Welcome to our North of Scotland Golf Travel Guide! Here I’ll provide a bounty of helpful tips and insights for visitors looking to golf in this region.
These areas are the up-and-coming golfing destinations in the country, with two world-class venues having been added to the portfolio in the North region in the last twelve years – Castle Stuart and Trump International Aberdeen, opening for play in 2009 and 2012, respectively.
The addition of these two courses means that the North holds 7 out of 8 championship courses in Scotland.
The North of Scotland is also home to many hidden gems, incredible scenery, amazing places to stay and eat, and much more. So that you don’t miss out on any of these, I’ve compiled my top insider tips and recommendations so that you don’t miss a thing.
Let’s get into it!
Why The North Of Scotland?
Well firstly, the golf courses on offer are just amazing.
Many courses on offer are genuine championship golf links, on the top of golfers’ must-play list around the world. Others may be lesser-known, but for what they lack in prestige, these hidden gem golf courses make up for in charm and beauty.
The North is also Scotland at its most beautiful, particularly once you get into the Highlands. The scenery is like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
Even better, the North is whisky country. If you and your golf buddies are whisky connoisseurs or just want to find out more about Scotland’s greatest export, then the north provides the answer.
There are distilleries in abundance that offer tours and tastings. I highly recommend getting at least one tour into your schedule. Whichever distillery you decide on, it will need to be pre-booked.
A link to information can be found here: Distillery tour options.
Booking, Transport, and Travel
The North is also the most remote area of Scotland. To give you an idea, Aberdeen is the closest city to Inverness, but it still takes around three hours to drive from one to the other.
This means you’ll have two fairly long drives, but don’t let this put you off – they’re incredibly scenic and once you’re at your base camp, the driving is minimal to visit all courses.
I recommend flying into Inverness which will mean you avoid having to make two additional long drives from either of the two main airports, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
This is achievable with two flights if you are coming from across the pond. The first is coming into the UK to London and then it is just a short connection flight to Inverness.
The second option, perhaps surprisingly, is to fly to Amsterdam which also offers a link to Inverness, the capital of the Highlands.
Recommended Tour Operators:
The tour operators above will research, organize and book your trip, taking the pressure off you and making sure that the trip runs smoothly and that you’re able to get tee times at all of your desired courses.
This service does, however, come at a much higher cost than booking solo.
If you go it alone, there is more work but there should be no problems getting the golf booked on any of the courses as long as you book in advance as none have restrictions on play days. Plus the money you save you can spend on extra drinks or a nice meal out.
Be sure to book transportation as there will be quite a bit of driving. You can either hire a driver or a car if you have somebody in your group who’s up for the responsibility.
The recommended operator for just hiring transport is St Andrews Executive Travel.
I’d also recommend heading off to Aberdeen on arrival to get the big drives over and done earlier in the week. Most flight arrivals are in the morning, so even with the drive to Aberdeen, you should be on the links for your first 18 holes by mid-afternoon.
ABERDEEN: THE GOLF AND ACCOMMODATION
For the young bucks and other hardcore golfers, you will be able to book and play 36 holes on each of the courses.
If you like to mix and match a little, then my definite options for 36 holes would be the two Royals, Aberdeen and Dornoch.
For 18 holes, my options would be Trump International and Castle Stuart (links in the list below). They are both long walks and consequently, most rounds take longer to play than the other venues.
Then Murcar Links and Brora (if this is on your itinerary) as they are the lower-ranked courses. Do not get me wrong, still a great play but not quite in the same class as the others on the schedule.
Day 1: Murcar Links Ranked 34, Scotland’s best courses
Day 2: Royal Aberdeen Ranked 8, Scotland’s best courses
Day 3: Cruden Bay Ranked 11, Scotland’s best courses
Day 4: Trump International Ranked 10, Scotland’s best courses
Departing for the Highlands after play here. Start early enough and perhaps the perfect opportunity to fit in a whisky tour along the way?
Although only a small city, there are numerous hotel options to choose from. At the top end, the only 5* option is the Marcliffe, but there are plenty of 4* to choose from.
Based on the mapped-out itinerary you will spend 3 nights here.
The longest drive to golf is just over 30 minutes to Cruden Bay, the first two on the list will only be a 10-minute drive from any city hotel.
Highlands: THE GOLF AND ACCOMMODATION
Inverness, the unofficial capital city of the Highlands is the logical place to set up camp for the second half of the week.
Again plenty of choices for accommodation, the best hotels are 4*. There are a few boutique venues available with a 5* rating, but they would only work for small groups.
Little Tip: If you like quality food, then I would recommend a little research beforehand and booking restaurants in advance. The better ones tend to be very popular in season and pre-booking will avoid any disappointment.
When setting up camp in Inverness, this is my recommended golf plan.
If you have a later departure flight, then you can play Castle Stuart in the morning as it is located only 5 minutes from Inverness Airport.
