The Top-5 "other" courses to play on St. Andrews, Scotland golf vacations

Kingsbarns is one of the St. Andrews golf courses that must be played while on Scotland golf vacations. (Courtesy of Kingsbarns Golf Links)

Nothing increases interest in Scotland golf vacations quite like the hosting of the British Open on St. Andrews' Old Course, which is exactly what's happening tomorrow.

If you, too, think this could get you going (or going back) to the Home of Golf, you should know there are a bunch of "kick yourself" courses less than 30 minutes away from the Old Course, everybody's first choice. 

"Kick yourself" courses are those that cause the aforementioned action if you fail to play them when you have the chance.

Here are my top five among St. Andrews golf courses, listed by approximate time (in minutes) from the Old Course:

2 minutes - After the Old Course, the next "must play" member of the Links Trust septet is the Castle Course, quite frankly because David McLay Kidd of Bandon Dunes fame was allowed to fully express his design ideas here, too. Some of those ideas (i.e., rough-covered fairway moundings and severe greens) have been toned down, taking some of the frustration out of what is an exciting experience.

4 minutes - Just two miles inland from here, you'll find the parkland-style Duke's Course, which is part of the Old Course Hotel. The layout was designed by five-time British Open champion Peter Thompson in 1995, but revised by Pete Dye's former associate, Tim Liddy. The Duke's Course is big golf - 7,512 yards from the championship tees (there are four other sets), broad fairways, large greens, and sweeping vistas of town and sea.

10 minutes - Just south of St. Andrews is Kingsbarns Golf Links, created by two Californians: Kyle Phillips and Mark Parsinen. And I do mean created. Aside from the setting beside the North Sea, Mother Nature had essentially no hand in this natural-looking links course, complete with dunes of various sizes, wrinkled fairways, a plethora of humps, hillocks and hollows, and cunning rough-cloaked mesas.

24 minutes - Continuing down the coast, you'll come to Crail Golfing Society. If its Balcomie Links is true, holiday golf, its sister course, Craighead Links is true championship golf. Like Kingsbarns, it is the work of an American, Gil Hanse, and its look is similar to the mighty Muirfield: it sits high above the sea, with fairways framed by thigh-high, golden-beige native fescue. This par-71 layout is studded with outstanding holes, particularly in the final cluster.

25 minutes - On a southwest diagonal from the Old Course (and conveniently connected to it by the A915 road) is Lundin Golf Club, dating back to 1868. It features one of the best opening holes you will ever experience, and the fun doesn't stop there. In fact, for pure excitement and entertainment, no course in Scotland eclipses Lundin.

There you have it: the five St. Andrews golf courses (within 30 minutes of the Old Course) you must not miss while on Scotland golf vacations.

Here's one more tip: the epic Carnoustie Golf Links (seven-time host of the British Open) can often be included in this group. Despite being 45 miles north of the Old Course, and often taking at least as many minutes to reach, the trip can be done in 30 minutes at the right time of day, namely, after 8:30 am or before 4:30 pm.

Fair warming: even if you make the effort to play Carnoustie (lovingly nicknamed "Car-nasty") on your St. Andrews, Scotland golf vacation, you may still get a kick in the rump.

The course itself will see to that.

Is your top-5 list of courses to play in St. Andrews (after the Old Course and within 30 minutes of it) different than mine? Please share your comments below.

Craig Better is one of the founding editors of Golf Vacation Insider. In addition to traveling to 15 foreign countries, he has twice traveled across America to play golf courses in all 50 United States. Prior to joining Golf Vacation Insider, Craig was a freelance writer who contributed to GOLF Magazine, Travel + Leisure Golf, Maxim Magazine,, and co-authored Zagat Survey’s book, America’s Top Golf Courses.
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The one thing that no one mentioned as it relates to the Castle Course is that when Kingsbarns first opened, their greens were very much “tricked up” as well. Maturity and a well placed spade will help the Castle Course come into its own in time as one of the finest in the area.

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I went to Scottland last April with my dad. I have thought about it everyday since getting home. We stayed in St Andrews at a B@B called Glennderren. The service and hospitality were excellent. The whole town was wonderfull, the food was great, the people were kind, and the beer was the best I have ever tasted. We played Leven links the first day. I think it was the perfect course to get our feet wet with. It was links golf with plenty of wind coming off the sea, but not too hard, and an easy walk. We were supposed to play Scottscraig the second day but got on the Old Course through the ballot. The Old Course was better than I dreamed it would be. On the first tee the starter told me to stay left all day - great advice. We played in the morning without a caddie, so we had to carry our own.(no pull carts in morning) I was thinking of shooting in the 70's coming off a birdie on #16, and hitting a perfect drive on #17. I then found the road hole bunker, then I found the road. It was the best 9 I've ever had. We then played Ellie, Crail, and Lunden. Our favorite was Crail - super fun course. The only one we didn't like alot was Ellie. Our only regret was not playing Kingsbarn. The locals all consider it the best. I suggest getting into good walking shape, these courses are not all easy to walk.

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Never played in Scotland, buy taking my dad who just played pebble Beach.

1. Pitlochry, pga gleneagles and Glen


2. Castle course, eden and Glen
almost same price. If no 2 I can't decide between castle Or The torrance.

any help? Thanks

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Just came back from trip to Scotland. Carnousite -imho - is the best golf course I have ever seen or played. I have played about 20 of the top 100 and it is easily the best of all of those - if you are there play it twice as it is that much better than everything else in Scotland.

