Finally, no Highlands golf pilgrimage would be complete without a visit to the town of Dornoch, the birthplace of Donald Ross. A delightful hamlet, Dornoch is proud of its expatriate son and pays homage to his legacy through a collection of Ross-centric historical sites called the Donald Ross Trail. The tour includes his birthplace as well as the 766-year-old Dornoch Cathedral, which some find fascinating for having hosted the christening of Madonna's baby boy. You, however, might be more partial to the re-creation of Ross's Royal Dornoch pro shop at the Historylinks Museum (011-44/1862-811-275).
These trips vary in courses and accommodations; check web sites for details and custom-itinerary options. (Prices listed are per person, excluding airfare.) Many more tour operators can be found via the web site of Scotland's National Tourism Board: golf.visitscotland.com.
PerryGolf (perrygolf.com): Create detailed custom trips through PerryGolf's "Plan Your Own Tour" feature.
Wide World of Golf (wideworldofgolf.com): seven nights, six rounds from $1,990.
Golf Roots (golfroots.co.uk): seven nights, six rounds from $1,242.
InterGolf (intergolfvacations.com): six nights, five rounds from $2,110.
High Road Golf Expeditions (hrge.com): Toronto-based tour operator. Seven nights, six rounds from $2,289 CAD.
Tayleur Mayde Golf Tours (tayleurmayde.com): nine nights, nine rounds (including a visit to the Hebrides Islands) from $2,872.
Golf Vacations Scotland (golfvacationsscotland.com): seven nights, nine rounds from $3,351. Tour begins in St. Andrews.
(Modern International) Castle Street, Dornoch; 011-44/1862-811-811. $$$$
In the heart of Dornoch, 2 Quail offers intimate dining at its finest. In a room with only four candlelit tables, chef Michael Carr—who trained at the Ritz in London—and Kerensa, his enchanting hostess, maitre d', waitress and wife, sate guests with such offerings as beef fillet with wild mushrooms and sherry sauce.
(Contemporary Scottish) Auldearn, Nairn; 011-44/1667-454-896. $$$$
Residing in a restored Georgian mansion, this elegant establishment is owned by enthusiastic proponents of the Slow Food movement—the culinary trend emphasizing local and seasonal ingredients. It shows. The prix fixe menu enjoys a well-deserved reputation for freshness and vibrancy. Patrons order their selections by a roaring fire in the drawing room, then dine in hushed-voice pleasure amid a fanciful collection of artwork by contemporary Scottish artists.
(French Fusion) 20 Ness Bank, Inverness; 011-44/1463-223-777. $$$$
Nestled on the banks of the River Ness, La Riviera has long afforded one of the area's most romantic views. But when it hired chef Loic Lefebvre from France's three-Michelin-starred Le Jardin des Sens last year, it imported a new level of fine dining. Look for such inventive dishes as an intensely flavorful seared mountain hare À la royale, as well as more than 160 whiskys and 125 wines—including a rather pricey ($1,400) 1964 Chateau Latour.
(Seafood) 16 Fraser Street, Inverness; 011-44/1463-220-220. $$$
With a lively, informal atmosphere and light and flavorful cuisine, Mustard Seed almost feels more California than Scotland. But that doesn't mean it's not revered by locals. Frequently voted best in Inverness by various polls, this eatery occupies a two-level restored church and is always crowded due to its intensely fresh local fare. Make a reservation or prepare to be disappointed.
THE QUIET PIGGY
(Bistro) Station Square, Brora; 011-44/1408-622-011. $$$
Those traveling north from Dornoch would do well to fill their tanks in this sleek and cozy eatery just off the A9 in Brora. With such delectable entrées as roast fillet of saffron monkfish and breast of free-range Barbary duck, it's a challenge to save room for the vanilla-and-rum panna cotta. But by all means, do.
(Indian) 2 Post Office Avenue, Inverness; 011-44/1463-237-190. $$
Don't be put off by its slightly garish decor or reasonable prices; the cuisine is first-rate. Opened in 1982, the Rajah has won a loyal following for a robust menu featuring almost twenty different curry recipes and more than thirty "Balti" dishes from the state of Kashmir.
Culloden, Inverness; 011-44/1463-790-461, cullodenhouse.co.uk. Rooms: $400. Suites: $553.
Prince Charles, Brad Pitt, King Carl Gustaf of Sweden, Sean Connery and Tony Blair are just a few of the notables who've hung their hats here. What drew them are the glistening chandeliers, eighteen-foot-high ceilings and marble fireplaces of this majestic private estate—once a Jacobean castle—and the king-size beds in its twenty-eight charming bedrooms. One of Scotland's top five golf hotels.
FORSS COUNTRY HOUSE HOTEL
Thurso, Caithness; 011-44/1847-861-201, forsshousehotel.co.uk. Rooms: $181. Suites: $229.
Half of the charm of the rugged links of the northern coast lies in their remoteness. Less charming is the harrowing return trip south at night along the foggy two-lane roads. A better idea is to stay over at this refurbished 200-year-old lodge house with a delightful kitchen and more than 300 malt whiskys in the bar.
THE GOLF VIEW
Seabank Road, Nairn; 011-44/1667-452-301, morton-hotels.com. Rooms: $221 (single). Suites: $515.
There are two sister hotels residing within a par five of the Nairn Golf Club, this one and the Newton Hotel. Both boast recently renovated rooms with heated bathroom floors, comfortable king-size beds and perhaps the softest towels in the Highlands. But the Golf View gets the nod for, well, the golf views. Several of its oceanfront rooms look out upon the enchanting Moray Firth and the Nairn links. Its heated indoor pool and gym also overlook the water.
ROYAL GOLF HOTEL
The First Tee, Dornoch; 011-44/1862-810-283, morton-hotels.com. Rooms: $381. Suites: $515.
A stately stone edifice overlooking Royal Dornoch's first tee, the Royal Golf Hotel has long been revered by visitors for the panoramic views of the course from many of its twenty-five rooms and suites. Some £2 million in renovations later, the hotel also has modern appointments and splendid beds. Best of all is the cozy Tom Morris Bar and the hundred or so malts stocked on its Whisky Wall.
Skibo Castle, Dornoch; 011-44/1862-894-600, carnegieclub.co.uk. Suites: $1,325$1,800.
It is hard to overstate the awe-inspiring luxury at this, the former baronial mansion of industrial tycoon Andrew Carnegie. Renovated a decade ago by Peter de Savary for £30 million (and since purchased by a group of members), the almost comically grand accommodations here boast original furnishings and fixtures: an enormous pipe organ, chandeliers, stained-glass windows and silk-canopied, four-poster beds. Guests dine together nightly around a massive oak table, a raucous affair in which one is equally likely to rub shoulders with Greg Norman, Madonna (who wed here) or a billionaire business mogul. But don't get too comfortable: Nonmembers are allowed only one visit to Skibo, after which they must join if they wish to return.