Scotland is the Home of Golf, packed full of incredible courses and golfing experiences.
While many Scottish golf courses get the star recognition they deserve, there are numerous quality courses in Scotland that slip under the radar of visiting golfers.
We call these courses Scotland’s golfing hidden gems.
While they may not match the prestige of championship courses detailed in our previous golf travel guide features, these lesser-known courses are full of charm, local golfers, beautiful scenery, and other benefits that are well worth the trip.
In this guide, I’m going to run you through my favorite Scottish golfing hidden gems, tell you why I love them, and give you some useful tips so you can start planning your visit!
Let’s get into the swing of it!
Who will love these Hidden Gem Golf Courses?
#1: Those on a budget
First and foremost, the hidden gem Scotland golf courses will open up the door for those looking for a more affordable golfing holiday option.
This means they’re perfect for those who can’t afford the prices of golf holidays playing on A-List courses and staying in 5* accommodation. These are amazing but do come at a considerable cost.
As well as hidden gem golf courses, Scotland also offers an array of great, affordable accommodation options that can keep the total cost for golfing and accommodation under $1,000 (per person). Perfect for those on a budget!
There are some lovely smaller boutique-style hotels and bed and breakfasts offering quality accommodation at an affordable price.
Another option may be to rent a house if you prefer the self-catering option, bringing down the holiday cost even further if you are not dining out every night.
#2: Occasional or Higher Handicapped Golfers
Secondly, these courses may appeal to higher handicapped or senior and occasional golfers who may just find the championship courses too difficult a challenge. You may decide on playing one as treat but may find yourself having more fun playing the Hidden Gems.
After all, playing golf should be a fun experience. If it becomes a struggle every day you play, well that sounds more like a nightmare to me.
These options will also appeal to more occasional golfers looking to combine golf with some actual sightseeing. You will find that you will have much more flexibility with the times available to book a tee time.
SCOTLAND GOLF COURSES: The Best Hidden GemS
There are golf course gems hidden all over Scotland, but in my opinion, they’re most dense in the Highlands of Scotland, which will form the focus here.
Even better, on these courses, the total cost of a week’s golf (7 rounds) will be less than playing two rounds of championship golf.
They are all still links courses – what visitors want to experience when golfing in Scotland, each offering views just as breathtaking as any championship venue.
The Highlands is by far my favorite region in Scotland, offering both breathtaking scenery and also the warmest of welcomes – everybody is just so friendly.
The Highlands of Scotland: ACCOMMODATION AND TRANSPORT
The Highlands are pretty remote, and to reach them from abroad, you’d fly into the region’s capital city, Inverness. This is achievable by flying into London or somewhat strangely, Amsterdam, as both these cities have connecting flights up to Inverness.
For transport, you have the option to either hire a car and drive yourself or use a company to drive you around for the week. Of course, this decision will be affected by the size of your group.
Driving yourself is the cheaper option – but the roads in Scotland will be very different than back at home and, of course, you will drive on the left-hand side of the road.
The first golf course on the schedule is about a 30-minute drive from the airport. After play, it is then about an hour’s drive north to where you will be staying.
Later in the week we decamp and will be heading back beyond Inverness for the final two games of golf.
To start, I would recommend Dornoch as your base camp for the first five days of golf. It is a village that is all about golf and has so much charm.
I have been lucky enough to have lived in Dornoch and know how amazing a place it is. In terms of restaurants, there are several good options:
In season, Dornoch is full of golfers and booking restaurants in advance is a must once you have decided on your venues.
Highland HIDDEN GEMS: My Scottish Golfing Itinerary
This golf club is the 15th oldest in the world, just missing out on a mention in our oldest golf clubs article.
It’s a James Braid classic not to be missed. The landscape is amazing and perfect for what is true links golf. The course is always well maintained and the 4th hole is a real doozy!
Measuring at just 6100 yards might let you believe it is relatively easy but with fast greens, strategically placed bunkers, and gorse on several holes this is by no means an easy task even for the lower handicap golfer.
This is a gentle 15-minute drive heading north from Dornoch.
Authenticity. Beauty. Challenge. Golspie claims that you will get all three when you play here – and who am I to disagree having played there on many an occasion.
This is the second course designed by James Braid. It may only measure just over 6,000 yards but that is with a par of 70. It embodies the true spirit of Scottish golf, and the friendliest of Highland welcomes.
Breath-taking views of both sea and mountains make it a delight to play for all abilities.
But it’s also a course where links holes lead to heathland and then back to links. Wonderful!
#3: Brora Golf Club
Today is a 25-minute drive from Dornoch, Brora is the next village north of Golspie.
It is the third in the collection of courses designed by James Braid and acknowledged as being one of his finest pieces of work.
Brora is just a fun place to play golf with a unique environment and a spectacular setting.
The normal green fee rate to play here is on the more expensive side. However, they offer a rate that is 50% off the normal fee if you play after 3.00 pm. This would leave the morning free for some sightseeing. Some options are detailed later in this feature.
