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Planning a tour that visits both Ireland and Scotland in the same trip will ensure you don't miss out on playing the Old Course at St. Andrews.
Planning a tour that visits both Ireland and Scotland in the same trip will ensure you don't miss out on playing the Old Course at St. Andrews. (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)

Can't decide between a Scotland or Ireland golf tour? Combine the two

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor

When it comes to booking golf tours to either Scotland or Ireland, there are several factors to consider. Scotland boasts St. Andrews and the British Open, while Ireland offers arguably better golf courses, not to mention Guinness. So why not do both?

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland - For golf travelers, it's the ultimate question: the tradition of Scotland, with its British Open history and the golf Mecca St. Andrews, or Ireland's lesser-known but arguably better links golf courses and warm hospitality?

But why not both on one golf vacation?

Scotland and Ireland are an Irish Sea away, and flights around the British Isles are cheap, and getting from Scotland to Ireland by air takes about as long as a drive from Edinburgh to the Highlands.

Aer Lingus, Ireland's best bet for low fares not only to the United Kingdom, but to the United States, offers flights to Edinburgh for as low as €5-19 plus about €22 in tax. Flight time is one hour, so you can play in Ireland in the morning, grab lunch, hit the airport and be checked in at your hotel in St. Andrews, about an hour's drive from Edinburgh Airport, in time for dinner.

So, if you have a week, or can extend a vacation to 10 days, split time between both isles. It's an itinerary that won't leave you wondering whether you made the right choice.

Where to golf in Ireland

Since you'll be jumping between isles, you'll want to keep your itinerary as tightly packed as possible. Ireland has several regions to choose from that offer a week's worth of links.

Northern Ireland golf courses

Ireland's "new" historic destination is Northern Ireland. It's been peaceful for over a decade now, and courses see more and more tours annually.

"Tourism is booming again; many are playing here for the first time," says Gary McNeil, director of golf at Royal Portrush. "A lot of people tell us they've been coming to Ireland for years but this is their first time to Northern Ireland."

Royal Portrush and Royal County Down are as good a one-two punch as you'll find anywhere in the world. Royal Portrush is the isle's only course to have staged a British Open, in 1951. Royal County Down is one of the most demanding tests of golf, filled with blind shots, heavy gorse and massive dunes. It is also set to host the 2007 Walker Cup.

There are a handful of less-prestigious but must-play courses nearby. Portstewart has one of the most dramatic front nines around. Castlerock and Ardglass are two more 19th-century gems, rife with history and with beauty. Ballyliffin, in the Republic of Ireland, has two courses that will blow your socks off and is the northernmost club in Ireland.

Southwest Ireland golf courses

This is Ireland's most popular region for golf tours, anchored by the island's most visited club: Ballybunion. What it lacks in length, at just 6,598 yards from the championship tees, it makes up for in blind shots, narrow fairways, high rough and other quirks.

North of Ballybunion is the Old Course at Lahinch, which is flourishing after a five-year restoration project completed in 2003. The town gained the nickname, "The St. Andrews of Ireland" for its golf-frenzied locals and Old Tom Morris-designed course.

One of the southwest's lesser-known but hardly "hidden" gems is Tralee, voted Ireland's Best course by the Irish Golf Tour Operators Association this year. Locals argue Tralee is a finer links than better-known Ballybunion and Lahinch. You be the judge.

Midlands golf courses

In the Midlands, you've got two 19th-century gems in Dublin: Portmarnock Golf Club and Royal Dublin. Also in the area is the K Club, a modern parkland golf course that hosted the 2006 Ryder Cup. Down the road is another upscale parkland: PGA National, which opened in 1999.

Thirty-five miles south is the European Club, which features 20 holes because, architect Pat Ruddy said, "that's how many holes the land offered." Tough to dispute that logic.

St. Andrews: Where to golf in Scotland

Once you've flown from Ireland, your best bet for a golf-packed itinerary with little driving is St. Andrews and the Kingdom of Fife. The sheer quantity of golf here is unmatched. It's not only where the game was born, but also where you'll have a shot at playing two British Open venues, and other classic and modern gems.

No tour in Scotland is complete until you experience the Old Course. You may feel the need to book through a tour that offers "guaranteed tee times." But, even if you haven't booked your round a year in advance or through a tour, getting a tee time on the Old Course is easy.

"If you've got three days, you'll always get on the Old," says John White, of St. Andrews Links Tours. "All you need is two things: patience and courtesy."

Thankfully there are plenty of other world-class courses nearby to justify spending a few days in the "birthplace of golf."

The New Course, next door to the Old, is regarded by locals as a better test of golf on most days. It lacks the British Open moments and monstrous double greens, but is over a century old and of championship length. Some locals argue the New Course and next door Jubilee Course are more difficult tests than the Old in daily amateur play.

The New Course's other beauty is that most of its daily tee times are on a first-come, first-serve basis, so, if you're shut out of the Old Course, you'll likely get on within an hour of when you want to play the New.

From St. Andrews, you're less than an hour's drive from the five-star Gleneagles Resort, home to three of Scotland's most renowned parkland courses, including the 2014 Ryder Cup host, the PGA Centenary Course built by Jack Nicklaus.

Most traditionalists, however, favor the King's Course, a 1919 James Braid design that features its share of blind shots and huge fairway bunkers.

For your last round, make your way up to the British Open's most notoriously difficult course: Carnoustie, about a half-hour drive from St. Andrews. Though set on bland, flat terrain shielded from the sea, its beauty comes in its monstrous bunker-style: a trademark of Braid.

You're almost certain to take a beating on this course, and you'll have a laugh with your friends on the 18th tee about "pulling a Van de Velde," but in all likelihood your group will be sympathizing with the Frenchman on the flight home.

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

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