Andrew & Paul Marshall travel to Scotland to sample some world-class golf while being their own ‘Kings of the Castle.’
There’s no more Scottish an image than that of a castle surrounded by swirling mist. Most of Scotland’s castles ooze a colourful and turbulent history … the stuff of swashbucklers, legends and ghost stories. All the classic imagery can be found in abundance: secret passageways, spiral staircases, dungeons, haunted rooms, four-poster beds, old oil paintings, chandeliers, suites of armour, stuffed game and roaring log fires… The good news is that you can spend the night at many castles and several have top drawer golf courses right on their doorstep or a short drive away. Here are six of the best castle and golf course combinations in different regions of Scotland:
STAY: Culzean Castle. There’s a sense of anticipation as you drive the twisting wooded laneway towards the front door of this storybook castle. In a truly spectacular setting, Culzean stands dramatically on a rocky promontory on the Ayrshire coast commanding views across the sea to the mountains of Arran and the Mull of Kintyre. Designed by noted Scottish architect, Robert Adam, Culzean is considered one of the finest examples of a Georgian castle in the country, the Oval Staircase and Circular Saloon being standout features of his work.
The castle has strong connections with the USA, and the Scottish people donated the top floor to General Dwight D. Eisenhower after World War II, as a token of their appreciation for his role in the victory. Besides Eisenhower memorabilia and fine 18th century furniture, there’s an extensive collection of armour and weapons dating from the 17th century.
The luxury Eisenhower apartment has six double/twin bedrooms that are available as either individual accommodation or for groups of up to twelve. Fine Scottish cuisine is served in the dining room and guests can relax in the drawing room offering dramatic sea views. Culzean is a unique choice for the discerning golfer. www.culzeanexperience.org
PLAY: Turnberry. A few miles down the coast awaits the world-class links of Turnberry, venue for the British Open Championship 2009. The Ailsa course came to international prominence with the infamous ‘Duel in the Sun’ between Tom Watson (champion) and Jack Nicklaus over four sweltering days during July 77. Since then, Greg Norman (86), Nick Price (94) and most recently Stewart Cink (09) (when Tom Watson narrowly missed out to become the oldest winner in history) have made up the quartet of golfers to lift the Claret Jug, and polls now regularly acknowledge the Ailsa as one of Britain's top three courses with regular rankings within the world's top 20.
The ninth (Bruce’s Castle) is a contender for Turnberry's trademark hole. Adjacent to the famous lighthouse and the remains of Robert the Bruce’s Castle (Scottish King from 1306-1329), this 452-yard par-4 has no bunkers, yet is a daunting par-4 especially from the Championship tee which is perched on a rocky premonitory on the edge of the sea. www.turnberry.co.uk
Other golf courses: Royal Troon, Prestwick, Western Gailes.
STAY: Fernie Castle. This 450-year old castle situated in 17 acres of woodlands with its own loch and 20 en-suite rooms is first glimpsed through the wooded drive as you approach, and once inside, you will be greeted with a cheery open fire and a warm welcome from the owners Neil and Mary Blackburn. After settling in, perhaps enjoy a drink in the stone-vaulted Keep Bar dating from 1530, before enjoying dinner in the beautiful Auld Alliance Room, with it's massive Georgian chandelier, fresh flowers and candles, all reflected in a huge mirror. The Wallace Lounge with its turret snuggery is perfect for a quiet drink or coffee after dinner.
Set in a quiet glade 500 yards from the castle you will find a five-star hotel suite with a difference. Fernie Castle Treehouse perched in six lofty sycamores, is first glimpsed through the pines, rowans and elderberries, the sun glinting on its copper roof tiles. It appears to grow out of the trees with the sycamores bursting right through the floor and up out of the roof. The entry is via a flight of stairs to a balcony where double doors with striking stained glass lead you into the bedroom. The bedroom has a huge elm kingsized bed and other specially designed furniture all hand made with total comfort in mind including flat screen TV, DVD, CD player and coffee maker, plus a fridge full of champagne, chocolates and other goodies. It’s the perfect getaway for romantic golfing couples.
Within a 45-minute radius of Fernie Castle there are 59 golf courses and only a 13-mile drive away is the collection of top-drawer golf courses in the St Andrews’ area including: Kingsbarns, the Old Course, New Course, Jubilee, Eden, Fairmont, Duke’s, Kittock’s and the new Castle course. But don't be surprised if the real highlight of your trip turns out to be the castle itself. www.ferniecastle.co.uk
PLAY: Kingsbarns Golf Links. Designed by leading golf architect Kyle Phillips, Kingsbarns is a tribute to classic Scottish links and has come on in leaps and bounds since opening in 2000. The course meanders along more than one-and-a-half miles of rugged seashore offering ocean views from every hole. Featuring spacious fairways rolling and twisting through dune ridges and hollows, true links turf and large greens, the course is challenging yet playable. “At Kingsbarns it’s all about risk and reward,” says David Scott, Director of Golf. “You can play to a safe area but it’s likely to be a tough angle to the green. If you take a gamble and go the Tiger line, you will have the choice of playing a running shot or one through the air.” www.kingsbarns.com
Other golf courses: St Andrews Old Course & Gleneagles.
