Planning a Golf Trip to Scotland - Centioli Photography

Planning a Golf Trip to Scotland

November 26, 2016

Whether you are planning your own trip or book through a tour company, I’ll share some things we learned on our golf trip this year. We had a group of 8 that had never been golfing in Scotland so we decided to use a tour company. The company did a good job and booked a first class trip. We had a couple issues come up, but overall what the tour company booked was great. A tour company will save you a lot of time making all the arrangements, but I figured we could have saved at least a $1,000 each if we booked our own trip. Whether you use a tour company or plan your own trip, depending on the courses you want to play and the month you’re looking to go, you should plan your trip 8-12 months in advance. We decided to go the first week of October and played 10 rounds of golf over 9 days.

Where to stay in Scotland

Marcliffe Hotel – Aberdeen | Our first three days were in Aberdeen and we stayed at the Marcliffe Hotel. This is a 5 star hotel that really caters to golfers. The hotel was nice and the staff was very helpful. The rooms are good size, but the beds are small. Breakfast was included in our package and we did have dinner one night at the hotel. The food and service was very good. This is one of the nicest hotels in Aberdeen and would highly recommend it.

St AndrewsIn St Andrews we stayed in two apartments on Golf Place that was owned by the tour company we used. The 3 bedroom apartment at 20 Golf Place had a lot of room and a nice view of the 18th hole at the Old Course. You can book this room through a rental company.

MacDonald Marine Hotel & Spa - North Berwick | We decided to book one night at the Marine Hotel since we were going to be playing Muirfield and North Berwick and didn’t want to drive back and forth to St Andrews after each round. The hotel is nice and the rooms are good size. There are great views of the ocean and golf course. The 16th hole of the North Berwick Golf Club is just outside the back of the hotel so it’s a short walk to the first hole making this a convenient place to stay.

  • Our apartment in St Andrews is the second floor that has the lights on.

    Our apartment in St Andrews is the second floor that has the lights on.

  • MacDonald Marine Hotel from the North Berwick Golf Club.

    MacDonald Marine Hotel from the North Berwick Golf Club.

Transportation

You can rent a car, but you’ll find spending the money on a car service is money well spent. If you do rent, make sure you request an automatic transmission and plan extra time driving to each course. Our package included car service, which I would highly recommend. A week into our trip and with the early mornings, traffic and lots of golf, none of us would have wanted to get behind the wheel to drive. It was great to have the extra room in the passenger vans and be able to relax on the way back to the hotel. A number of our drivers provided beer, water and snacks. We used St Andrews Executive Travel and enjoyed all the drivers we had.

Our passenger van that shuttled us around during our trip

Our passenger van that shuttled us around during our trip

Caddies

I have mixed feelings about caddies. Overall, I would say the quality of the caddies was not good. Of the 6-8 caddies we had each round, we usually had three that were pretty good. It wasn’t just about reading putts or giving good yardage. We had issues with the caddies not keeping up, being ready when we were or talking to each other and not paying attention. At many of the courses, the caddies are members. Most were nice guys, but some were very old and shouldn’t have been a caddy. In fact, at Carnoustie one of our guys had to carry his bag on the last two holes since his caddy had a bad leg and was worn out. If you play Kingsbarn, I would recommend a caddie. All the caddies we had were very good and they guarantee the caddy will enhance your experience or you don’t have to pay.

As for the fee, always check with the Caddie Master at each course to understand the going rate and suggested tip. Most are £40 - £50 per bag plus the tip, which varies between £10 - £20. You’ll pay the caddy directly. You’ll also need to arrange for a caddy in advance. It’s not likely you can show up and get a caddy the same day.

You’ll find that all the golf courses are walking. Of the ten courses we played, there was only one course that had carts, which they call buggies. Trump Aberdeen had carts, but because of the terrain of the course you’re required to have a caddy that drives the cart for you. All the courses have pull carts (they call trolleys) they rent for £2 - £5. The trolleys don’t have straps to tie down your bag, which can be an issue when it’s windy. Some of the courses have electric trolleys you can rent for £10 - £15, which do have straps.

Golf

There are a lot of very good golf courses to choose from and we had a great selection of courses. Below is the list of courses we played ranked from most enjoyable to least favorite.

If you plan in advance getting on most courses isn’t a problem. Courses like Muirfield and the Old Course at St Andrews can be a challenge so included some information below for those courses. We were told to bring our handicap certificate. The only course that asked for it was the Old Course at St Andrews so make sure you print and throw your handicap card in your golf bag.

