Royal Dornoch & Castle Stuart Golf Vacation
The Highlands also includes, Nairn, Royal Aberdeen, Trump Aberdeen, & Cruden Bay (we’ll get a shot at St Andrews too)
The Highlands also includes, Nairn, Royal Aberdeen, Trump Aberdeen, & Cruden Bay (we’ll get a shot at St Andrews too)
The biggest concentration of world top-100 ranked courses isn’t found around St Andrews. They actually occur in the north, stretching from Royal Dornoch to the links of Aberdeenshire. Here we’ll encounter five such qualifiers. Royal Dornoch is frequently ranked as Scotland’s top golf course. Naturally we’ve introduced a second world top-100 ranked course, the Scottish Open venue of Castle Stuart. Nairn is a recent Walker Cup venue and although it doesn’t make the 100-list, it’s reputedly home to the best greens in Scotland.
We link Aberdeenshire to the Highlands by playing the Moray Old Course at Lossiemouth. This performs a similar mid-point bridging function to that which Gleneagles does for Fife and Ayrshire, except with a lot more whisky. We then continue heading east onto the Aberdeenshire coast where we’ll discover a trio of world top-ranked courses clustered together. Cruden Bay is a charismatic quirky old links, a cult favourite with their ninth tee voted the best view in Scottish golf. Royal Aberdeen, the sixth oldest course in the world, possesses what many regard to be the finest outward nine in Scotland. The Trump International is the most recent addition and quickly established itself in the elite. Aberdeen’s Murcar links can be played as an alternative.
At Faraway Fairways we blend club and country. Nowhere is this glorious fusion better presented than the Royal Dornoch Scottish Highlands Golf vacation, which seamlessly slides into the archetypal Scottish landscape, culture, and history, making it ideal for non-golfers too. Deep lochs, dark glens, tartans, animal furs, castles, whisky, mysterious monsters and clan feuds, are all wrapped up in the spirit of the Faraway Fairways Royal Dornoch Scottish Highlands Golf vacation. This is the Scotland where eagles soar, where the rivers run clean and fresh, and where wild animals freely roam the heather uplands in an orchestrated symphony of rich splendour.
St Andrews is now in a tantalising line of travel back to Edinburgh. It needn’t be inconvenient to ‘give ourselves a shot at it’, so the question is, can you play the Old Course? “possibly” is the answer. It would make for a stunning bonus. The Aberdeenshire leg keeps us within striking distances of St Andrews (1 hr 45 mins) throughout its duration, so other opportunities also exist.
TransportSelf-drive option works best.
Logistics‘Back-to-base’ touring structure
Non-Golf OfferStrong - Loch Ness, Culloden, The Highlands & St Andrews
MileageHigh - Approx 650 miles Approximately 15 hrs
Travel ClassSupports - Luxury, Premier, and Affordable
Old CourseLow chance of play through the ballot, but not forlorn. Walk-Up-Rule should succeed.
SATURDAY - Nairn
Created from a Highland wilderness of gorse and heather Nairn is a perennial Scottish top-20 hoverer. Nairn is a bit like a great symphony which takes you on a journey with each movement getting progressively challenging before developing into a climatic crescendo. Nairn requires you to use every club in you bag, and play a myriad of different shots. Wise heads frequently nominate Nairn as possessing the best putting surface that Scotland has to offer too. One of the slightly more remarkable features is that you can very easily hit the ball into the sea on every one of the first seven! If you’re a ‘leftie’ with a tendency to hook, you might like to consider packing an extra sleeve of balls!
SUNDAY - Royal Dornoch
Golf Digest rated Royal Dornoch the highest of Scotland’s many worthy candidates. The Championship course represented a paradigm in design that endures today. The ‘bump-and-run‘ was the traditional shot to mitigate a links wind. Elevated plinth greens were introduced and ringed with fiendish pot-bunkers to guard them from any such commando approach. Without completely taking the traditional ‘stock shot’ out of the equation, a degree of risk was added. Dornoch therefore challenges you to go the aerial route, and ride the wind. Iron play is the key to the course. The rationale is simple: hit a good approach shot and you should be rewarded. Hit a bad one, and you pay the penalty. Tom Watson said of Dornoch “the most fun I’ve ever had on a golf course”.
