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From Turnberry to Cruden Bay, Ginella’s epic Scotland golf trip

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Matt GinellaMatt Ginella at the ninth tee at Cruden Bay (Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor)

Admittedly, even for someone with “travel” in their job description, a Scotland itinerary covering 900 miles and nine golf courses over nine days was a bit ambitious. Fortunately, I was with an energetic and talented crew of two willing to share in the sleep deprivation and driving duties. And even more fortunate, the weather cooperated.

Long, winding road: Ginella’s trip recap to Scotland 

Having landed in Edinburgh, our first appointment was to meet with Donald Trump at Turnberry, which he had just bought and wanted to share some details of his proposed changes to the resort and the Ailsa Course. He swears he won’t do anything to the historic property without the approval of the R&A, but his plans include modifications to holes 9 through 11, converting the lighthouse into a halfway house and millions of dollars in upgrades to the hotel.

One of my favorite courses in the world, the Ailsa is in the Open Championship rota and has already produced notable champions such as Nick Price (’94), Greg Norman (’86). Most famously, Tom Watson beat Jack Nicklaus in ’77 during the “Duel in the Sun.” And of course, Stewart Cink in 2009, who beat a 59-year-old Watson in a playoff.

We went from Turnberry to Prestwick, where I played one of the oldest links in the world. Beginning in 1860, it hosted the first 11 Open Championships. Naturally, the course and the clubhouse are museums. Tack on an hour to the front or back end of your trip to Prestwick in order to give yourself enough time for a proper tour of all the memorabilia on the walls and inside the glass cases.

Machrihanish Dunes. (Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor)An aerial view of the rugged and raw Machrihanish Dunes (Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor)

The drive from Ayrshire to Machrihanish Dunes would’ve been 186 miles. Fortunately for us, we were afforded the opportunity to fly to see one of the most natural golf courses in the world. Designed by David McLay Kidd, who not only built the original course at Bandon Dunes, but he grew in the Scottish dunes he would later turn into a golf course. A nice complement to a trip to Machrihanish Golf Club, Machrihanish Dunes is along the same coast and is often mowed by grazing sheep.

Gleneagles and a mystical trip to the Home of Golf

The 18th hole at the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles (Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor)The 18th hole at the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles (Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor)

On the way to St. Andrews, we played the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles, host of the 2014 Ryder Cup. Although the Nicklaus design isn’t anything you’dexpect from a Scottish golf experience, there will be plenty of electricity and excitement to the outcome of the Matches on the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles, especially the amphitheater finish on no. 18.

Afterwards, we spent our first night in St. Andrews. Having heard about the side-by-side graves of Old and Young Tom Morris in the St. Andrews cemetery, we went exploring. Armed with flashlights and fueled by the courage of the best Scottish brews, we jumped the cemetery wall and paid our respects to the father and son of golf (I left a ball in the “o” of Morris). Mission accomplished, and feeling the aforementioned “courage” wearing off, we didn’t stay long.

The next day, we played Kingsbarns, one of Scotland’s modern classics and located only seven miles from St. Andrews. Opened in 2000, it was designed by Kyle Phillips and Mark Parsinen. Parsinen has since sold his share of the course and went on to develop Castle Stuart, but Kingsbarns remains a must play anytime you are in and around St. Andrews.

After Kingsbarns, we had the last tee time at the Old Course, 6:30 p.m., completing one of the ultimate 36-hole days in golf. My host was Oliver Horovitz, who wrote “An American Caddie in St. Andrews.” Having spent nine summers reading the greens, Horovitz was an ideal playing partner. And after four birdies on the front nine, it was clear Old Tom Morris had approved of the homage from the previous night’s trip to his grave.

I finished with a 73 on the Old, which is seven shots better than my average score. I made 300 feet of putts and battled the demons of being a little out of my scoring comfort zone. After the round we ate and drank at the Dunvegan, one of golf’s finest 19th holes and steps from the 18th green.

Golf along Scotland’s north east coast

From Aberdeen, it’s only 25 miles up the coast to Cruden Bay Golf Club, one of my favorite courses in the world. Having been designed by Old Tom Morris, it’s the perfect mix of history, scenery, charm and fun.

Management told me that after the development of Trump International, which is halfway between Aberdeen and Cruden Bay, there has been a spike in annual rounds. It’s nice to know more avid amateurs are playing blind shots into Old Tom Morris’ famous sunken greens, such as on the 14th hole.

In Inverness, Castle Stuart is a worthy stop-off en route to Dornoch in the Highlands. (Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor)In Inverness, Castle Stuart is a worthy stop-off en route to Dornoch in the Highlands (Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor)

After Cruden Bay, we headed further north to the Scottish Highlands’ capital of Inverness, home to Castle Stuart, the next development in Scotland by Parsinen. Working with Gil Hanse, they built what is also considered a modern classic and has gone on to host three Scottish Opens. It’s the perfect stop as you make your way to Royal Dornoch.

As we made our way back south to Glasgow for our flight home, there was plenty of reflection on a trip to the ultimate golf destination. I rank Scotland, and especially St. Andrews, just above the southwest coast of Ireland, Bandon Dunes, Pebble Beach and Pinehurst.

As I said in the beginning, I couldn’t have done this trip without my crew, which included cinematographer Rex Lint and producer Alex Upegui. The use of the occasional helicopter helped as well.

This trip, which took place in July 2014, was featured on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive in a three-part series called Ginella’s Journeys during the 2014 Ryder Cup Week.

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