Highlights of First Non-Golf Trip to Scotland

We have planned many golf trips to Scotland, but recently were asked to help with a post-Olympics jaunt to Inverness.

Here are the highlights from our travellers:



Falconry at Dunrobin Castle

"We absolutely loved Dunrobin Castle and the falconry.  I'm sure you've gotten this comment before.  It was so interesting as well as entertaining.  Fish & chips lunch at Trawler's was also perfect, great choice.  It was also nice to visit this area (more desolate) first, before heading to Inverness.

Falls of Shin

The Falls of Shin was absolutely worth visiting.  Not only did we get to see a few leaping salmon, the entire place was amazing to see--so beautiful, peaceful.

Biking Loch Ness

The bike ride to Loch Ness and back was spectacular and one of our most favorite things of the trip.  We took the side roads (per the map and the guy at the shop) to and from, both paths amazingly beautiful.

We actually spent 4 hours and the cost for the hybrid bikes were 15 pounds per bike (30 pounds for 4 hours, not 40 pounds for 3 hours).

We also ended up not doing lunch at Castle Tavern, but did a late lunch at The Dores right on the lake, which we really enjoyed, and got a beer late afternoon at the Castle Tavern (great place too).

Cullodon Battlefield was very interesting, glad we stopped.

The Glenmoriston was a great choice and the room overlooking the canal was perfect.  Mustard Seed was also great for us, we got seated upstairs with a view.

bedroom overlooking river.jpg

The topper for our trip was Boath House.  How beautiful!  We got upgraded to room 3 (probably thanks to your connections) and it was a stunning room - basically most of the back of the house facing the pond.  Huge room and huge bathroom.  We walked the gardens, we got in the row boat and rowed around the pond.  The dinner was spectacular, we ate way too much but relished every bite.  The only bad thing was that we hated to leave.

So, maybe too much detail, but we wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed our time.  You have certainly become our new favorite travel expert.  We will definitely be contacting you for our next one.  By the way, do you know much about Patagonia?  Macchu Pichu?"

Old Course, St. Andrews, Scotland

The Old Course, every golfer's Mecca.

With an interest in golf architecture, I've always been intrigued, when reading the Old Course described as having been "designed by God".  Therefore, it seems appropriate to describe the journey as a pilgrimage and the experience as religious.

It did not come easy. As a twosome on a Monday in April, we expected no trouble to win the daily ballot, but we were sadly mistaken. This meant a 5:30am wake-up call to line-up at the starter's hut to sign up for the walk-on list. Arriving at 6am, we were number 7 & 8 in line.

They asked us for our name, home club and a handicap card, the only course thus far on our trip to request one.  The maximum handicap for a male golfer is 24.  My Dad's handicap index is 24.9 and when converted to a handicap it comes out as a 27, so we strategically folded the paper above the handicap, only displaying the index.  The starter read it, looked at us, paused and said, "this is the max, but you're okay." We were relieved indeed.

We went back to the hotel for a rest, came back at the suggested time of 9:30am and luckily we were off by 10:10am with a couple of nice guys from California. The day could not have been better. 

It is often difficult to judge a course and the overall golfing experience independant of your score.  Fortunately, I had my best round of the week, making a special round even more fun.

For the entire round, one experiences a unique feeling, an awareness of walking in the footsteps of history.

A very special day indeed.

The rising sun bouncing off Rusacks hotel at 6am

In front of the starter's hut on the first tee

Looking back on the 1st hole, offering a generous fairway for nervous tee shots

Pete had to go backwards twice on one hole to get out of the bunkers

Tee shot from the 18th over 100 years ago

The same tee shot - April 2011

The perfunctory Swilcan Bridge shot on the 18th


on 2011-07-13 15:55 by Travel Impresarios

The deadline for applying for 2012 Old Course Tee Times is Wednesday September 7 at 10am BST

Royal Golf Hotel, Dornoch, Scotland

Located a mere 50 yards from the first tee at Royal Dornoch is the Royal Golf Hotel.

A classic hotel with a long history as the spot to stay in Dornoch, the hotel closed in 2006 after its parent company (Swallow Group) went bankrupt.  Entrepreneur Peter de Savary, who once owned Skibo Castle, where he founded the Carnegie Club, immediately bought the hotel with plans to turn it into a top luxury resort.

Two years later, with the hotel untouched, de Savary's plans changed and the hotel was sold to local investors.  The investors spent £9m to refurbish the hotel and return it to its former glory, as a perfect little four-star golf hotel.

