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How to Golf Scotland like a Local

Friday

Depart for Glasgow or edinburgh in the evening. Philadelphia, Newark and Chicago all offer nonstop red-eyes to Glasgow. Edinburgh is about half an hour closer to St. Andrews, but direct flights are a bit harder to find. Delta, however, recently added an Atlanta–Edinburgh nonstop route.

Saturday

Land in the morning, pick up your rental car, drive to St. Andrews and check in to your hotel. (See our Trip Planner below for a selection of attractive and modestly priced accommodations, all providing full breakfast and private bath.)

Once in your room, do not unpack. Instead, collapse into bed and nap for three to four hours. Get up no later than four o'clock and head to the New Course (greens fee: $107), laid out by Old Tom Morris in 1895 and little changed since. The New is blessed with much the same type of undulating linksland as the Old, but with fewer blind shots and less quirkiness. Some holes are framed by gorse; others are more open, encouraging the attacking stroke. Among the outstanding holes is the par-four tenth, 464 yards, your drive from a high tee winging its way over sandhills down into a hidden valley, the long second shot threading through the dunes to a bunkerless green.

Sunday

Twenty minutes south on the coast road (A917) from St. Andrews, you'll find the eighth oldest golf club in the world, the Crail Golfing Society, founded in 1786. Old Tom Morris laid out the Balcomie Links here (greens fee: $85). Total yardage is 5,861, against a par of sixty-nine. You will immediately get a feel for the course from the hilltop first tee: Far below, a vast meadow sweeps down, in vaguely terraced formation, to the sea. The game at Crail is distractingly scenic. A rich diversity of shots is required, many of them bump-and-run, and no hole is sheltered from the wind on what is the breeziest spot in Fife.

If you want to make a day of it here, play Crail's other eighteen, Craighead Links (greens fee: $85). Designed by American Gil Hanse, this fine test high above the sea has broad fairways, revetted bunkers and knobby greens that shrug off all but the most precise approaches. Or simply roam the harbors in a couple of the nearby East Neuk fishing villages—among the most appealing are Pittenweem, Anstruther and the royal burgh of Crail, with its elegant town square and narrow cobbled lanes spilling down to the harbor.

Monday

A red-letter, doubleheader day. First, the shrine of shrines—the Old Course (greens fee: $226), where some form of the game has been played for nearly 600 years. Virtually every storied champion—Ben Hogan is the glaring exception—has competed here. As a layout that simply evolved over time, it cannot be attributed to any single golf architect, yet it remains the essential ground to see for anyone with an interest in design.

Except for the first and ninth, all holes going out present blind or semi-blind forced-carry drives over gorse-infested rough or broken ground. The inbound half, on the other hand, is extraordinarily diverse. It is also one of the transcendent nines of the world. At least five holes—eleven, thirteen, fourteen, sixteen and seventeen (the infamous Road Hole)—are great by any standard.

A tip about playing the Old Course: On these vast double greens, some six out of every seven putts happen to be straight. Whether from five feet or fifty, unless the putt proclaims a break, don't borrow anything. Just stroke the ball right at the cup. Few people believe this, but you may take it as gospel from someone who has played the course more than a hundred times.

The afternoon round is at the Golf House Club, Elie, about a twenty-five-minute drive across the fields of Fife. This irresistible links (greens fee: $104) is another example of Old Tom Morris's handiwork, with revisions in the 1920s by five-time Open champion James Braid. The course measures 6,273 yards; par is seventy. There are no par fives and only two par threes. The net of it could be boring—not so! These sixteen par fours (the only such circumstance in my experience) range from 284 to 466 yards and run to every point of the compass. Blind shots pop up again and again, and the sea skirts the course on ten through thirteen, the latter two among the superlative par fours in all of Scotland.

Elie also sports one of the game's great curiosities—a 1950s submarine periscope jutting boldly through the roof of the starter's hut. Salvaged from the HMS Excalibur, it enables the starter to see over the hill that rises in front of the first tee, in this way ensuring that the players who have disappeared beyond the crest are now out of range.

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