Unlike courses in United States most of the courses don’t have food or drinks at the turn so pack some snacks in your bag. It’s also worth knowing that most courses have great replay offers. The replay isn’t just good for the day you play, but can be 3-7 days from your round. In fact, a couple of our guys played a replay 2 days before we had our tee time at Trump Aberdeen.

We had pretty good weather most of our trip, but when we played Trump Aberdeen it rained hard all day with 30-40 mph winds. Even with the terrible weather, this is really a great golf course and a must play. The course has a nice variety of holes, amazing views and was in good condition. All eight of us agreed this was our favorite course of the ten we played.

We did have a good experience with all our caddies. In fact, my caddy took me up to a special tee box on the 11th hole so I could take some pictures of the course. This was the highest point on the course (see picture above) and has great views. As I mentioned earlier, they do have carts (buggies) but you’re required to have a caddy that drives the cart because of the terrain.

They have a driving range as well as a nice locker room. Playing in the heavy wind and rain, we were soaked so took advantage of the locker room to shower and changed after the round. One tip I would share I learned the hard way is if you’re going to have your phone while you play, make sure you have a water proof bag to put it in. Two of us ended up with ruined iPhone’s from all the rain.

The overall experience at Kingsbarn was the best of all the courses we played. The course is a lot of fun, was in great shape and has some amazing views. This was one of the courses that did have a snack shack at the turn. I don’t know if they always offer it, but they gave us a free shot of whiskey at the turn. The caddies were the best we had at any of the courses so would highly recommend getting one.

This course was a nice surprise and would highly recommend playing. The course layout is a figure 8 that runs along the ocean, goes inland, then back on the ocean, then inland again. I enjoyed how the old stonewall comes into play on a number of the holes. The only draw back is the driving range, which is a 15-20 minute walk each way from the starters shack. The members said they drive over to the range than drive back to the first tee.

The caddies are members of the course and are hit and miss here. They were nice guys and we ended up sharing beers with the members in the clubhouse after the round. This is a course you can play without a caddy since a majority of the holes are right in front of you.

There is so much history here and we really enjoyed this course. The course and greens were in better condition than any of the courses we played. Hole #6 is the only par 5 on the course and is called Hogan’s Alley. Make sure you check out the plaque on the left side of the tee box. The last four holes are as difficult of any finishing holes you’ll see. Before you walk over the bridge on 18, make sure you check out the top of the stone wall and you’ll see Jean Van De Velde name etched in where he lost the Open Championship in 1999.

They don’t have a driving range, but do have nets behind the clubhouse you can hit balls into. They have a nice snack shack at the turn with a lot of drink and food options. With the history and quality of the course, we were surprised how poor the caddies were.

We started our trip at Cruden Bay and it was a good first round of golf. The course was a lot of fun as you play through sand dunes the beginning of the round, and then have a great stretch of holes (13-16) along the sea. Hole #4 is considered one of the hardest par 3’s in Scotland. The tee box on #10 is high above the course and has great views in all directions.

They do have a driving range. The caddies were pretty good, but if you hit a nice drive on the par 5, hole #6, don’t let the caddies talk you into laying up. There is a creek in front of the green, but there is a lot of room to the right.

We had high winds and rain when we played Royal Aberdeen. The rough was high and with the weather conditions this was a difficult course and made it almost impossible to find your ball if you didn’t hit the fairway. Even with the conditions, I really like the layout and there are some great holes. Royal Aberdeen has one of the best front nines, is a great test of golf and very picturesque. If you’re going to be in Aberdeen, this should be on your must play list.

They don’t have a driving range. This is a course where a caddy giving you the right lines will help you score. Most of the caddies we had were pretty good.

We had only planned to play the New Course, but ended up playing 36 holes so played Julibee in the afternoon. Jubilee was much better than the New Course and while the Old Course has the history and is a must play, I thought Julibee was a better golf course. The back nine is a great layout with some tough finishing holes.

You might be surprised that out of the 10 courses we played, I rated the Old Course as number 8. This is a very special place and the history is unlike any other so from that perspective it is #1. This is a bucket list course and I’m sure the more you play it, the more it reveals itself. However, other than a few holes it wasn’t that impressive. My caddie was a +2 handicap and was probably one of the best caddies I had during our trip.