The lead investor, Grant Sword is also a director of Castle Stuart Golf Links, so there is a marketing connection between the Highlands newest golf course and the restored Royal Golf Hotel.

Royal Dornoch is a must-play on every Highlands golf trip, and Royal Golf Hotel is the perfect complement for a two-night stay.

The entrance of the hotel

There are two suites, this is one of them

The proverbial "Room with a View"

Hanging from the ceiling of the bar are bag tags from around the world

The dining room appropriately set for tables of 8 overlooking the course

This shot illustrates how close the hotel is to the first hole

The view of the hotel from the first hole

Royal Dornoch

Located an hour north of Inverness, Dornoch is a long trek, a good four hours from Edinburgh and St. Andrews.  Dornoch is so far north that it is on the same latitude as Juneau, Alaska.

Due to its location, Royal Dornoch is often overlooked by people planning an inaugural golf trip to Scotland. But that is a big mistake, as this is golf at its purest. The club was formally founded in 1877, but there is record of golf being played at Dornoch since 1616 and it doesn't feel as though it has changed much since then.

It is a classic nine holes out and nine holes back layout, where the wind is your friend for half your round and your foe for the other half.  Especially memorable is the 401-yard 16th hole, up hill and directly into the wind.  This makes for a very long hole and forces one to be creative by keeping the ball low to the ground and using the hard links fairway to get the requisite yardage off the tee. For North Americans, this is a different game, fun and creative golf.

This course is a real treat that one never tires of, even inspiring Lorne Rubenstein, The Globe and Mail golf columnist to spend three months there in the summer of 2000. At the end of his stay, he wrote a book entitled "A Season in Dornoch" about his experience. It is a great read about both golf and life in the Highlands.

At this point in our trip, this is our favourite course.

Next posting: Royal Golf Hotel, located 50 yds from Royal Dornoch's first tee.

The flags represent the nationalities of the guests at the club, a nice welcome

The front of the scorecard

Hole #2, a par-3 that Tom Watson called the hardest 2nd shot on the course

Highest point of the course offers a great view

It is either long arms or hit it backwards

Bunker on the right, swale on the left and a green sloping downhill, a delicate putt

The golfer looks like he is putting from the edge of the cliff

Our caddy Hamish, a 52-year member who knew a thing or two about the course

Castle Stuart

Most people journey to Scotland to play the established traditional links courses, but the newest kid on the block is bringing them back to Scotland.

Castle Stuart opened last year to great fanfare, as it is the second ambitious project by Mark Parsinen, the visionary behind Kingsbarns near St. Andrews. Located just outside of Inverness and minutes from the airport, Castle Stuart is the latest must-play course in the Highlands.

With a decidedly American approach, Parsinen teamed up with Gil Hanse to build a course that is designed to send golfers home with a smile.

The generous fairways mean most tee shots provide an approach from the short stuff. Almost every green has the gorgeous backdrop of the Moray Firth, which often includes Fort George, the Chanonry Lighthouse or the Kessock Bridge.  Yet my favourite view is looking down 130 feet at the starting holes.

The beautiful art deco clubhouse, the service-oriented bag drop-off and conveniently located driving range together give the course a modern feel.

This is Scottish links from an American's POV, which means great seaside sandy-based terrain combined with the level of service one finds at home.

Lastly, Loch Lomond declined the Barclays Scottish Open this year, opening up an opportunity for Castle Stuart to host the tournament. Traditionally held the week before The Open, the return to a links course should attract a few more North Americans looking for a warm-up before Royal St. Georges in July.  Many are curious to see how the course stands up to the pros as they tackle Scotland newest great course at 7400 yards from the championship tees.

Next up: Royal Dornoch


on 2011-08-19 13:57 by Travel Impresarios

The World Rankings for 2011 were just released and Castle Stuart made its debut at #56.

Check it out - Golf Magazine's World Rankings

Royal Aberdeen

Our second round of the trip is at the esteemed Royal Aberdeen, the 6th oldest golf club in the world. Founded in 1780, it was not until 1903 that King Edward VII bestowed the Royal title. It has a long storied history including the institution of the "Five Minute Rule" -five minutes max to search for stray golf balls, which is way too long when playing in April, since the varied, primarily fescue and marram grasses are still young.

It is a classic links course high above the east coast of the North Sea. Nine holes out and nine holes back of bumpy and unpredictable hard fairways. Shot selection and placement are critical to scoring well.

