I shot exactly 2,872 photos with my I-phone 12 Pro during the month I spent this past August in Scotland (Alba in Scottish Gaelic). Initially, I thought I would attempt to describe the trip visually, with 100 of my favorite photos. As I started to review the images, it did not take long to realize this was an impossible task. 250 images became my arbitrary limit. What follows this introduction is a roughly chronological representation – through photographs – of my travels in August. This was my seventh trip to the undisputed and ancient home of golf. Justified and ancient, in the words of the American poet Tammy Wynette.
Time is extremely precious on a Scottish golf trip, but I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted on this visit. A few things were loosely planned, but I often went wherever my mood took me. The advice of my good friend Robbie Wilson – or someone I met randomly on the course – or even just seeing a road sign could lead to another discovery. I have started writing a book about this emotional journey, which came three months after an unthinkable tragedy in my life. The working titles under consideration are The Sacred Links of Alba, When Revelation Comes or The Price We Pay for Love. There will likely be others as the book progresses.
There were revelations on this trip:
Stunning, ancient Isle of Colonsay GC, where Robbie and I had the links to ourselves (along with the sheep) on a clear blue 60 degree day.
Gairloch GC, with 9 holes, each like an individual and intricate jewel. Perfection.
Traigh GC – perfect and ethereal, like a walk in a Scottish dream.
Durness – a remote and wild links at the end of the earth.
Reay GC – elegant and beautiful, like most James Braid courses seem to be.
Golspie GC – visually stunning and unique. From linksland to heathland and back.
Portmahomack GC – 9 holes of pure fun
Machrie Bay GC – a simple community golf course, the type you find all over Scotland. Brilliant, bizarre 2nd green and wildly fun 9th – The Road Hole
Corrie GC – a landscape that did not seem real at times.
Interestingly, I was also reminded of the greatness of courses like Panmure, North Berwick and Brora, all of which I had not played in 20 years.
I have been asked many times to list my favorite courses in this great, beautiful country. I have always felt reluctant to do that. Since 1994, I have played 82 different Scottish golf courses. The depth of quality golf courses, for a country of this size, is truly amazing. In all honesty, I can only think of one course that I did not really enjoy – and even that is a place that I would probably kill to be able to play every day. Scotland is heaven for golfers. In an age of expediency and profit chasing, it still largely represents the pure essence of the game – distilled down to the best parts. Reluctantly, I have decided to list my top 40 favorite Scottish golf courses. Please understand that I am not saying these are the most challenging, best conditioned, best tournament venues – or whatever Golf Magazine criteria you want to employ – they are just my favorites.
My main criteria is fun, followed by architectural character, history and the welcome afforded to visitors. Admittedly, I am partial to courses designed by the great James Braid. Above average – great – course conditioning can sometimes factor slightly in my judgement. For example, relatively unknown Gairloch was one of the most perfectly conditioned golf courses I have ever played.
I do also consider the cost of green fees. Places like Ardfin, Skibo Castle and (sadly now) Turnberry are just too expensive to play. That is not to downplay their worth as golf courses. If someone can afford to play a course that costs $2,500 a day and still enjoy it, good for them. I would be worried that every shot cost $214.76. The green fees for my entire trip were well less than the cost of a single round at Ardfin on the Isle of Jura – think about that for a minute. Exorbitant green fees are a trend in Scottish golf that I hope remains limited to a select few places.
Even after all these years, there are also still a few Scottish courses that I have never played – much to my detriment – such as Boat of Garten, Hopeman, Askernish, Iona and Isle of Harris. I hope I am spared to return. I could also easily list 20 more that probably deserve a spot on this list. Here is my top 40:
Shiskine Golf & Tennis Club
The Old Course
Elie (The Golf House Club)
Isle of Colonsay
Isle of Skye
The Glen (North Berwick)
Gullane No. 3
The following 250 photos are a visual chronicle of August 2021 in my favorite country.