The List: Why a Great Britain & Ireland itinerary should include more than links

Don't make the mistake of only seeing the coastal side of golf in the old country
The 9th hole on the King's Course at The Gleneagles Hotel in Auchterarder, Scotland.

Pure links golf courses are rare. So much so that whenever golfers have the opportunity to visit Great Britain & Ireland, where the vast majority of them are located, their itineraries are geared towards and many times exclusively centered on seaside courses.

That's a shame, because you don't need to play golf by the sea to enjoy the best golf in the isles.

Inland golf in the U.K. is in the spotlight in September, thanks to a thrilling Solheim Cup at Gleneagles that concluded Sunday, and now the European Tour's BMW PGA Championship takes place this week at Wentworth Golf Club near London.

Wentworth is private, but Gleneagles is one of the ultimate five-star golf resorts in the world despite the fact you can't see or smell any salt water. The estate, about an hour's drive inland from St. Andrews, makes a pretty strong case for bringing your group to Perthshire. They have 54 gorgeous holes both old and new, plus a legendary breakfast buffet and a whole lot more on the grounds (even a pitch 'n putt on the lawn).

For this week's edition of The List, here are five reasons why it'd be downright bone-headed to not add at least one inland course to your "links golf vacation" to the isles. For each reason I've also included a favorite course I've enjoyed that personifies it.

  1. Similar architects, philosophies
    View of Boat of Garten in the Scottish Highlands, designed by James Braid.

    Many of the heathland courses play on rumbling turf where the ground game is very much alive, and they were designed by top classic architects like James Braid who also played a big part in the progression of links golf in the early 1900s. Conditions-wise, it should also be mentioned that these clubs want to be just as firm as their links neighbors. There is far less of a "green is better" mindset here. When I visited a handful of inland courses near Carnoustie during the extremely dry 2018 summer, members and staff weren't ashamed of their brown fairways - they were beaming with pride. The same went for my visit in 2013 as inland courses like Boat of Garten had plenty of spring in the turf.

    Tucker's pick:

    Boat of Garten, Inverness-shire

  2. A chance to hit the reset button
    The par-3 14th hole during the afternoon fourball matches at The Carrick on Loch Lomond on September 19, 2009 in Dumbarton, Scotland.

    Links courses are not only generally windy and can lead to some swing habits, but playing these more featureless horizons might also have consequences on your alignment. An ideal itinerary would place a calmer, inland course in the middle of it to give any players in your group a chance to reset their swing. Inland clubs typically have more land to work with than links land and can often include a practice area, short course or even a driving range.

    Tucker's pick:

    Loch Lomond, West Dunbartonshire

  3. They may be more convenient

    If you want to spend a night or two in a city center for better hotels, attractions and restaurants, chances are there will be more parkland and heathland options within an easy drive compared to the more remote links courses on the coast. Stay in a hub like London or Belfast and you'll be close to a collection of inland standouts. Don't miss out.

    Tucker's pick:

    Belfast, County Antrim

  4. Scenery different, but the same

    Regardless if you're in a little seaside fishing village amongst dunes or in an inland town in the hills, the GB&I landscape is all similarly gorgeous, void of the sprawling, endless suburbs you find in the U.S. Vistas from parkland and heathland courses feature mountains, lochs, and the sound of nearby livestock. As you saw on TV during the Solheim, Auchterarder's Perthshire hillsides seem like a painting.

    Tucker's pick:

    Auchterarder, Perthshire

  5. You won't be around so many (if any) fellow tourists at the club
    Solitude at Dundee's Downfield Golf Club.

    When you visit the famous links clubs you're going to be among many overseas tourist groups and coach buses. That's generally not the case when you pop into an inland club which has more locals or regional clientele. The odds increase you'll meet or be paired up with locals, which certainly brings some authenticity to the experience.

