Drams and Drives
A trip to Scotland can be the finest blend indeed, combining the best of Scotch whisky tasting with some of the world's most memorable golfing excursions. The country is home to around 90 active malt whisky distilleries and over 400 golf courses. With careful planning, the links and drinks enthusiast can spend mornings driving and putting in breathtaking settings and afternoons filled with the unsurpassed pleasures of at-the-source whisky sampling.
When your time is limited to two or three days, one way to enjoy both whisky and golf is to use either Glasgow or Edinburgh as your base of operations. (Scotland's two largest and most exciting municipalities are only 45 miles apart, so take your pick.) Youth-oriented Glasgow is hip and energetic while Edinburgh, Scotland's capital, oozes Auld Caledonia allure through its more traditional low-key personality and cultural offerings. Glasgow pulsates with great shopping (in particular, Buchanan Street and Princes Square, both reserved for pedestrians), art dealers, trendy hotels and noisy bars while Edinburgh boasts acclaimed up-market restaurants, outstanding museums, ballet, opera and the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe Festival, which runs in late summer. Other popular Edinburgh attractions are the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre and the Royal Mile, which leads directly to stunning Edinburgh Castle.
Call Ahead, Laddie
One key thing to remember when working out your whisky/golf itinerary to Scotland's mainland is to always call ahead before you depart to arrange dates/tee times as well as distillery visits. Some golf courses and distilleries are closed at certain times of the year and astoundingly busy at others. Championship courses are always busy.
If your choice for a launching pad is Edinburgh, you'll find that two of the planet's most celebrated championship golf courses as well as a roster of top-notch distilleries are within a 90-minute drive. Northeast of Edinburgh on Scotland's east coast lies the peerless cradle of golf, St. Andrews Royal & Ancient Golf Club. St. Andrews was a favorite links course (meaning a sandy, hilly, seaside course) of American golfing legend Bobby Jones. While the 6,933-yard Old Course appears benign and straightforward, it is without question one of the most demanding courses in the world. Located 20 miles north of St. Andrews on the other side of the Firth of Tay is treeless, barren, 6,931-yard Carnoustie Golf Club. A cruel natural combination of ocean winds, rock-hard fairways and hidden serpentine burns (streams) tests the mettle of even the most confident links players. Beware Carnoustie.
Many of Scotland's most rewarding golfing wonders, though, are the scores of less famous inland courses. They bestow on average-to-very good golfers the same level of playing enjoyment that excellent players derive from championship courses. Two of those hidden "best-kept secrets" are situated north of Carnoustie. Letham Grange Golf Club, located four miles northwest of the seaside town of Arbroath, is a surprisingly difficult 6,968-yard course because of narrow, conifer-lined fairways. The Old Course of the Edzell Golf Club, nestled in the hamlet of Edzell, is responsible for many a challenging round—and when that round is cause for celebration, Fettercairn Distillery is as close as a straight one-iron blast. Founded in 1824, Fettercairn is renowned for its graceful older malts especially those of the "Stillman's Dram" series.
A 30-minute drive east of Edinburgh is the town of Gullane, home to three of the finest public links courses in all of Scotland. This terrific trio is known without fanfare as Gullane 1 (6,466 yards), Gullane 2 (6,244 yards) and Gullane 3 (5,252 yards). Don't let the modest yardages lull you into misplaced hacker heaven. While each course is noted for its impeccably cared-for greens, each is treacherously tricky on gusty days. Located a mere 15 miles southeast of Edinburgh between Edinburgh and Gullane in Tranent is the Glenkinchie Distillery. Of particular note are the delicious Glenkinchie "Distillers Edition" series of vintage-dated single malts.
Sixty minutes northwest of Edinburgh (or 75 minutes northeast of Glasgow) in Auchterarder, Perthshire, is Scotland's most internationally known inland course complex at the Gleneagles Hotel. Sumptuous Gleneagles is home to three moorland championship courses: the lovely Queen's Course (5,965 yards) built alongside cobalt blue lochs, the rambling King's Course (6,741 yards) with its fast greens, and the tough Jack Nicklaus-designed PGA Centenary Course (7,088 yards). Only 15 minutes away from Gleneagles in Crieff is the Glenturret Distillery. This tourist-friendly distillery hosts tens of thousands of visitors annually, and provides one of Scotland's best distillery tours. Following the tour, stop by the museum and tasting room to sample Glenturret's old, vintage-dated malts.
