Why ranking Scotland's top golf courses can never be definitive

Rank golf courses in Scotland on a public platform and you better have a hard hat at the ready, as I discovered during a mostly enjoyable spell editing a golf magazine in the sport’s cradle.
The Old Course at St Andrews remained in the No 1 sot on the Golf World/Today's Golfer list of top 100 courses in Scotland. Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images.The Old Course at St Andrews remained in the No 1 sot on the Golf World/Today's Golfer list of top 100 courses in Scotland. Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images.
The Old Course at St Andrews remained in the No 1 sot on the Golf World/Today's Golfer list of top 100 courses in Scotland. Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images.

It was between 2003 and 2009 and, for this particular list, we let the readers decide how the country’s top courses should be rated in order rather than a panel of experts, as is normally the case when undertaking such an exercise.

The result was something that didn’t sit well with the traditionalists as Loch Lomond, which was still a relative newcomer at the time, having only opened in 1993, came out on top ahead of the country’s plethora of outstanding established links courses.

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The main reason for Loch Lomond being so popular at that time, of course, was down to it being the home of the Scottish Open and almost a magical place where fans were allowed through the wrought iron gates for that week alone each year.

The vast majority had never actually played the course and never will, hence why I can see now why conducting such a poll in that way was flawed, though there can be no denying that Tom Weiskopf created an absolute gem on those bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

I was reminded about that wee stooshie last week amid the reaction to a list of Scotland’s top 100 courses being published by Golf World/Today’s Golfer, with this one being collated on the strength of input from a 13-strong panel.

Three of that group have apparently played every single one of the 560-plus courses in Scotland, but, and this should really come as no surprise, that list has also caused eyebrows to be raised around the country.

The top four are unchanged from 2019, with the Old Course at St Andrews still ranked No 1, followed by the Ailsa Course at Turnberry, Muirfield and Royal Dornoch.

After a jump of three spots, North Berwick lies fifth, with Kingsbarns, Carnoustie, Cruden Bay, Trump International Golf Links outside Aberdeen, Royal Aberdeen and Royal Troon completing the top 10.

North Berwick being in such a lofty position appears to have caused some murmurings of disagreement, though the West Links is undoubtedly a fun test of golf and perhaps that was something that was factored in by the panel up against more demanding layouts.

That being said, Ardfin, which is located on the southern tip of Jura, having been created by Australian architect Bob Harrison for the antipodean multi-millionaire, Greg Coffey, is reckoned to be darn difficult and it has been handed the status of highest newcomer in 11th spot.

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Other talking points, and the chat was pretty lively over the weekend, include Nairn dropping 10 spots to 25th, the two courses at Blairgowrie - Rosemount and Lansdowne - both slipping 20 places to 46th and 68th respectively and other newbies on the list including Dumbarnie Links (24th) and Dunaverty (48th).

Loch Lomond, incidentally, dropped six spots to 15th, one above Castle Stuart, where the Scottish Open moved initially after leaving its long-time home in the west of Scotland.

What has to be remembered here, of course, is that these lists are subjective and, no matter how many experts are involved, you are never going to come up with one that is really definitive.

Take the Old Course at St Andrews, for example. Many love it, but others hate it. I’m with the former, but, at the same time, I wouldn’t rank it as my personal No 1 in Scotland.

Muirfield gets that vote, closely followed by Carnoustie, Royal Troon and the revamped Ailsa Course at Turnberry, while I’m also a huge fan of both the King’s and Queen’s Courses at Gleneagles, as well as Downfield in Dundee.

I would also have to agree with the current European No 1, Lee Westwood, that Nairn deserves to be higher, and the same goes, incidentally, for the 71st-ranked Torrance Course at Fairmont St Andrews.

In general, what the list does illustrate, of course, is that we are blessed with so many outstanding golf courses and here’s hoping that the remaining partners involved in the Ladies Scottish Open can come up with somewhere to get the pulses racing for this year’s event.

Make no mistake, it’s a huge blow to have lost Aberdeen Standard Investments as the title sponsor after a 12-year run, but there really is no better showcase for women’s sport in Scotland than this event and it would be great to see another company with inclusivity at its heart jump at his chance to open an exciting new chapter.

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As for that venue, well, watch this space as it could be very exciting indeed.


1 St Andrews Old

2 Turnberry Ailsa

3 Muirfield

4 Royal Dornoch

5 North Berwick

6 Kingsbarns

7 Carnoustie

8 Cruden Bay

9 Trump Aberdeen

10 Royal Troon

11 Ardfin

12 Skibo Castle

13 Gleneagles King’s

14 Prestwick

15 Loch Lomond

16 Castle Stuart

17 Royal Aberdeen

18 Machrihanish

19 The Machrie

20 Western Gailes

21 Gleneagles Queen’s

22 Gullane No 1

23 Machrihanish Dunes

24 Dumbarnie Links

25 Nairn

26 Brora

27 Elie

28 St Andrews New

29 The Renaissance Club

30 St Andrews Castle

31 Southerness

32 Dundonald Links

33 Shiskine

34 Boat of Garten

35 Murcar

36 Dunbar

37 Panmure

38 Fraserburgh

39 Moray Old

40 Glasgow Gailes

41 Luffness

42 Gullane No 2

43 Kilspindie

44 Montrose 1562

45 Archerfield Fidra

46 Blairgowrie Rosemount

47 Fortrose & Rosemarkie

48 Dunaverty

49 Askernish

50 Lanark

51 Lundin

52 Leven

53 Ladybank

54 Crail Balcomie

55 Golspie

56 Gleneagles PGA

57 Moray New

58 Spey Valley

59 Turnberry King Robert The Bruce

60 Scotscraig

61 West Kilbride

62 Duff House Royal

63 Peterhead

64 Monifieth

65 Durness

66 St Andrews Jubilee

67 Archerfield Direlton

68 Blairgowrie Lansdowne

69 Tain

70 The Duke’s

71 Fairmont St Andrews Torrance

72 Downfield

73 Fairmont St Andrews Kittocks

74 Stranraer

75 Irvine

76 Edzell

77 St Andrews Eden

78 Troon Portland

79 Nairn Dunbar

80 Glenbervie

81 Prestwick St Nicholas

82 The Glen

83 Longniddry

84 Grantown-on-Spey

85 Newmachar Hawkshill

86 Kilmarnock (Barassie)

87 Bruntsfield Links

88 Gullane No 3

89 The Carrick

90 Stonehaven

91 Covesea

92 Powfoot

93 Auchterarder

94 Meldrum House

95 Portpatrick Dunskey

96 Dornoch Struie

97 The Roxburghe

98 Pitlochry

99 Wigtownshire County

100 Royal Burgess

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