The course was in excellent condition as there has been special attention paid to it, as the club gears up to be host the Walker Cup this September.

Next up: Castle Stuart

Welcome to Royal Aberdeen

Great first hole hitting towards North Sea and & oil maintenance boats

An example of the bumpy and unpredictable fairways

Tee shot at #7

Pete and our caddy, Ewan pose on the sand dunes high above the Sea

Remnants of the old railway protect the 15th green

The gorse is at its most brilliant yellow in the spring

Standing on the 16th tee box

The approach at 18 with the clubhouse standing watch

Aberdeen, Scotland

Scotland's third city was our first on our trip. We spent three nights in Aberdeen, which was easily accessible with a flight from Amsterdam, a nice alternative to flying into Glasgow or Edinburgh and driving for 3 hours. The Granite City, really should be known as Oil City now as North Sea oil means direct flights from Dubai and Texan accents in the bars. It also means money in the city and money needs great hotels. There are two to choose from and they could not be more different: Marcliffe Hotel and Spa and Malmaison.

Marcliffe is a warm, comfortable five-star country hotel that sits on 11 acres a few minutes outside of the city core. The rooms are properly outfitted in a classic style, without a great deal of character, just proper. The sort of hotel where serving high tea at 4pm is most fitting.

On the other hand...

There is the Malmaison, a chain with a distinct "naughty house" style. The rooms are big and uniquely decorated with dark plaids of navy, wine and forest green. The bar is happening and the brasserie combines casualness with incredible steak and the wine list to match.

While there is a room for both hotels catering to different guests, we were very much taken with Malmaison. It will be the recommend for us.

Lovely dining room in the atrium at Marcliffe

The Brasserie at Malmaison

Prefer more privacy, take the chef's table

Select your own piece of organic beef

Quaint ceramic butter or are they cheese dishes

The hip Malmaison bar

The classic styling of the Marcliffe rooms

At the Mal, you could find a foosball table, a super king size bed and

... a soaking tub in the middle of the room

Cruden Bay, Scotland

Our first round of our awesome golf trip to the Home of Golf takes us to Cruden Bay, located about as west and north as you can go in Scotland. Like many of Canada's great golf courses, Cruden Bay was commissioned by a railway, the Great North of Scotland Railway Company wanted to woo people to this attractive seaside location. And what an attractive seaside location it is.

It was so beautiful, the designers wisely left the land exactly as they found it. The result is a course that meanders up, down and around dunes. It has a one disjointed hole high off a cliff, three par 3s on the back nine, including back-to-back one-shotters at 15 & 16. But leaving the greatest impression on a first-timer are the numerous blind shots. It is critical to have a caddy here. Thankfully, I had George who, like most caddies at Cruden Bay, is a member as well, so he spoke with experience.

Next up: Royal Aberdeen

Welcome to Cruden Bay

The tee shot through the dunes at the 6th

7th tee shot requires a 215 yd carry over the gorse

And this was the next shot - the approach at 7

Beautiful view from the 9th tee box, the highest point on the course

Pace of play in Scotland means little waiting, but this is a view worth taking in

The blind approach to #14

Crank your head right to see the rare par-3 dogleg and of course, another blind shot

George says "See the poll above my head, aim left of that"

The view to the west of the 15th tee box

Thanks George, could not have done it without you

Home of Golf

First day of The Masters AND my first posting.

For some, the robin signifies the start of spring, for golfers it is The Masters.

On that note, I will be heading to the Home of Golf on Monday for a 8 night trip that will include 7 rounds of golf.  Along the way I will be posting reviews and pics, if you care to follow.

Here is the itinerary:



Hotel: Marcliffe Hotel & Spa, a Virtuoso property
Golf: Cruden Bay, #81 in the world and Royal Aberdeen, 6th oldest course in the world

Hotel: Culloden House, a Virtuoso property
Golf: Castle Stuart, not yet two years-old, it was voted overseas destination of the year by Golf Digest

Hotel: Royal Golf Hotel, voted best golf hotel in Scotland in 2010 and a mere 50 yards from ...
Golf: Royal Dornoch, #15 in the world

St. Andrews
Hotel: Rusacks, the quintessential golf hotel, across from the Old Course
Golf: Kingsbarns, #61 in the world and hopefully a successful ballot win to play the Old Course

Hotel: Greywalls, the elegant country hotel overlooking Muirfield
Golf: Muirfield, #9 in the world