    Great welcome by the shop staff, the course is absolutely stunning and I mean stunning, lovely fairways and great greens, I paired up with a member and he was very friendly and had great knowledge of the course, I can’t wait to return a hidden inland gem of a golf course
    - Stevenfletcher1976, review of Downfield Golf Club

    Tucker's pick:

    Dundee, Dundee City

Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.
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Commented on

Having been to Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland, we started looking for different places to play. One course we had previously been to, Gracehill, had their annual Captain's tournament the day we could play it. After emailing the course directly, telling them we had played there a time or two in the past, they agreed to set a tee time for us at the end of the allotted tee times for the tournament. As we were coming in on the 18th green, the Captain invited us up to the clubroom for the annual party that follows the tournament - free drinks are always welcome by anyone, anytime. We wouldn't have experienced that if we were on the total tourist path of courses.

Commented on

Hi Mr. Tucker,

This is a very intelligent piece, well researched and incisive. Your choices for representative Isles courses were spot-on: I especially liked Gleneagles Kings and Boat of Garten. I was astonished to find that one respondent was rather cavalierly dismissive of Gleneagles Kings as the ‘right’ choice for a Braid layout; he should know that Braid himself was pretty well sold on his own creation. As the great British writer Nick Edmund wrote in 2000, “Braid himself regarded the eighteen-hole King’s Course as the crowning achievement of his career.” And let’s not forget that the likes of Trevino and Faldo, along with and virtually the entire British press, have placed this course on a high pedestal. Boat of Garten, on the other hand, is that kind of less assuming course that has nonetheless gleaned attention in many corners, not the least of which is a #10 ranking in “The Top 10 Courses Under £100 in Great Britain,” as assessed by National Club Golfer, the UK’s highest-circulating golf title. On two recent trips to Ireland, England, and Scotland, I played a total of five links courses, and two heathland/parklands. I hardly regretted playing the latter; nor did my son, who toured them with me. I’ll do the same thing on my next trip to the UK. Readers should pay close attention to your advice, rather than nit-picking some of the figurative language in your writing. Ireland, in particular, is loaded with affordable heathland/parkland gems--and many are modern.

Commented on

Thank you for the thoughtful reply!

I recall reading in A Spirit of St. Andrews that MacKenzie himself was very dismissive of Gleneagles. I was floored when I read that, considering how vividly I recalled many of those holes. Bold features there for sure.

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Hi Brandon
So glad you highlighted the magnificent heathland and parkland courses in Ireland & UK.
Check out Ring of Kerry G.C, a unique costal location offering the best in golf with sand based fairways, USGA greens and outstanding scenery.

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I work in the golf industry and I am lucky to travel world wide. Hidden gems places the locals play abound everywhere. Take time to look at the various guides, rankings. If your budget is boundless pay the premiums asked by the big courses but I can bet you somewhere nearby there is another track that will be far more fulfilling in the reality of what golf is about. Do the research, location, age, golf architect, lay out and history. The ‘named’ clubs have it taped wherever you go in the world they are lined up for the golf tourists and ready to empty your pocket. Plan your trip spoil yourself once then get into the real world of the club golf.
You will find them welcoming, great places to play and interested in YOU. Enjoy.

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we went to Ireland 4 times...…..we did the name courses with a tour group the fist time...……..the second I did my self online, great unknown course...…...the 3rd was the same...……..the last was a mix of Links courses plus Heathland and Midland course, we played 96,000 yards of golf it was great and played courses nobody knows but us and the adventurers , stayed in nice hotels and mingled with the real people of Ireland...……..made a lot of great friends...……...I recommend to thoughs who wish to play real gof of Ireland

Commented on

Isn't it a bit judgmental and "downright bone-headed" itself, not to mention insulting, to call folks "downright bone-headed" for choosing to not play heathland and parkland courses on, for many, their "trip of a life-time"?? I generally agree with you totally that there are many fine "inland" courses, of which Gleneagles courses are not in my book as the King's is not Braid's finest work and I will refrain further comment on the rest as "great" modern designs are a dime-a-dozen. I've been fortunate and played many of the great heathland/parkland tracks once since I lived there for years but I still play 100% links when I return every year as that's why one goes there and where it all started. Put another way, the Brits and Irish generally don't go to FL to play faux links like Streamsong. I respect your right to have your opinion but please don't insult those of us who prefer our Saunton's over the Ganton's in our limited time. And Ganton is a great course!

Commented on

understood. thanks for sharing.

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The List: Why a Great Britain & Ireland itinerary should include more than links