To the many millions who play golf, and many more who do not, Scotland will always be the home of the sport. This is not just because golf was invented in there, although it certainly was, but that the country is home to the finest and most challenging courses available anywhere. Some are designed by nature and others by man but, with some 500 to choose from, it is little surprise that the keenest golfers in the world will consider their game, and indeed their life, just a little lacking if they do not make that pilgrimage to play a round or two on a Scotland golf course.
As with most things in history, the precise origins of golf are unclear but when King James II banned it in 1457, lest it detract his men from their archery practice, it had already had a strong foothold in the local populace. Indeed at St Andrews, local shepherds had been using sticks to hit pebbles at targets along the Fife coast for some 200 years previously and to 'hit' in local parlance was 'gowf'. The name stuck, a national obsession was born and James IV relented in 1513, himself a keen golfer. 40 years later it became the people’s game when Archbishop John Hamilton allowed play on Musselburgh Links, near Edinburgh.
The archetypal Scottish golf course at Musselburgh is therefore the oldest in the world but St Andrews, as the home of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, the governing body for the game, remains the de facto world home of golf and in true spirit of the peoples game remains to this day a public course. The Old Course at St Andrews is the most famous Scotland golf course and any lover of the game will want to follow in the footsteps of the greats in the sport, all of whom have played in this ancient and superb links course.
Championship golf began in the latter part of the 18th century and the first winner of the 'Silver Club' was John Rattray who, is said, was complicit in Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite rebellion and escaped execution by virtue of his golfing skills. The first ladies competition followed soon after, held in Musselburgh in 1815, where 250 years earlier Mary Queen of Scots played, just hours after her husband Lord Darnley's murder. The fanaticism for the game and for Scotland golf courses clearly has a long history.
There are now four major championships to be won in professional golf, the oldest being the Open, first held at Prestwick, on the country's west coast in 1860. Scots won the first 30 and to date still force the Americans into second place, if only by a single win. The famous Claret Jug Trophy was introduced in 1871, won in that year by Young Tom Morris, the first golfer to record a hole-in-one. The turn of the 20th century was the golden age, when J.H Taylor, Harry Vardon and James Braid set the fairways and greens alight and the latter went on to design some of the best Scotland golf courses.
The Open Championship celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2010, appropriately on the Old Course at St Andrews, which has hosted the championship more than any other Scotland golf course. Other Open venues are Carnoustie, which first hosted the Open in 1931; Muirfield, a private club and source for the first ever 'Silver Club' competition; Turnberry, on the South West coast, and Royal Troon, near Prestwick. What they all have in common is a coastal location which provides for first class links golf, the defining characteristic of the Open Championship and indeed of golf in Scotland.
Many players will choose a Scotland golf course specifically for its links play. Links courses are largely created by natural means, with undulating coastal landscapes and natural sandy soil. There are many such courses found along the incredible long and diverse Scottish coastline and they are popular for a variety of reasons. Firstly because they provide not only challenges against the course but also against sea breezes and unpredictable Scottish weather. No two rounds are therefore the same, providing plenty of on-going tests regardless of ability. They also offer stunning sea views and a bracing form of regular exercise.
It is perhaps the views and stunning natural environments which form the main attraction for playing on a Scottish golf course. Set against the backdrop of lochs, mountains and glens it is difficult to imagine a better environment for the game and the inland courses are superbly designed to maximise the natural landscape for the course and to provide an exceptional outdoor experience. As a country with incredible natural, cultural and historic appeal it provides the perfect holiday destination, where anyone can enjoy the boundless attractions on offer and golfers can take in some world class golf too.
There is typically no elitism at a Scotland golf course and visitors are made very welcome. Most of the courses will offer packages for golfing trips and holidays and there are many all inclusive deals available which comprise accommodation, access to a course, and often additional visitor sights and attractions. Even for families and groups where not all members are golfers simply choose where you want to go in Scotland and there will be a superb course nearby, such is the love of the game in a country which can rightly celebrate its title as the undisputed home of golf.