STAY: Ethie Castle. An ancient sandstone keep dating from the 14th Century, Ethie Castle is reputed to be Scotland’s second oldest permanently inhabited castle, and was immortalised by Sir Walter Scott as ‘Knockwinnoch’ in the novel The Antiquary. In recent years it has been meticulously restored and maintained and is currently the residence of the de Morgan family.
“First and foremost, this is a family home, but we have three rooms available and can accommodate up to eight people,” says Kirtsin de Morgan. “We are well positioned for outdoor pursuits and there’s plenty of golfing possibilities in the area too with Carnoustie at the top of the list and when it comes to fly fishing for salmon and brown trout you can take you pick from the North Esk and South Esk rivers.” www.ethiecastle.com PLAY: Carnoustie Golf Links. A 30-minute drive down the Angus coastline is the town of Carnoustie and home to the renowned Championship Course, originally laid out in 1840 by Allan Robertson, with major changes being introduced later by Old Tom Morris and James Braid.
There’s nothing to match the experience of playing one of the most famous and challenging courses in world golf and the finishing hole with the clubhouse in the background is a highlight. A scene of major drama in the 99 and 07 British Opens, this 510-yard par-4 will play as a par-5 for the majority of golfers even from the front markers. Faced with a tee shot most likely into the wind, you must negotiate the notorious Barry Burn that winds across the fairway like an agitated snake. A five is good here and a six would have won Jean Van de Velde the 1999 Open. www.carnoustiegolflinks.co.uk
Other golf courses: Royal Aberdeen, Murcar Links, Cruden Bay.
STAY: Fenton Tower Originally built in the mid-16th century, this ancient monument was in virtual ruins when Ian Simpson and his life-long friend John Macaskill, decided to start the Tower’s restoration in 1998. Because it’s a listed ancient monument and a Category A-listed building, Historic Scotland supervised the meticulous restoration, which included using the identical materials when it was originally built.
Today, the tower combines 16th century history and five-star luxury with the informality of a private home and is available for exclusive rental for a minimum of six guests. Located just 20 miles east of Edinburgh, Fenton Tower is the castle of choice if you are interested in playing Muirfield or any of the fifteen or so other courses within a ten mile drive. There’s even room to practice before you go out, with some golfing guests spending many happy hours chipping balls onto a nearby island. If you are interested in shooting or fishing, then grouse, partridge and pheasant shoots for up to eight guns, and fly fishing on the nearby rivers can be arranged. www.fentontower.co.uk
PLAY: Muirfield. Home to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and the 2013 Open Championship, where Phil Mickleson triumphed, this exclusive seaside links course features long narrow fairways, fast undulating greens, innumerable pot bunkers and thick rough. Architecturally it’s a gem. A clockwise outward half surrounds the inner anti-clockwise holes, an arrangement that ensures that players have to make incessant adjustment for wind direction.
It can be quite tricky securing a tee time at Muirfield and currently, visitors may play on Tuesday and Thursdays mornings (except public holidays) with visiting groups restricted to no more than 12 players on these days. Players must have recognised handicaps of no greater than 18. Times fill up very quickly during the peak season from May to September, but the good news is Muirfield has ideal full course playing conditions all year round.www.muirfield.org.uk
Other golfing options: North Berwick, Gullane No.1.
STAY: Dornoch Castle Hotel. The 15th century Dornoch Castle Hotel is situated in private and beautifully manicured gardens opposite the inspiring 12th century Dornoch Cathedral. Steeped in Scottish history with stories of witchcraft, a secret underground passageway connecting the Castle and Cathedral and a harmless ghost - an unhappy sheep stealer by the name of Andrew McCornish who was imprisoned in the vaulted dungeons below the Tower and was reputedly seen by the Minister of Avoch towards the end of the last century.
The 24 en-suite bedrooms are tastefully decorated with 4 deluxe rooms located in the original 15th century castle, together with the bar and reception. Dornoch Castle Hotel still bears an air of magnificence and is perfectly situated for playing the hallowed links of Royal Dornoch only a well-struck drive and a 5-iron away. www.dornochcastlehotel.com
PLAY: Royal Dornoch. Golf was first played here at least as far back as 1616 when the Earl of Sutherland ordered clubs and balls to take up the game that was becoming so popular further south. This makes Royal Dornoch the third oldest golfing community in Scotland.
“After the second hole, you round a corner, pass a hedge and golfing heaven breaks loose.” These words on the club’s website are temptation enough, but once you go around the said corner, everything about this world top 20 course is right in front of you. Framed between the hills and mountains to the left and the wild North Sea is a rich tapestry of undulating fairways and plateau greens interspersed with flowering yellow gorse. Magical stuff. www.royaldornoch.com Other golf courses: Brora, Nairn & Castle Stuart Golf Links.