MONDAY - Castle Stuart
Another modern addition to the golfing landscape having opened in July 2009. The course is set on two-tiered balconies overlooking the dark and foreboding waters of the Moray Firth. Players enjoy stunning panoramas from the highest elevations. The course is rich in the textured signature landscape of Scottish ‘whins’, gorse and broom, heather, and marram from beginning to end. These change colour with the seasons as nature commanded, and weave a tapestry of highland hues into this landscape mosaic of rugged beauty. The course has recently been hosting the prestigious Scottish Open, and was used successfully by Phil Mickelson in 2013 as a springboard to Open success a month later at Muirfield.
TUESDAY - Moray Old Course
Moray is a rugged links with heaving sand dunes, heinous gorse, and wicked undulations. With sea views to marvel at and a lighthouse too, its quite aesthetic. Moray is an innovators course requiring an instinctive read of the landscape. A good touch with the putter is likely to serve you better than a blast with the driver. The real joy is to be had chipping, executing deft links rescues. The 18th is often cited, as Scotland’s best closing hole with a sense of procession leading into a natural amphitheatre. Here you get the impression that you are at a St Andrews Open surrounded by spectator stands, and buildings. Indeed Moray Old, interacts with the town of Lossiemouth in a way that perhaps only St Andrews otherwise achieves.
WEDNESDAY - Cruden Bay
If you’re the purist that believes links courses should be wild, windswept, isolated and one step away from the sea, then Cruden Bay ticks all your boxes. The waves crashed into the bay of Cruden and set about carving a beautifully curving horseshoe. In addition, Cruden Bay also benefits from the same dramatic ‘high dune’ systems of the Trump International and Royal Aberdeen. Significantly though, Cruden Bay has greater personality, as it retains many original quirky old links features. It even counts a dog-leg par-3 amongst its garrison! The sixth, Bluidy Burn, is a candidate for finest par five in Scotland, combining as it does, just about every classic links challenge on a single hole imaginable.
THURSDAY - Trump Aberdeen
Making use of Europe’s highest dunes system Martin Hawtree set about transforming this shoreline to realise the owners ambition to build the “best course in the world”. Snakes of green slither their way through valleys in this frankly fantastic landscape. The early results have been impressive. A top-100 rating was secured in the opening season. The par three’s quickly earned rave reviews, the 6th and 3rd in particular. The opening half dozen holes just seem to get better and better when it no longer seems possible. More recently the par 4, fourteenth, an elevated tee played into a fairway valley has established itself as the signature hole.
THURSDAY - Murcar
Royal Aberdeen got first use of this landscape but there are more than enough humps and hollows to share. The concept of a risk and reward hole is well documented in golf, to some extent Murcar takes this further and extends it to the entire course. Accuracy off the tee rather than length is the key. The penalty for being wayward can be brutal on these tight fairways with unforgiving long rough. The key to Murcar is it’s consistency. There are no real weak holes. It just keeps coming at you posing a different challenge on every tee. Murcar Links represents a truly challenging test. To play it requires every shot in the book and if the wind is up, a few more besides!
FRIDAY - Royal Aberdeen
Dating from 1780, this traditional nine out and nine back layout is the sixth oldest golf course in the world. In 2014 Justin Rose won the Scottish Open here, whilst Tom Watson has added a seniors Open title to his collection. The outward nine is often regarded as Scotland’s finest, wending its way north through a spectacular dunescape. It’s not hyperbole. It has legitimate claims. Like a fairground ghost train, one by one hazards present themselves. Undulating fairways, gorse, a burn, and of course a stiff wind blowing in off the sea are essential ingredients. It would be a mistake to overlook the merits of the back nine though This is played on a raised plateau, and often subject to greater exposure. The final three holes rival any closing stretch in the country.
