Pick Your Spots for a Budget Trip to Scotland

The Old Course, St. Andrews (Image: St. Andrews Links Trust)

Smack in the heart of St. Andrews is the Old Course, a first glimpse of heaven for everyone who loves the game. (Image: St. Andrews Links Trust)

Intimidated by the cost of a dream golf vacation in Scotland? The answer is to mix your bucket-list courses with affordable gems, and to check into a guesthouse or a B&B rather than splurge on the Old Course Hotel or another ritzy retreat.

Many golfers dream of making a pilgrimage to the great links of Scotland then hesitate because of the expense.

But the key to an economical and fun trip to golf’s birthplace is picking your spots. Instead of a five-star resort, stay in a cozy guesthouse or B&B. Always sleep two to a room. And mix in affordable hidden gems with the bucket-list courses you feel you absolutely have to play.

Prestwick GC 17th Hole (Image: Prestwick Golf Club)

Prestwick Golf Club on the Ayrshire Coast has hosted 24 Open Championships, including the first 12 ever played. (Image: Prestwick Golf Club)

My last trip, sponsored by Visit Scotland and tour operator Golfbreaks.com, followed this formula during a weeklong journey from the links-rich Ayrshire Coast near Glasgow to the ‘Auld Grey Toon’ of St. Andrews, a first glimpse of heaven for everyone who loves the game.

Home to Royal Troon, Prestwick and other hallowed links, Ayrshire is steeped in history, with ties to William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and Robbie Burns. My base here was the Mercure Ayr Hotel, a clean and welcoming three-star hotel in the centre of the popular seaside town of Ayr.

Royal Troon, host of nine Open Championships, is an obvious must-play. This was where Phil Mickelson and eventual winner Henrik Stenson fought their epic final-round duel in the 2016 Open. An equally essential stop is Prestwick, especially for anyone fascinated by the history of the game. Full of blind shots and crazy bounces, this lovable Old Tom Morris design has hosted 24 Opens, including the first 12 ever played.

Other high-profile local links include Western Gailes, Dundonald Links and the Ailsa course at Trump Turnberry. All rank among Scotland’s outstanding courses. But like every leading golf destination, Ayrshire is also rich in less heralded, though still highly recommended, courses. Irvine Golf Club, Gailes Links, Barassie Links, West Kilbride Golf Club and Prestwick St. Nicholas Golf Club are all stunning courses that live in the shadow of the big guns.

Elie Links Scotland (Image: Elie Links)

Elie Links is an Old Tom Morris-designed gem near St. Andrews. (Image: Elie Links)

Of course, Ayrshire and almost every other region of Scotland are worth their own trip. But nowhere else boasts the allure or possibly as many golf course jewels as St. Andrews, on the Fife Coast, about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Ayr.

As recognizably Scottish as the kilt and sporran, St. Andrews is a starkly beautiful tumble of sandstone buildings blackened with age and cathedral spires that thrust like medieval pikes into the sky. Dominating the bustling downtown is the University of St. Andrews, founded in 1413. And smack in the heart of it all is the Old Course, the world’s most revered links.

Once I’d settled in at Six Murray Park, a charming nine-suite guesthouse near the centre of town, I entered the daily ballot to play the Old Course, the experience of a lifetime. My number didn’t come up this visit but no matter. There are six other terrific courses also managed by the St. Andrews Links Trust right in town, as well as several others—including famous Kingsbarns Golf Links—within easy reach.

Affordable nearby gems Scotscraig Golf Club, Balcomie Links, Elie Links and Lundin Links all await discovery by budget-conscious golfers determined to finally make their dream trip to Scotland come true.

 

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