Scotland: A trip of a lifetime

Updated: July 2, 2013

Inside Golf Newspaper’s editor, Steve Turcotte recently took his first trip to Scotland and here’s some observations he made from his trip.

There are some things you have to realize about Scotland and what you are getting into if you are heading there for the first time.

First, the weather is always a factor. Sometimes it can be sunny, a shorts weather and golf shirt kind of day. The next it might be windy and chilly. After that, it could be rainy and windy with the kind of wind that can blow your umbrella inside out. Just ask me, I will let you know about that. You better have at least one change of clothes in your golf bag. One round, I changed clothes four times on the course.

But that’s enough about the weather. Now, let’s get to the golf. Golf in Scotland? Are you kidding me? It might just be the best you will ever see. There are the legends, the Old Course and Royal Dornoch. There are the new award winners, Castle Stuart and Trump International. There are the hidden gems, Cruden Bay, Montrose, Meldrum House and Boat of Garten. There are over 550 golf courses total – and they keep on building.

There are the links courses. The courses with spectacular views of the North Sea. There are courses inland that have a Pacific Northwest feel. There are courses hundreds of years old. You realize just about every course in Scotland has a historical story once you step to the first tee. As I stood on the first tee of the Old Course at St. Andrews, I had to step back and do a doubletake. The Old Course is the most sought-after tee time in Scotland. At $242 it is also one of the most expensive, but the golf history lesson you get and the chance to play a British Open course is unmatched.

But there are other courses with stories equally as interesting. Glen Dornoch had golfers roaming the grounds in 1616 and Montrose saw its first golf game nearly 450 years ago. There are also the newer courses that give Scottish golf a new look – Castle Stuart is the host of the Scottish Open and opened for play four years ago. The new Trump International course opened last year and The Donald is hoping for a British Open or Ryder Cup.

There are many things to learn about the way golf is played in Scotland before you head over. You need to know about the links layouts. You must be ready for some wind. You might see some rain. There could be a chill on the air. You will see terrific sights from the seaside links courses and if you think you are going to light it up with your eight handicap, think again.

There are plenty of factors with Scottish golf. Most courses have fairways with more uneven lies than you can believe. The greens are huge. I had three putts of over 100 feet at the Old Course at St. Andrews. And the bunkers …… Well, they are like nothing you have ever seen. They are deep. They are around the greens. They surround the fairways. And they are sometimes hard to extract yourself from in one shot.

The bunkers are so popular that sometimes courses even name them. The Old Course has its Hell Bunker on the 17th hole and you will also see a series of bunkers at the Old Course called the Coffins. The name alone says what will happen to you if you go into them.

But along the way, Scottish golf is something you will enjoy. If you don’t mind the occasional scorecard beating, this is golf at its best. And the stories ….. you will never get tired of hearing them.

At Royal Dornoch, the starter named Roderick said he watched Masters champion Mike Weir tee off during a round and slice it out of bounds. Weir said he was going to tee up a mulligan. Roderick said “no, you are hitting three.” Weir proceeded to drive the par-4 first green and make a putt for four. He turned around and showed Roderick a certain finger in jest.

Malcolm is a starter at the Old Course at St. Andrews. He’s the guy who takes golfers names early in the morning who hope to find a spot to play that day. He’s heard all the stories. “One guy said he only had a few days to live and wanted to get on,” Malcolm said. “Another gent tried to offer some extra pounds. I saw their friends laughing behind them.”

turcotte on bridgeScotland is certainly a place for some of the world’s best golf. But it is a country filled with historical stories. Every castle has a story, and there are lots of them throughout the country. The Dunnattor Castle on the east side of the country was a place that was eventually overrun by the English, but not before a Scottish gent dressed up like a lady in a dress, hid the crown jewels in the dress and escaped while the castle was being overrun.

Distilleries are also big in Scotland. Glenmorangie has been brewing some of the world’s best scotch for over 100 years. Sorry, no free samples on this tour.

Scotland is a country that offers a different way to drive. The steering wheel is on the right hand side and cars must use the left lanes. Everything opposite from the U.S. Most roads are two-lane highways and when you drive around the country, there are fields everywhere filled with crops, sheep and cows. The small towns all look like movie sets, with old brick buildings. It’s almost like you have gone back in time. And pay attention to the road signs: There’s an overtaking sign, a lay sign, and some others that are hard to understand.

But what all golfers head to Scotland for is the golf. And there are a variety of courses to check out – from the links to the inland courses. Links-style courses like Cruden Bay, Royal Dornoch, Nairn, and The Old Course are places that must be seen to be believed with their rolling fairways and stiff ocean breezes.

The inland courses like Gleneagles, Meldrum House and Boat of Garten are more like Northwest layouts.