SATURDAY - St Andrews Old Course
St Andrews, the home of golf, needs little introduction nor hype from us. The first surviving record of the game being played here dates to 1522. The town oozes atmosphere and the course is soaked in heritage. The view from the iconic Swilcan Bridge looking back up the final fairway to the magnificent R&A headquarters and red bricked Hamilton Hall is one of the most instantly recognisable in world sport, never mind golf. ‘The Road Hole’, the 17th, is the signature assignment. No hole yields more bogeys in the Open than this one. Another unique feature are the massive double greens. The secret? don’t be over-awed. Keep out the 112 bunkers, especially so ‘Hell Bunker’ at the 14th. Then attack the course! St Andrews is actually one of the more obliging links, so don’t leave wondering what might have been. It can be tamed!
SATURDAY - St Andrews New Course
“New” in the context of St Andrews means 1895! The course is often said to be the town’s favourite. It’s a tighter and more defined course than its regal neighbour, and aided by yellow gorse bushes, it tends to be more aesthetic too. The ‘New’ runs adjacent to the Old course and as a consequence has similar characteristics. The fairways are undulating but not as dipped as the Old course, leading to fewer hanging lies. A traditional out and back nine, only the 3rd and 15th share a green. The burn wends its way through a low dune system and features some particularly charismatic holes. The 464yd tenth is often cited as the pick. Think about it logically. It’s likely that the newer course that was designed for purpose, would be the better golf course than the ancient artefact. The good folk of St Andrews know!
The St Andrews Links Trust don't publish ballot strike-rates. Faraway Fairways do occasionally succeed in extracting an off the record opinion however. In addition to this, we’re also able to draw on our own evidence, and that which we’re able to extract from credible co-operative partners (usually hotels) plus what other tour operators might tell us. We have a good guideline idea of strike rates by month of the year and by day of the week
It needs to be stressed that these are indicative averages only. Different parts of a month will behave differently dependent on any end of factors. The ballot is quixotic and unpredictable, Extended runs of good or bad luck can, and do, happen. They are provided in good faith, but can of course fail, and can't therefore be used as a basis for compensation
Multiply by the number of days you are available to give you a guideline
MONTH OF THE YEAR
DAY OF THE WEEK
St Andrews 'Guaranteed' Tee Times
There is a heavy price premium on a guarantee a tee-time. Plus they usually involve a minimum hotel stay in St Andrews of at least three nights, playing an additional St Andrews course is mandatory, and normally a minimum food & drink spend in a specified hotel. Faraway Fairways wouldn't be convinced a guaranteed tee-time is worth pursuing for the Highlands tour, especially as they aren't sold for weekends anyway. You'd be more likely to destabilise the programme
An aggressive and determined application of the walk-up rule, allied to a normal ballot application or two, should tilt the odds in your favour
Nairn operates a handicap threshold of 28 for gentlemen, and 36 for ladies respectively. Nairn will reserve the right as to whether or not to invoke this since it tends not to be as rigidly applied as some clubs.
Royal Aberdeen operates a handicap threshold of 24 for both gentlemen and ladies.
The St Andrews Old Course currently advise the following: "A current official handicap card (Golf Club affiliated to a Golf Union/Association) record or certificate must be presented to the starter prior to play. Maximum handicaps – 24 Men, 36 Ladies. St Andrews will not accept letters of introduction from a local Club Professional”.
Some known issues to consider
St Andrews hosts the Open in 2022 and will be shut from June 1st until it's finished in mid-July.
St Andrews, Carnoustie, and Kingsbarns jointly host the Dunhill Links challenge in the first week of October
Despite its remote location, Royal Dornoch does sell-out and is amongst the first courses to come under pressure. We advise that you think in terms of a planning horizon of July for play the following year
Castle Stuart and Royal Aberdeen do periodically host the Scottish Open which will close them down from about mid June until early/ mid-July
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