrick on Loch Lomond, Trump International and Trump Turnberry.
Here's a capsule look at the golf courses:
Royal Aberdeen's Balgownie Links
The sixth oldest golf links in the world, Royal Aberdeen dates back to 1780, and claims to be one of the truest links land layouts in golf. Originally designed by Archie and Robert Simpson of Carnoustie and re-bunkered by James Braid. In the new millennium, Donald Steel and Martin Hawtree have improved Royal Aberdeen's Balgownie Links to keep pace with the modern game.
It is a stern test when the North Sea wind is whipping. Hills, sand and sea frame numerous tight fairways and blind shots on the outward nine where olden day greats Old Tom Morris, Walter Hagen and Henry Cotton have walked along with modern day stars Tony Lema, Tony Jacklin, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. Justin Rose won the 2014 Scottish Open here, and it also hosted the 2011 Walker Cup.
Trump International Golf Links
Trump International Golf Links just north of Royal Aberdeen and south of Cruden Bay was weaved through the largest sand dunes in the country right on the North Sea. The Great Dunes of Scotland were perfect for a world-class golf course on 600 acres opened in 2012 with the architects listed as Donald Trump and Dr. Martin Hawtree.
Views from atop every tee box climb are breathtaking, and the 205-yard, par-3 third hole opens to a view of the sea as you walk down to the green where you can hear the waves crashing on the beach right next to the raised green site. The finale -- a par 5 of 651 yards -- has a minefield of 18 bunkers on your way to the green. Almost every hole could be the signature hole.
Castle Stuart Golf Links
Kingsbarns developer and co-designer Mark Parsinen teamed with Gil Hanse to lay out Castle Stuart Golf Links on land where Mary Queen of Scots returned to Scotland in 1561 after the death of her husband, the Dauphin in France. She deeded the land to her brother, James. And some 450 years later, modern-day golfers are playing the eighth best course in Scotland, opened in 2009 with an outstanding art deco clubhouse.
Five holes stretch along the Moray Firth within sight of Kessock Bridge, Chanonry Lighthouse and Fort George, home of the Black Watch. Heather, marram grass and gorse come in to play along with deep bunkers with wispy grasses on top of the faces -- not all are riveted, but they mimic the look when sheep used dune faces for shelter from the wind.
The Carrick on Loch Lomond
Grouse and pheasants might meet you in the early morning on the pure nature walk that is known as The Carrick on Loch Lomond. Owned by the nearby Cameron House, the extraordinary new clubhouse also houses a spa and Claret Jug restaurant.
Designed by golf architect Doug Carrick, this golf club opened in 2007 and includes a Highlands nine and Lowlands nine, routed through Scotland's first National Park in a heathland style. Ben Lomond, a famous Scottish mountain, is in the distance.
Ailsa Course at Trump Turnberry
Scan the panorama at Trump Turnberry's Ailsa Course -- the iconic Turnberry Lighthouse is in view. Ailsa Craig looms over the left shoulder. Stunning describes the rugged Ayrshire Coastline and the Firth of Clyde. The Irish Sea is emerald. The par-3 ninth is one of the most scenic in golf.
My weather day was shirt sleeves and so perfect the locals recited an old saying about calm days at Turnberry: "Scotsmen will be falling down because they are so used to leaning into the wind."
Martin Ebert, golf course architect, did Ailsa's redesign -- part of a $500 million makeover of the 149-room luxury property acquired by Trump in 2014.
Connoisseurs Scotland: Luxury in the home of golf
Connoisseurs Scotland is not a buddies trip on a budget. This vacation gives you luxury hotels, gourmet dining and golf on some of the best courses Scotland has to offer. It's like the most expensive Glengoyne single-malt whisky on the market.
The hotels list includes the Old Course Hotel in St. Andrews and Gleneagles, where I stayed on a previous trip with a round of golf on The Old Course and Gleneagles' PGA Centenary Course, home of the 2014 Ryder Cup.
On this trip we were spoiled by Cameron House, which owns The Carrick Course. Other five-star hotels included Marcliffe House (Royal Aberdeen), MacLeod House (Trump International Golf Links), Rocpool Reserve (Castle Stuart), Trump Turnberry (Ailsa Course) and The Glasshouse in Edinburgh.
Dining included One Devonshire Gardens in Glasgow; Boat House and Cameron Grill at Cameron House; Claret Jug at The Carrick Club; Marcliffe's Conservatory Restaurant; The Brasserie at Trump International Golf Links; Chez Roux at Rocpool Reserve; 1906 Restaurant and Duel in the Sun Restaurant at Trump Turnberry; and The Glasshouse Restaurant (private dining room) in Edinburgh.