Golf: The Ryder Cup comes home to Scotland

After years waiting in line behind England, Ireland and Wales, Scotland hosts its first Ryder Cup from September 26 to 28, 2014. We map out a course for players inspired by the proceedings at Gleneagles to check out around the country.

An aerial view of the 15th green and the par-3, 16th hole on the Kittocks Course at the Fairmont St Andrews Bay Golf Resort at St Andrews, Scotland. Photo by David Cannon / Getty Images
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Coming days after Scotland’s independence referendum on September 18, the 2014 Ryder Cup tournament may trumpet the emergence of a new nation around the golfing world. Even if it doesn’t, the ding-dong battle for Samuel Ryder’s trophy at Medinah outside Chicago in 2012 will ensure cheering crowds from Europe and the United States. For golfers keen to explore the cradle of the game, there is a case for a links golf break before or after the competition. Scotland’s coastal rich variety deserves nothing less.

The home of golf

Where to play It's a fair bet that any golfer who goes to Scotland wants to tackle the sacred turf on the Old Course at St Andrews, but doing it requires pre-planning, luck and patience. Advanced booking for fourball tee times starts in September for the following year. Winners in a daily ballot secure slots 48 hours ahead of play. And there is a daily singles line, with the starter placing loners into two or three balls on a first-come, first-served basis. On the Fife Coastal Path, failure is disappointing, but not the end of the world. In addition to the Old (green fee Dh466 to Dh938), the St Andrews Links (www.standrews.org.uk) controls six public courses including the New (Dh363 to Dh424), which is considered harder, and the Castle (Dh363 to Dh726), a contemporary design by the American David McLay Kidd with spectacular views of St Andrews Town. Eleven kilometres to the south, Kingsbarns (www.kingsbarns.com; Dh1,120 to Dh1,300), created by Kyle Phillips, the American architect who was responsible for Yas Links, is an acknowledged masterpiece, while neighbouring Crail (www. crailgolfingsociety.co.uk; Dh242 to Dh484) and Elie (www.golfhouseclub.co.uk; Dh466 to Dh653) are discreetly Victorian.

Where to stay: Top of the range means the Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort & Spa (www.oldcoursehotel.co.uk; doubles from Dh1,906 with breakfast), the five-star billet of choice for celebrities ranging from Michael Douglas to Tiger Woods, whenever their schedules bring them to town. Traditionalists prefer Rusacks (www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk; doubles from Dh817 with breakfast) for its position within a chip and a putt of the 18th hole on the Old Course and its views of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, the guardian and arbiter of the rules of golf since 1754. Opened in 1887, Rusacks has been comprehensively refurbished to reflect the history of the game. Those who prefer state of the art should check into the Fairmont St Andrews (www.fairmont.com/st-andrews-scotland; doubles from Dh1,180), a coastal resort complex with two classy courses of its own, the Torrance and Kittocks, and a spa with locally themed treatments.

Northern Lights

Where to play Far to the north, the Moray Firth around Inverness has an extraordinary cluster of links courses, some world famous, some delightfully underexposed. Madonna put the small town of Dornoch on the world map when she chose the neighbouring Skibo Castle for her wedding to Guy Ritchie, but golfers have appreciated its excellence since the 17th century. Old Tom Morris, the grandfather of the modern game, established Royal Dornoch (www.royaldornoch.com; Dh363 to Dh726) in its current form in 1878. The layout incorporates holes on different levels overlooking glistening white sand, a plateaux concept that inspired both the 2014 US Open venue, Pinehurst 2, in North Carolina and Castle Stuart (www.castlestuartgolf.com; Dh787 to Dh1,090), home to the Scottish Open within a couple of years of its own opening in 2009. Nairn (www.nairngolfclub.co.uk; Dh484 to Dh605), its neighbour on the Moray Firth waterfront to the east of Inverness, is another classic: the men who made it since its inauguration in 1887 include Archie Simpson, Old Tom Morris and James Braid. Trust me when I say they did a great job. No connoisseur should miss Brora (www.broragolf.co.uk; Dh272 to Dh353), gloriously isolated on the windswept coast to the north of Dornoch: the austere quality of the links is matched by an exceptionally warm welcome. Quieter eminent Victorians worthy of a detour include Tain (www.tain-golfclub.co.uk; Dh121 to Dh353) and Golspie (www.golspie-golf-club.co.uk; Dh272).