The Castle Course is terrific from tee to green. The views are spectacular. The greens are severe and is difficult for anyone who cannot control their golf ball.

Kingsbarns is very nice - great golf course. You will have played similar in America.

I made the trip down to East Lothian to play Renaissance, Gullane #1 and North Berwick. All terrific courses and very very different. Gullane #1 was terrific. The views were just awesome. The course is difficult but very fair. And it is hilly. they had just held the Scottish Amateur so the rough/fescue/hay was very difficult. Gullane #1 will be a Qualifying Course for the Open before Muirfield.

North Berwick is just awesome. If you love golf course architecture this is the course you must play. The original Redan is here. They have a Biarritz style green that Mickelson 5 putted as an amateur in Open qualifying. All the blind shots you get at a Raynor/Macdonald style course are here. this is a must play!

Commented on

The one thing that no one mentioned as it relates to the Castle Course is that when Kingsbarns first opened, their greens were very much "tricked up" as well. Maturity and a well placed spade will help the Castle Course come into its own in time as one of the finest in the area.

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I've been to Scotland 4 times since 2001, and if I had my way I would play nowhere else for the rest of my life. Obviously St. Andrews Old Course is the mecca. After that there are so many wonderful choices, you cant go wrong, but I would recommend sticking to the more mature courses that so many of the other responders have alluded to. My favorite at St Andrews other than the Old is the Jubilee- its tighter, less exposed than Old or New and easy to book. Muirfield and Carnoustie are musts. Gullane is awesome. No matter where you play, try at all costs to use caddies- it will enhance your Scottish experience immensely. And dont forget to have a drink at Dunvegan's after the 18th at the Old Course.
Play Away !!

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Was in Scotland three years ago and will be returning in three weeks. First trip - Royal Dornoch, Brora, Cruden Bay, Crail Balcomie, New and Old courses.
This year I will stay only in St. Andrews and definitely will play Kingsbarns, The Castle Course, Old course (twice), New course, and Fairmont's Kittocks (which has carts for my, by then, sore 71 year old feet). Balcomie was not worth repeating and I will dearly miss returning to Cruden Bay. If you can take in the Highlands, do play Royal Dornoch, Brora and, most definitely, Cruden Bay. That course is the best of the bunch in my opinion.

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I disagree with several of the courses listed as top five. Kingsbarns is an excellent course but very high cost. The Dukes Course is just a Parkland course and I can not see going to the land of links golf to play a parkland course. I agree that the Balcomie Links and Craighead are excellent choices and a good price. Same can be said for Lundin (mentioned) but a course just over a rock wall from Lundin is the Leven course which should not be missed. While you are in St. Andrews there are two other course run by the Links Trust that should not be missed: the New Course and the Jubilee course at St. Andrews. They are right next to the Old Course and on most days in a bit better shape than the Old because they get a bit less play. Therefore besides the Old Course, my top five would be: the New, Jubilee, Balcomie Links, Lundin/Leven and Craighead. In addition, there are many, many other course within short driving distance of St. Andrews. You will enjoy the Kingdom of Fife.

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The key at Castle is not to let the greens ruin what is otherwise an amazing golf course. I would say for the average golfer the greens aren't quite so bad. I think they are worse for the low handicapper golfer because some severely limit your ability to make a good approach to the pin. A course should make it hard to put it close to the pin but not nearly impossible.

But back to my main point. Look beyond the handful of tricked up greens and enjoy the course. I absolutely loved it.

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I would agree about Castle, and Crail, while somewhat artificial, do look remarkably well belonged. Most links courses do not have true ocean hazards like Pebble Beach, although the above have a few holes that do. St A "New" is always a good bet and in fact what the locals prefer most of the time. Has the same feel, just not as famous. The other 3, eh, so-so. Definately try both Champ and Burnside 18's at Carnoustie, make a whole day of it and grab dinner at the Carnoustie club afterward,(not the hotel),as the atmosphere from the starter to the servers is fantastic and definately great value for the $$ right now. The only knock against St Andrews at all is it no longer has direct train service, you have to cab to Cupars to catch it, and by the way, there is little need to drive in Scotland if it worries you, the trains are great, run every 20-30 mins or so, and the local short trips are as little as 5-10 $ L and guess what, many train stations in Scotland are right beside the golf course....examples...Troon, Prestwick, Carnoustie, Berwick (really a fun time, sleeper world top 100 course) Dunbar, etc. but driving on main roads is not bad's inside the cities and on some of the back roads, they are very narrow! If you are planning a trip go this fall or at least next year, prices are reasonable and the dollar vs pound has never been better. At least in Scotland you can train and cab Ireland you simply have to drive there is no choice if you want to get to the courses. I also recommend in all but an Open year, stay right in St Andrews at a B&B, some as little as 35L$ ($55 ) for at least a couple of nights...the town is wonderfull. Then get to Edinburgh, take about 3 days there, your wife will love it, and High St. is fantastic to walk up and down , gazillions of pubs, restuarants, etc, and amazing haunted tours at night! stay on the 'Royal Mile' near Waverly train station and then play Berwick, Dunbar, Gullane #1, and try to book 2 -some at Muirfield the best links in the world according to Tom Watson (and I would concur) All except Muirfield are fairly easy to book and get to by train as well as cab.
Thats my advice, I've been twice last two years, hope to go back in 2012.

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The Top-5 "other" courses to play on St. Andrews, Scotland golf vacations