scotland: where golf started

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One of the first times I went to Scotland on business, a local man picked me up at Prestwick Airport and drove me to my meeting. As we passed through the town of Troon, he remarked that he was sure that Troon had the highest number of golf courses in the world on a per capita basis. After a moment of thought, I suggested that the Pittsburgh area might have more courses. After comparing population figures, and learning that there are more than 150 golf courses within a 20-mile radius of Troon, population 15,000, I said, “You win”!

Although St. Andrews, which is located northeast of Edinburgh, is considered the birthplace of golf, the county of Ayrshire in western Scotland is easily the “Mecca” of golf. Many of the British Open’s have been played on these courses, the most recent in 2009 at Turnberry. The first British Open in 1860 was played at Prestwick Course.

My favorite course is the Royal Troon. Most golf courses in the world have ladies’ tees. The Royal Troon has a separate 18-hole ladies’ course.

Scottish golf 2
Golfing at the original Turnberry, in Scotland, is less than half the price of its Florida namesake. But you may want to bring some warm clothes.

Most of the courses also have hotels as part of their complexes. Although Turnberry has the most luxurious hotel, designed to make Americans happy, my favorite hotel is the Marine at Royal Troon. The hotel, which is over 150 years old, is a classic Scottish manor with all of the eccentricities one expects at old Scottish hotels.

The Scottish courses are quite different than the American courses, several of which have the same name. The first time I played at Turnberry in Scotland (as opposed to Turnberry in Florida), I had to wear a heavy jacket on top of my sweater and a hat and gloves. The temperature at noon was 50 degrees. The wind was blowing off the ocean at about 25 miles an hour. It was June 10.

The name is about the only thing that the Turnberrys in Ayrshire and in Miami have in common. Calling the roughs at the Scottish courses “forests” would not be an exaggeration, in contrast with the well-manicured American course.

As challenging and interesting as the Scottish golf courses are, probably the most pleasant part of the adventure is the cost of playing a round. Some of the greens fees, for example are: Prestwick, 85 pounds ($132.00), Royal Troon, 130 pounds ($201.50), and Turnberry, 80 pounds ($124.00). Compare that with the Turnberry, Florida course, with a pricetag of $280 for a round, or Palm Beach’s Emerald Dunes, $250, and Breakers, $225.

The Ayrshire area has another advantage, if you are traveling from London. Prestwick Airport, which was originally a U.S. Army Air base during World War II, was all but abandoned until Ryan Air started flights there directly from London, Dublin and Paris. Ryan Air is known for its ridiculously low priced tickets. On a couple of occasions, I have flown from London Stanstead Airport to Prestwick for one pound ($1.55). If you are flying to Scotland directly from Pittsburgh, you have a choice of flying into Glasgow, about 30 miles north of Troon, or into Edinburgh, 65 miles northeast from Ayrshire.

If you want to take a day off from playing golf, Ayrshire is also where Bobby Burns, the famous Scottish poet, lived and died. Not too far from Ayr, is the Bobby Burns’ Museum, which is worth spending a few hours and reacquainting yourself with many of his poems that you probably read in High School. Across the street from the graveyard, where Burns is buried, there is the Brigadoon Restaurant. After having a pleasant lunch, you may want to walk out back of the restaurant and cross the bridge over the River Doon, which is the “Brigadoon” of the poems and the musical and movie.

If golf is your passion, then you should play the courses at the birthplace of golf at least once in your life. The penny-pinching Scots will also think you are quite canny, when you tell them how much you are saving, over playing in Florida.