Dive a little deeper into Scotland’s brimming reservoir of brilliant courses and you’ll quickly find some hidden gems
10 Underrated Scottish Golf Courses
Scotland is home to some of the world’s best and most iconic golf courses at famous destinations that draw worldwide visitors and significant income annually.
But, with over 500 courses across the country, there’s also a huge number of wonderful lesser-known, underrated golfing venues in Scotland. With golf the country’s national game, many of these golfing facilities act as hubs of local communities, are loved by the members and are maintained to the highest standard respective budgets will allow.
Here we take a look at ten Scottish tracks we believe are worthy of greater exposure and fame. Whether because of the quality of their holes or the test they present, their conditioning, setting, uniqueness, the welcome provided, or a bit of all those things – these are ten of Scotland’s most underrated golf courses.
10 Underrated Scottish Golf Courses
Stats: par 69, 6,728 yards
Set on the beautiful and peaceful Solway coast, the course at Southerness (pictured above) is a relative youngster in the scope of Scottish links golf. It dates from the late 1940s when Major Richard Oswald decided to create a layout over what he recognised as highly suitable land, with its sandy turf, level yet rumpled terrain, gorse and heathers.
Despite being less than 75 years old, the course sits so naturally on the land at Southerness – the feeling is that it must have always existed. It may be quiet and seemingly hidden away, but it’s not actually remote like a Machrihanish – it’s only a half hour’s detour from Dumfries, which in turn is only just over half an hour from the northern tip of the M6.
There’s real beauty and serenity to be found on the firm fairways of Southerness and, when the breeze is up, it’s a proper golfing examination.
Stats: par 72, 6,765 yards
The town of Nairn on Scotland’s Moray Firth is blessed to have two superb links golf courses. Nairn Dunbar may be less famous than The Nairn Golf Club, but it’s a track of considerable quality.
It’s a championship layout delivering a strong test and unique character. The number of tournaments hosted by the club demonstrates how well respected it is by the governing bodies. In 2018, Nairn Dunbar was the venue for the PGA’s Northern Open and the year previously, The R&A selected Nairn Dunbar, along with The Nairn Golf Club, to be used for the 91st Boys Amateur Championship.
The Moray Firth enjoys extremely low rainfall, meaning the links turf at Nairn Dunbar is firm and fast-running. The gorse-lined fairways are undulating and pockmarked by testing bunkers. The greens are often raised and sloping, making them difficult to hold when the breeze gets up. It’s a full and proper golfing examination.
Stats: par 70, 6,273 yards
Golf was played on the Earlsferry Links at Elie as far back as the 15th century and five-time Open Champion James Braid honed his skills upon it. The course is full of character: from the old submarine periscope on the 1st tee (used to check the fairway is clear) to the testing 18th with a ridge running down the fairway, Elie is unique.
With St Andrews just 12 miles away, many visitors to this part of Fife don’t venture as far as The Golf House Club, Elie, but those in the know will make the effort to. Not only is this a historic and beautiful links, but it’s also tremendous fun to play. Much like a North Berwick or Prestwick, it flows over the undulating terrain in the most natural and entertaining manner, the varied and memorable holes asking for a blend of golfing skill and strategy.
Stats: par 71, 6,655 yards
Like the fine links courses in the vicinity of St Andrews, those within a short distance of Carnoustie are sometimes overlooked as the famous neighbour hogs the limelight. Just south of the 2018 Open venue, Monifieth Medal is a wonderful links that would attract far more attention were it slightly more removed. It’s a classic track that has played host to Open Qualifying and gave Tom Watson his first taste of links golf.
With the East Coast Mainline skirting the opening holes, the threat of out-of-bounds looms to the right. When the wind is up, this is a daunting introduction. Set over largely flat, sandy and firm ground, the course then turns away from the railway and loops back towards the town of Monifieth.
Stats: par 69, 6,170 yards
Old Tom Morris laid out the original course at Forfar in 1871 and James Braid oversaw modifications in 1926. It’s a heathland track with tight fairways and testing greens. Set on an attractive piece of ground, it’s a short course but by no means easy. Blind tee shots, doglegs, gorse, impinging pine trees and undulating fairways, owing to many being constructed over land formerly cultivated by the ‘rig and furrow’ method, combine to make this a tricky little customer.
Having said this, golfers of all abilities will enjoy Forfar and it’s a great alternative to the punishing links courses like Carnoustie that lie just a few miles to the east. With great views up to the Angus glens, Forfar delivers a highly memorable golfing experience.
Stats: par 70, 6,127 yards
Other than locals, few will have set foot on, perhaps even heard of, Buckpool golf course. But, it’s a brilliant coastal track on the Moray Firth by the town of Buckie. You’ll play it for just £40 a round and walk off thinking you’ve enjoyed superb value for money.