It is unique in many ways, not least because it shares the land with the local crofting community and has a historic right to graze livestock.
Sheep and cattle wander freely around the course, whilst unobtrusive single strand electric fences protect the greens from damage. In effect, the livestock are the grass cutters for the rough on the course! I am sure this would be a first for most, if not all, visiting golfers.
This unique course is only nine holes but offers two different tee boxes to play 18 holes. It is rough and ready . . . but Durness offers a unique and unparalleled experience.
Firstly, it is the most northerly course in mainland Scotland. If you go there, then this will be the most northerly location in the world where any visitor will have golfed.
Secondly, the 90-minute drive from Dornoch is part of the experience. A breath-taking drive through the deepest, darkest parts of the Highlands. Full of lochs (Scottish word for lakes), on single-track lanes your biggest obstacle will be grazing sheep. A simply mesmerizing drive.
Thirdly, you arrive at Durness Golf Club – and the views here are breathtaking. It is a stunning setting. It is unlikely anybody will be at the club, so you pay your green fee in an Honesty Box – I told you it is a unique adventure.
If the clubhouse is open, you can make tea and coffee and buy chocolates, again an honesty box. To make the most of the day out, why not take a picnic and a few drinks to enjoy stopping after nine holes by the clubhouse.
If this doesn’t appeal to those less adventurous, then the second course at Royal Dornoch named the Struie works perfectly.
Of course, you may decide to be adventurous and take on the challenge of the Championship course as your special treat on this holiday. This would have to be booked early as this number 2 ranked course in the world is, not surprisingly, very popular.
#5: Tain Golf Club
Just a 10-minute drive south of Dornoch, Tain Golf Club is a beautiful 18 hole links course designed by Old Tom Morris in 1890 and is fondly referred to as his Northern Jewel.
Overlooking the Dornoch Firth, Tain arguably offers one of the best settings imaginable in the Highlands for a round of golf. With the sea on one side and the backdrop of the mountains behind, every day brings a different aspect to this challenging and beautiful course.
Four Must Do Sightseeing Visits
The first three are when staying in and around Dornoch. the fourth works well when driving to your second base camp for the final two days of the trip.
Dunrobin Castle sits on the outskirts of the village of Golspie. If you decide on the late in the day round at Brora, this would be the perfect stopover in the morning.
Glenmorangie Whisky Distillery backs onto Tain Golf Club. They provide a Whisky Tour. This will need to be booked in advance.
Royal Dornoch Championship Golf Course. If you are not going to play it, you should take the time to walk it. There are pathways through the course and down onto the beach open to the public. Just ask in the Pro Shop and they will steer you in the right direction.
Culloden Battlefield. A powerfully emotive and atmospheric museum where the 1745 Jacobite Rising came to a tragic end. A massive part of Scotland’s history.
On The Move
After 5 days of golfing in the northern Highlands, we head south back and beyond Inverness for the final two days of golf.
You may decide to stay in Inverness in what is a bustling, yet small city with plenty of options in terms of bars and restaurants. If you decide on this option – and this would be my recommendation – then head to Inverness straight after golf at Tain, a 50-minute drive.
This means one 30 minute drive to the first, and a second, one-hour drive to the final two golf destinations.
Now you have one course in the town, the second a 30-minute drive. This may suit.
Inverness HIDDEN GEMS: My Scottish Golfing Itinerary
Two beautiful links courses sitting on the Moray Firth.
The Old Course is another design of Scotland’s finest, Old Tom Morris.
It is considered to be one of the finest links courses in Scotland, a classic links designed with deep revetted bunkers, undulating gorse-lined fairways, and smooth fast greens – a superb test of golf.
The best rates to play The Old Course are in two-time slots, either early in the day between 7.30-8.30 am or in the afternoon between 3.00-5.00 pm.
There is a second course, The New, designed by Sir Henry Cotton if you want a full day of 36 holes.
This course is shorter with a preference for precision golf with less room and smaller greens but still offers a challenging and rewarding experience.
This gem will be your final golf destination, but if you are flying out later in the day, then you may consider flipping with Moray. That way you can take advantage of the early morning slot detailed above leaving plenty of time to get to the airport.
It also means you can play at Nairn Dunbar after 2 pm when they offer a reduced green fee rate. If you are not flying out on the final day of golf, then there is no need to change the schedule.
Situated behind the rugged dunes of Nairn’s East Beach, these golf links offer an unrivaled experience for golfers of all levels.
The course is an enjoyable, yet challenging test of your game that requires both guile and skill to negotiate from the first tee to the final green.
With views across the Moray Firth to the Black Isle and beyond to the mountains of Sutherland as well as inland to the neighboring Cawdor Hills, the course is a treat for the senses.
Then Where Next On Your Golf Holiday List?
There we have it, 7 days of fantastic links golf on our specially selected hidden gem locations backed up with information on where to stay, where to eat, and what to do.