It's not hard to find the best things in life - with a bag of money and a few of the right connections you can have it all.
For me, the joy lies in finding hidden gems; things that are every bit as enjoyable as the best might be, but for one reason or another are not as mainstream or popular as the main attraction. A little secret or discovery that is all your own. These experiences very often are more memorable than experiencing, and paying handsomely for, the finest in life.
Golf in Scotland can be the same way. We all know the Open rota courses of St. Andrews, Muirfield, Carnoustie, Troon and Turnberry; they are like Pebble Beach, Pine Valley and Winged Foot in the US; they are like Ruth's Chris, Del Frisco's or Shula's in steakhouse terms; or in wine terms like Caymus, Silver Oak or Far Niente. You don't need to be a golf, food or wine geek to know or experience these instituions, just connected or rich, or preferably both. The art is in being able to duplicate or upgrade the experience for way less money and with way more satisfaction.
Should you be fortunate enough to make it to Scotland on a golf trip please play all the rota courses you can, but do not miss out on these (relatively) secret gems that will greatly enhance your take on Scottish links golf:
Machrihanish was established in 1876 and Old Tom Morris and J.H. taylor played a major role in her design. She is said to have the finest opening hole in the world, which requires a fairly mammoth opening blow over a portion of the Atlantic ocean.
The Crail Golfing Society has been playing golf since 1786 with the course being laid out by Old Tom Morris.
"Crail is sublime, strange, wonderful, whimsical and weird -- all at the same time. It is also one of the truly great golf experiences to be experienced anywhere." Robert Thomson's Going for the Green
Brora is a time capsule that captures the game as it was almost a century ago. It is also the headquarters of the James Braid Golfing Society, and while its President, Peter Thomson, and fellow member Ronan Rafferty annually enthuse that all golfers will derive equal pleasure and satisfaction from Brora's 6110 yards.
Cruden Bay is a links that defies description, except to say that it comes straight from the imagination when fantasizing about golf in Scotland! The haunting ruins of Slains Castle, hanging on the edge of the sea, provide an ominous backdrop to the golf at Cruden Bay, having inspired Bram Stoker to pen Dracula. Golf here is not scary at all! Cruden Bay is often referred to as the "Ballybunion" of Scotland due to its massive dunes.
If you are ever considering a pilgrimage to play golf in Scotland, by all means play the rota courses, but don't forget the little guys - they just might be more than anticipated and I guarantee you will not be disappointed!