Where to stay Built as a country house in the early 1900s by the Scottish architect, Sir Robert Lorimer, Brora's Royal Marine Hotel (www.royalmarinebrora.com; doubles from Dh932 with breakfast) is all things to all golfers. With 21 rooms, good food and extensive gardens, it is an ideal base for the courses to the north of Inverness. The same applies to Dornoch Castle, partly dating back to the 15th century and redesigned as a 24-room hotel in 1947 (www.dornochcastlehotel.com; doubles from Dh744 with breakfast). The hotel reflects a rich history as a jail, courthouse and school as well as a fortress in the intervening centuries. In Nairn, the 42-room Golf View Hotel & Spa (www.crearhotels.com; doubles from Dh1,550 with breakfast) mixes tradition with comfort and sea views within a mile of the course.

The Best of the West

Where to play Glasgow Airport is the gateway to Prestwick (www.prestwickgc.co.uk; Dh787), the field of battle for the first 12 British Open golf championships (1860-1872). This humpy-bumpy, heathery landscape peopled with ghosts in tweed hitting majestic shots over the Cardinal bunker with hickory clubs and gutta-percha balls is a museum of golf in action over 150 years ago. It wouldn't be long enough to stage a 21st-century Open, but neighbours, Turnberry (www.turnberry.co.uk) and Royal Troon (www.royaltroon.com), are regular hosts. Ask any group of golfers for their favourite course and at least one will say Turnberry's Ailsa (Dh1,563), with its signature lighthouse and fabulous rolling fairways, is the best in the world. No doubt Tom Watson, the winner of the celebrated duel in the sun with Jack Nicklaus in the 1977 Open and a narrow loser as a pensioner when he missed out to Stewart Cink in 2009, would agree. Troon takes an unfashionably harsh view of female golfers, but its links (Dh647 to Dh1,092) are of the highest quality. The accurately named Postage Stamp is the shortest, but by no means the easiest, par 3 in Open Championship golf. Local links of note include Western Gailles (www.westerngailes.com; Dh787) and the Kyle Phillips layout at Dundonald (www.dundonaldlinks.com; Dh575), a private course with occasional green fees for sale. For true adventurers, Machrihanish (www.machgolf.com, Dh393) and Machrihanish Dunes (www.machrihanishdunes.com; Dh424), the old as in Tom Morris and the new as in David McLay Kidd, render the five-hour round trip from Glasgow to the southern end of the Mull of Kintyre a must-do.

Where to stay The Turnberry Resort (www.turnberry.co.uk; doubles from Dh1,300 with breakfast), set on a hill overlooking the rock of Ailsa Craig and the oft-snow-capped mountains on the Mull of Kintyre, is the ultimate cocoon of luxury. That means gourmet dining, a quality second golf course (the Kintyre), state-of-the-art spa and on-site entertainment ranging from archery to quad biking. The Marine Hotel (www.pumahotels.co.uk; doubles from Dh726), located next to the Royal Troon clubhouse, offers comfort and expansive views over the Firth of Clyde and the Isle of Arran. With 14 rooms, Craigard House (www.craigard-house.co.uk; doubles from Dh454 with breakfast), a converted Victorian mansion overlooking Campbeltown Loch, is a family-run refuge from the harsh westerlies that pound the Machrihanish courses.

Points East

Where to play It may come as a surprise to learn that some of the best golf in Scotland is to be found on the East Lothian coast within 32km of Edinburgh. Mighty Muirfield (www.muirfield.org.uk, Dh1,210), home to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers since 1891, takes pride of place, but its unbending view of visitors means that it only "welcomes" them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. A current handicap of 18 or less is mandatory. Players must be named and green fees paid in advance: no changes or refunds permitted. If this is off-putting, North Berwick (www.northberwickgolfclub.com; Dh545) is the perfect antidote. Located on the Firth of Forth near the town centre, its turf has hosted golfers since 1832. Gullane (www.gullanegolfclub.com; Dh230 to Dh805) is equally friendly to passing strangers. The courses are 1, 2 & 3, but the lack of imagination in naming them doesn't extend to the design, which is superb. Predictably, the most historic options are even closer to the city centre. The nine-hole course at Musselburgh Links (www.musselburgholdlinks.co.uk; Dh79) is the oldest playing layout in the world – or so connections claim. Why not rent their hickory clubs and give that genuine 18th-century experience a go? The Links should not be confused with the Royal Musselborough Golf Club (www.royalmusselburgh.co.uk; Dh353), founded in 1774 and established in its current premises in 1926.

Where to stay With a concave front in mellow brick designed by Sir Edmund Lutyens in 1901 and walled gardens by the celebrated horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll, Greywalls (www.greywalls.co.uk; doubles from Dh1,755 with breakfast) is a prime example of Edwardian splendour adapted for the 21st century. Think afternoon tea overlooking Muirfield golf course and dinner in an Albert Roux signature restaurant. Ducks at Kilspindie House (www.ducks.co.uk; doubles from Dh726 with breakfast) is gourmet dining with rooms, a heart-warming combination for golfers battered by easterly gales.

Further information at www.visitscotland.com