This means three nights in Inverness, a fourth will be needed if the flight times do not fit.
Day 5: Nairn Ranked 19, Scotland’s best courses
Day 6: Royal Dornoch Ranked 3, Scotland’s best courses
Day 7: Castle Stuart Ranked 9, Scotland’s best courses
Five of the seven selected are ranked in the top 11 courses in Scotland – can’t be too bad, right?
For information, the travel time to Nairn is around 30 minutes, Royal Dornoch 60 minutes, and Castle Stuart 15 minutes.
The 8 Must-Play Golf Courses
#1: Murcar Links
Murcar Links Golf Club, founded in 1919 was originally designed by Archie Simpson and revised by James Braid.
It is located on a classic stretch of links land with massive dunes, undulating fairways, and is covered in whins and heather with some magnificent views across the North Sea. The greens are often regarded as being some of the best kept in Scotland.
Playing Murcar Links is a truly memorable and rewarding experience where each hole offers its challenge. They pride themselves on their warm welcome.
#2: Royal Aberdeen
The Society of Golfers in Aberdeen is recorded as being established in 1780. It moved to its present location in 1888, a golfing paradise on the northern side of the river Don, and has since evolved into the magnificent championship layout it is today.
Regarded by many as one of the most challenging natural links courses anywhere on the planet, and when the north-easterly wind bears its teeth, the test can be daunting.
#3: Cruden Bay
This links course opened in 1899 designed by Old Tom Morris of St Andrews, with help from Archie Simpson.
The course offers a genuine experience of old-fashioned links golf at its best.
The unique challenge of Cruden Bay, the location, and the spectacular views all justify the accolades it receives.
Set amidst The Great Dunes of Scotland, Trump International embraces mile after mile of spectacular Aberdeenshire coastline and guarantees the golf experience of a lifetime.
The golf course follows a classic pattern of two out-and-back loops of nine holes.
All 18 holes thread their way engagingly through the dunes, rising here to find views of the sea and coastline, plunging there into secluded valleys.
Nairn, founded in 1887, is a traditional Scottish links with nine holes out, the second nine returning you home.
The truly remarkable feature of Nairn is that from every hole you can see the Moray Firth and the golden coloring and changing lights of the Black Isle across the Firth. Not many links can make this claim where you see the sea on every hole.
It has staged many top amateur championships, the latest being 2021 hosting the Amateur Championship. It has also hosted both men’s and women’s amateur team matches between the USA and GB&I, the Walker Cup in 1999, and the Curtis Cup in 2012.
#6: Royal Dornoch
The remoteness of Royal Dornoch has helped create a mystique about this magnificent golfing outpost in the far north of Scotland, fifty miles north of Loch Ness.
We are a long way north now! The course is situated just 8 degrees below the Arctic circle. During the summer, the long daylight hours make it possible on a June evening to play golf until almost midnight.
The world’s greatest golfers and golf writers have been lavish in their praise of Royal Dornoch.
In a letter to the club, legendary golfer Tom Watson thanked the members for the privilege of playing one of the world’s best golf courses. He described the three rounds that he played during his 24-hour stay in Dornoch, “as the most fun he had ever had playing golf.”
Herbert Warren Wind, a famous golf journalist writing in the New Yorker was fulsome in his praise:
“It is the most natural course in the world. We in America are just beginning to appreciate that no golfer has completed his education until he has played and studied Royal Dornoch. It conveys to the modern golfer the evocation of golf as its best.”
Those who are knowledgeable about the game have not been surprised that in recent times Royal Dornoch, with its panoramic views and gorse-lined fairways, has been regularly ranked by the illustrious golf panels as one of the world’s great courses.
#7: Castle Stuart
This stunning championship course opened in 2009 but had a remarkable rise to fame hosting the European Tour’s Scottish Open for the first time only two years after opening.
Its design is regarded as a model for modern golf architecture, being fun, engaging, and playable for everyday players of all abilities, but also a challenge for the very best.
The course has won plaudits from some of golf’s leading players and writers, including Phil Mickelson, winner of the 2013 Scottish Open at Castle Stuart.
He said: “It’s got a great mixture of holes – birdie holes, tough pars, and holes that need great shot-making skills.” Enough said, a pretty darn good endorsement from one of the most famous golfers on the planet.
This gets the nod in case any groups want to spend more time in the Highlands and decide to miss a course from the list in Aberdeen. Brora is just a fun place to play golf with a unique environment and a spectacular setting.
It is unique in many ways, not least because it shares the land with the local crofting community and have 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. It would also be the most northerly location in the world where any visitor will have golfed – unless you have done so in northern Alaska!
Visiting the north of Scotland is not just first-class golf but also a far more relaxing experience particularly when in the Highlands. It is the new kid on the block for visiting golfers and has now firmly become a must-go-to location.