The golfe and uisge beatha. Or Golf and The Water of Life. Water of Life as in Scotch whisky that is. The two go together like the classics: horse and buggy, love and marriage, Hepburn and Tracy, bacon and eggs … Arnie and Jack. And in Scotland, a country the size of the state of California, there are great links, with equally great distilleries, dotted along the east and west coasts. Some are easy to get to while others involve a journey, a journey well worth the effort.
Beginning on the east coast, some three hours north of Edinburgh, is the classic and wonderful links at Brora. Designed by James Braid, sheep and cows still graze the fairways of this throwback, with almost invisible wires with a mild current running through them surrounding the greens, keeping the cows and sheep at bay. After your round stop by the renowned Clynelish distillery for a tour and a sample. Not as well known in the US as some of the other major distillers, Clynelish produces a classic single malt, smooth and vibrant.
Less than thirty minutes to the south is Royal Dornoch, home course of Donald Ross, rated by all as one of the top five links in the world. When you’re through experiencing this mystical links, don’t miss The Glenmorangie distillery, one of the revered single malt distillers, boasting different whiskys aged from 10 to 24 years in a variety of barrels that have been used for sherry, port, bourbon, and other spirits.
Head further south to play Castle Stuart and Nairn, both hard by the North Sea, with rolling dunes, swaying fescue, and beautiful but tough gorse. Nearby is a host of great Speyside distilleries: Cardhu, Glenfiddich, Glen Grant, and The Glenlivet, the elegant malt credited with starting the single malt craze in the states some thirty odd years ago.
On to St. Andrews, the home of golf. Besides The Old Course, there are six additional courses operated by the St. Andrews Links Trust, along with a plethora of memorable links within two
hours’ drive. Across the Firth of Forth from St. Andrews are Gullane, North Berwick, and Muirfield. Gullane was the venue for the 2015 Scottish Open, won this past July by Rickie Fowler. It plays up to a vast rolling plateau, with spectacular holes and equally magnificent views. North Berwick, like The Old Course, plays out and back from the town. It is known the world over for its classic holes, such as the Redan – copied countless times – and its quirky holes, such as the thirteenth, where the approach to the green must be hit over an ancient stone wall. Muirfield is a regular on The Open rota and is considered one of the fairest tests of links golf. Jack Nicklaus won his first of three Opens here and
honored it when he named his own Muirfield Village. Not a half hour away is the Glenkinchie Distillery, which produces both grain whisky for blending and its own smooth and mellow single malt of the same name. Don’t miss this tour. For a mere £8 you’ll get a comprehensive tour plus a sample of four different Scotches, one Glen Kinchie’s own, and the other three from other distilleries to compare different regions.
Finally, if you’re the adventurous sort, and love “true” links and “peaty” whisky, head northwest to the island of Islay. While there is no quick way to get there by car (Islay does have an airport), the drive is both magnificent and rugged, showing off the best of Scotland: ragged seacoast, drifting moors, and wonderful little towns. Islay is the home of the Machrie Golf Links. Designed by Willie Campbell and opened in 1891, the course is unique in that it runs across the dunes rather than with them, resulting in many blind shots. This may very well be the reason behind the club’s motto: “Keep Your Temper.”
The tiny island of Islay is home to eight distilleries, and the whiskys here are known for their strong peat taste, a product of drying the malt over peat heated fires. While an acquired taste, those who have adopted the flavour cherish it. Among the distilleries located on Islay are Ardbeg, known for the “strongest” in flavor; Laphroig, possessing a pure peat character; the little known but splendid Caol Ila; and perhaps the best of the Islays, Lagavulin, which has a stong peat punch combined with a heartwarming finish.
Golf and Scotch. There’s not a better combination. Slainte! (To your health!)