Follow golf history on the new Old Tom Morris Trail in Scotland

Scottish tour operator Bonnie Wee Golf has put together a collection of some of the oldest and most memorable links courses in the world.
Askernish, a links on the Isle of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides, is the opening stop on the Old Tom Morris Trail in Scotland.

Old Tom Morris is without a doubt the most influential golfer in the history of the game.

Now you can follow in his legendary footsteps while making a lifetime of memories all your own.

Bonnie Wee Golf, a Scottish tour operator, launched the Old Tom Morris Trail earlier this year, selecting 18 links with ties to Old Tom Morris to visit. They range from legendary links like The Old Course at St. Andrews, host of the 150th Open Championship, and Prestwick Golf Club, site of the first Open in 1860, to less-heralded outposts such as Cullen, Luffness New and Montrose. Old Tom Morris was the keeper of the greens at both Prestwick and St. Andrews and left his architectural imprint on dozens of courses in Scotland and Ireland.

David Harris, the director and tour manager of Bonnie Wee Golf, said he came up with the idea last year when the St. Andrews Links Trust announced it would celebrate the 200th birthday of Old Tom on June 16, 2021. Harris had to get permission from the Links Trust to use Old Tom's image and likeness to create and market the trail. Commemorative coins representing all 18 stops can be collected while traveling with Bonnie Wee or bought by anybody playing these historic courses.

“We are trying to bring Old Tom back to life," Harris said. "I’m learning a lot myself about him. We've had good feedback. The thought of following Old Tom is an exciting thing to do."

Golfers who play an courses on the Old Tom Morris Trail can collect commemorative coins.

The Logistics of the Old Tom Morris Trail

The conventional thinking for the most enjoyable golf trip to Scotland is to pick a region - St. Andrews in the east, Ayrshire to the west, The Highlands to the north or East Lothian to the south - and stick to it. But where's the adventure, the romance, in that?

Stephen Proctor, a golf historian from Florida who wrote a book on Young Tom Morris, is the first person to complete the trail. He was hired by Bonnie Wee Golf to create video content and stories about the journey. He did it over a month's time in June, starting at Machrihanish on the remote Mull of Kintyre and finishing at Carnoustie Golf Links near St. Andrews. Proctor said he enjoyed the friendly people and the stunning Scottish landscapes almost as much as the golf. He logged more than 300,000 steps walking the ancient links.

"Obviously, the golf is amazing," he said. "You see so much of the Scottish landscape, by plane, by ferry, by car. It is a beautiful, beautiful country."

The Old Tom Morris Trail traverses Scotland to find the best links with ties to one of golf's iconic figures.

Although the entire trail can be completed in roughly two weeks for ambitious travelers, most golfers will want to bite off a chunk at a time. Harris said the trail was designed with six three-course loops, so that golfers can combine at least two of them for a week-long golf vacation featuring half a dozen courses.

I actually traveled with Bonnie Wee Golf in 2015, playing a handful of the Old Tom Morris courses in the Highlands before there was a trail - Tain, Nairn and Royal Dornoch, plus Cruden Bay in Aberdeenshire. It was one of my favorite trips of all time. You can read about it here.

A carving of Old Tom Morris greets golfers at Tain Golf Club.

The trail's biggest outlier - and perhaps its most treasured reward - is Askernish, a "lost" Old Tom Morris links on the Isle of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides that was revived in 2008 after lying dormant for decades. Proctor said it's one of the most spectacular destinations he's ever seen.

"The dunes were striking and overpowering," he said. "It's a pretty windswept landscape. It is as close as you can get to the condition and state of the greens as the golf Tom would have played when he was laying out these courses. They don’t use irrigation. It is that sort of wild golfing landscape that you might find in 1891."

Hard as it might be to believe, but the joy of playing an Open Championship links like Muirfield can sometimes pale in comparison to the wonder of discovering an unheralded gem like Crail or Dunbar.

"The thing I thought was interesting: Most people go to Scotland, they are in the mode of playing the top 100 courses in the world," Proctor said. "They miss a lot when they do that. This trail takes you to wonderful, basic Scottish golf. It's less expensive, but there's more joy in that challenge."

For more, visit the trail's website.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,100 courses and written about golf destinations in 25 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

This idea has great merit. Just as one example of many courses that fall under the radar in the Kingdom of Fife, there is Lundin Golf Course. The late, great James W. Finegan wrote about it, among others, glowingly and lyrically in his “Blasted Heaths and Blessed Greens”--subtilted “A Golfer’s Pilgrimage to the Course of Scotland.” I played it in 2018, and it stacks up well to the three, far more well-known Scottish courses I played in the most distant past; Nairn, North Berwick, and Royal Dornoch. These are all “list” courses, e.g., they’re on the current Golf Magazine list of the top in the 100 U.K. But what is the top 100 but merely a panel’s idea of the “best” (?) And in Scotland, with so many fabulous courses throughout the country, the “best” on the lists are finally subjective.

I wish more Americans would not worry so much about lists and follow the lead of this article. They will find no less enjoyment in what they experience outside of the top 100, and they won’t fight the crowds. Saving some money should also be a welcome bonus.

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Follow golf history on the new Old Tom Morris Trail in Scotland