Two other excellent Perthshire distilleries to consider visiting when golfing near the midland cities of Perth or Dundee are Aberfeldy Distillery in Aberfeldy and Blair Athol Distillery in the town of Pitlochry. Aberfeldy Distillery is of special interest because of the Dewar's World of Whisky exhibition. Since the single malt whisky produced at Aberfeldy forms the heart of Dewar's blended Scotches, this site makes a superb introduction to both single malt and blended whiskies.
Garden of Eden of golf and whisky
For travelers headed northward to bucolic Speyside in the Scottish Highlands, a virtual Garden of Eden of excellent golf and whisky distilleries awaits. It is a scintillating experience: Approximately 40 of the nation's 90 operating malt whisky distilleries dot the contoured, photogenic countryside that is topographically carved into glens (valleys) by burns and rivers that originate in the looming Grampian Mountains. These same pristine streams and rivers are the water sources for many of Speyside's "who's who" list of malt whisky distilleries. The number of recommendable Speyside malt whisky distilleries for visiting is too lengthy to cover in detail, but we've assembled a noteworthy short list.
|Photo courtesy F. Paul Pacult|
In the heart of Speyside are a number of good-to-very good, if compact, golf courses surrounded by extraordinary scenery, and each is conveniently situated close to several distilleries. The roster includes the painstakingly manicured 5,745-yard Grantown-on-Spey Golf Club in Grantown-on-Spey; the 5,656-yard Garmouth & Kingston Golf Club in Garmouth; the deceptively tough 5,308-yard Dufftown Golf Club in Dufftown; the 6,059-yard Spey Bay Golf Club in Fochabers; and the serenely pastoral 5,720-yard Boat of Garten Golf Club in Boat of Garten. A word of caution: American golfers used to boulevard-like fairways and acres of putting surface might scan the yardages of these inland courses and be fooled into thinking that these are slam-dunk courses. In fact, their tunnel-like fairways, deep bunkers and dime-sized greens keep things interesting at best and resoundingly frustrating at worst.
For a formidable links challenge near Speyside drive up to the seaside town of Nairn, situated on breezy Moray Firth. Nairn Golf Club is a highly regarded championship course that measures 6,556 yards. Perceived by many insiders as having Scotland's finest greens, Nairn is a favored spot for winter play since the Gulf Stream keeps temperatures mild all year long. Positioned east of Nairn are Benromach Distillery in Forres and Glen Moray Distillery in Elgin. Both distilleries welcome visitors, even those with long faces from chunked drives.
Advancing north past the city of Inverness, the whisky enthusiast will find the Glenmorangie (in Tain), Glen Ord (Muir of Ord) and Dalmore (Alness) distilleries not far from another fabled championship links course, Royal Dornoch Golf Club in Dornach. Scottish golf professionals view Royal Dornoch as one of Scotland's top five courses. Records irrefutably prove that golf has been played at Dornoch since 1616, making it the third oldest golfing town in Scotland after St. Andrews and Leith.
Less than half an hour north of Royal Dornoch is one of Scotland's most quirky links courses, the 6,110-yard Brora Golf Club. What makes unspoiled Brora so unforgettable is that the local landowners still retain the legal right to graze sheep and cattle on the course. While teeing off or putting, bemused golfers sometimes find themselves surrounded by galleries of uninterested sheep and cows. Legend has it, however, that some years back four hackers reported that the sheep were booing them during a particularly disastrous round. That has neither been confirmed nor denied by the club secretary. While at Brora, drop by the Clynelish Distillery for some of the finest northern Highlands malts. After having to adjust your short iron game to pitch over munching livestock, malt whisky may be required.
One thing is certain for whisky and golf admirers: Scotland's charm and natural beauty will remain with you long after you return home. So when you cast off, here's wishing you a stiff breeze at your back when on the tee and a shimmering glass of amber-hued single malt Scotch whisky for when you get back into the club house. Whisky and golf, they just go together.