The big question is how do you get a tee time. If you check the St Andrews Links website you’ll see tee times are booked in August for the next year and 2017 is already booked. One option is to use a tour company that secured Old Course tee times to book your trip. You’ll likely pay more for your trip, but you be guaranteed a tee time. The other option is the Daily Ballot system or what they call the Old Course Lottery.

You can enter the ballot online, by calling or in person. To enter the ballot you will need each golfers name, home golf clubs and their handicaps. The ballot closes 2 days before the day you want to play so if you want to play on a Friday you’ll have to submit your ballot before 2pm on Wednesday. The results will be available by 4pm the day you submit your ballot. Click on: St Andrews to go to the website to see all the details on how to enter: 

Be aware there is no golf on Sunday. The course is closed and becomes a public park. We played in October when it was suppose to be easier to get a tee time, but the three times we submitted our ballot we didn’t get selected. Your last option is to show up at the Old Pavilion on the day you want to play and put your name on a list. It’s based on first come first serve so you’ll need to get there early. Because we had 8 in our group and it was our last day, we showed up at midnight and had decided to wait all night. Around 1:30am two other golfers showed up and each hour after that more golfers showed up. By 7:30am when the staff arrived there were over 30 golfers waiting. We didn’t get to play together but our group did get tee times between 8am and 1:30pm. If you plan to show up looking for a tee time, one tip is to check the ballot results for the day you want to play. You’ll see how many open spots are available. This isn’t a guarantee but gives you a sense for how good your chances are. The day we waited there were 9 open slots and by the time they opened the doors there were only 7 available so our last guy had to wait an additional four hours and did end up getting out. There were only 12 of the 30 golfers that ended up getting tee times that day.


Our group camping out all night to be first in line to play the Old Course.

Our group camping out all night to be first in line to play the Old Course.

One of the reasons we booked our trip a year in advance was to play Muirfield. They have limited tee times as guests can only play on Tuesdays or Thursdays. You need to have a handicap of 18 or less and you can only book as a foursome. You should also be aware you need to book a morning tee time if you want to play your own ball. The afternoon tee times are for alternate shot play.

I was excited about playing Muirfield, but the overall experience left me disappointed. Those in our group that didn’t like Muirfield all really liked Carnoustie. Those that didn’t like Carnoustie really liked Muirfield. The history and stories at Murifield are great, but the course isn’t very picturesque as it sits in the middle of a field. It is a great test of golf and maybe why so many rate it as a high as they do. If you want to score at Murifield stay out of the bunkers and don’t miss the fairway. The rough is high and thick, which makes it difficult to advance the ball. In my group one of our caddies was very good, but the other three were not.

They do have a nice driving range and practice area. If you want to experience the clubhouse you’ll need a coat and tie. There is no pro shop so if you want to purchase any branded merchandise you’ll need to stop by the Gullane Pro Shop in the neighboring town.

The oldest ‘new’ course in the world, the second course at the Home of Golf was built by the Tom Morris in 1895. I have seen reviews talking about this being a hidden gem or a test of golf. I wouldn’t agree with either and it was by far my least favorite course. If you had a choice, I would play Jubilee or even Eden over the New course. There was a couple interesting holes, but not much else.

Clothing / Footwear

There is an old Scottish saying: “There's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes”. Regardless of the time of year you should expect some wind and rain. We had 2 terrible weather days, but the rest of our trip was decent golf weather. You’ll need the obvious things like rain pants and clothes you can layer. If the wind comes up wear a stocking cap or beanie and leave a baseball hat in the car. I wouldn’t bother bringing a golf umbrella. With the wind and rain it would destroy your umbrella in a couple of holes. You should bring extra socks and I was really glad I brought two pairs of golf shoes. After the rain we had, it took a couple days for one pair of shoes to dry out.

Restaurants

We enjoyed all the places we ate so wanted to highlight a few you should consider.

Aberdeen

If you are in Aberdeen, you should stop by Soul. The food was good, but it is the venue that makes this place interesting. It’s a 140 year old church that was converted to a restaurant & casino. I would also recommend the Marcliffe Hotel. The breakfasts and dinner we had there were very good.

St Andrews

The Road Hole Bar – there are awesome views on the top floor and they have over 200 single malts so a nice place to stop in for a drink.

Golfers Corner Pub at the Dunvegan hotel. The walls and ceilings are covered in pictures of the history of golf, including pictures of the Open Champions on the Old Course since 1873.

The Adamson - We had a lot of good meals, but this was our favorite place. The food and experience was very good.

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