Designed by JH Taylor and dating from the early 1930s, it’s links in style even if on land slightly raised and back from the sea itself. Fairways are cut through the gorse and they run towards large, true greens. Well-placed bunkers provide protection, but it’s the encroaching gorse that often provides the principal threat.
Course and clubhouse may not look much at first glance, but this is not a book to be judged by its cover. Dig deeper and you’ll find golfing treasure.
Stats: par 71, 6,597 yards
Founded in 1856, Dunbar lies on the estuary of the Firth of Forth some 30 miles east of Edinburgh. It’s not the distance from Scotland’s capital that leads Dunbar to be somewhat underrated, rather what’s in between; with Gullane, Muirfield, Archerfield, North Berwick et al earlier on the East Lothian coast, many visitors never get quite as far as Dunbar. They have missed out.
The course boasts superb views of the Forth and across to Fife and a number of Scottish championships have been played here over the years, as well as Open Final Qualifying.
Strategy from the tee is essential at Dunbar and each hole requires a different approach. Much like the Old Course at St Andrews, left is best. There’s an out-of-bounds wall down the right on the front nine and the beach is on your right on the way home.
Stats: par 69, 5,864 yards
Scotland is home to many town courses that are beloved by the locals, but little known to visitors. Banchory in Aberdeenshire provides a great example of this type of underrated Scottish course. Small but perfectly formed with history and character and offering a typically warm welcome, Banchory provides a very pleasant surprise for those lucky enough to discover it.
Set on the north bank of the beautiful River Dee with forests and hills providing the backdrop, the course forges out into Royal Deeside from the town of Banchory before turning back east for the majority of the back nine.
Laid out on old riverbed, the turf is firm and springy, while the greens are true and can be fast running in summer. With a wonderful array of indigenous trees, wildflowers and heathers lining the fairways, Banchory was a recent finalist in the STRI Golf Environment awards.
Stats: par 42, 2,996 yards
Many may have heard of the 12-hole jewel at Shiskine on Arran’s west coast; fewer are fully aware of the what the layout delivers in terms of exceptionally natural and rugged golf. Playing towards Drumadoon Point with stunning views across to the Kintyre peninsula and up Arran’s coast, it’s an amazing setting for golf.
Shiskine features one of the most memorable stretches of holes you’ll find. There’s the nigh-on impossible 3rd, ‘Crow’s Nest’, where the tee shot must climb some 50 feet and stop on a plateau green with everything sloping towards a guaranteed lost ball on the left. Then, on the 4th, you hit from an elevated tee with cliffs right and the Kilbrannan Sound and Kintyre ahead. The 5th is towards the Point and, on a clear day, the Ailsa Craig. The 6th turns back homeward and hugs the edge of the beach before the 7th, ‘Himalayas’, plays across a formidable sand dune. This is a unique and captivating course.
Stats: par 70, 6,259 yards
Set in the Perthshire countryside just a few miles from Blairgowrie, Alyth Golf Club was founded in 1894. It may not have quite the reputation of its near neighbour, but this fine heathland layout deserves recognition. It’s the work of two of golf’s most famous names: Old Tom Morris and James Braid. The former was responsible for designing the original nine holes, the latter for extending the course to 18 in 1934. Sweeping over rolling ground between the pines and silver birch to undulating greens, it’s an excellent test of accuracy and skill.
Lurking on either side of most fairways are trees and gorse bushes ready to gobble up the wild shot. A straight putt on the first green is a rarity and this theme continues. It’s a great and strong layout.
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A golfer for most of his life, Sam is a Senior Staff Writer for Golf Monthly.
Working with golf gear and equipment over the last six years, Sam has quickly built outstanding knowledge and expertise on golf products ranging from drivers, to balls, to shoes.
He combines this knowledge with a passion for helping golfers get the best gear for them, and as such Sam manages a team of writers that look to deliver the most accurate and informative reviews and buying advice. This is so the reader can find exactly what they are looking for.
Sam now spends most of his time testing and looking after golf gear content for the website, whilst he is also responsible for all content related to golf apparel.
He also oversees all Tour player content as well so if you need to know what clubs Tiger or Rory has in play, Sam is the person to ask.
Unfortunately, Sam is not a member of any club at the moment but regularly gets out on the golf course to keep up the facade of having a handicap of five.
Sam's What's In The Bag:
Driver: Titleist TS3 (9 degrees)
Fairway Wood: Callaway Paradym (15 degrees), Nike Covert Tour 2.0 (19 degrees)
Irons (4-PW): Titleist AP2
Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM7 54˚, 58˚
Putter: Scotty Cameron Phantom X 5.5
Ball: Srixon Z-Star Diamond
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