Possibly one of the best links golf courses in the world. Tom Watson certainly thinks so. Snaking its way along the shore of the Dornoch Firth, it has sensational views of the blue Sutherland Hills to the north while across the sea to the south, the distant Cairngorms creep into view on a clear day. Nearer to hand, and perhaps more relevant to one's golf, the bright yellow flowers of the gorse and broom present an attraction that is often sadly too hard to resist. Meanwhile the undulating fairways and fast plateau greens make golf a challenge even without the usual brisk sea breeze. This is truly links golf at its best.
Another great and challenging links course which occasionally hosts both the Walker Cup and the Curtis Cup (respectively the male and female amateur golf equivalent of the Ryder Cup). Running along the shores of the Moray Firth, with the cliffs of the Black Isle just opposite, this well manicured golf course has fairways like greens and greens like undulating pool tables. The wind is usually against you for most of the first 9 holes, but then just when you think you have turned the corner and life will be going all your way, the fairways get narrower and the gradients on the greens more tricky - but then of course you come home certain that if you went out again now you really could do the course justice next time around.
This is James Braid's most northerly golf course and remains "the purest links course in the world". The course merely harnesses the contours of these beautiful dunes and winds its way on springy turf between the shore line and the hills. It is golf as it was played 100 years ago and as such is an experience never to be forgotten. Your fellow golfers can come from all over the world as well as youngsters from the local school playing for free. You can still encounter sheep and cattle on the course (but they never get in the way) which is why the greens have to be fenced off. Meanwhile the golf seems to get more difficult as you proceed round the course, until eventually you come to the par 3 18th, in front of the scrutiny of the clubhouse bar - this requires a 200 yard carry onto a green with a seriously deep valley in front and bunkers to the left and right. A great memory to take away after a friendly dram in the bar watching following golfers stumbling through the valley of doom.
This is the latest addition to the crown of golfing jewels surrounding Quarryfield, and is a modern gem truly worthy of its ancient neighbours and indeed now hosts the Scottish Open on an annual basis. After being welcomed at the art deco style clubhouse and warming up at the adjacent driving range, you walk onto the first tee and know you have arrived at somewhere special. The views up and down the Beauly Firth are spectacular (have a look at the website) and the design of each hole, mostly curving between the gorse bank and the sea shore, gives a true test for thinking man's golf. Not many balls are lost and yet it is seemingly hard to score well. Although expensive, it is an experience not to be missed.
After the above four top class links courses, there are other Highland golfing gems to be experienced.
Travelling south into the heart of the Highlands, Boat of Garten, and its newer neighbour Spey Valley, wend their way through Highland birch forests alongside the great Spey river, famous for its salmon and in full view of the peaks of the Cairngorm. However, in spite of "The purple headed mountain and the river running by" not all is bright and beautiful when it comes to the challenge of the golf. Boat of Garten in particular requires great accuracy to avoid the heather and the heavily wooded rough. Both courses are a challenge, even to good golfers.
A good place for a warm up near to Quarryfield. It is an 18 hole links course running on its own promontory out into the Beauly Firth. It has great views all round and is difficult to play well when windy (nearly always!). It is where the tune "Colonel Bogey" was first written - see history on the website! Although not in the same world class as some of the above, it still features in the top 100 courses in Scotland.
This course features in the book "100 places to play golf before you die". It is the most northerly course on the British mainland and is right up in the north-west corner of Scotland by Cape Wrath. It is really just a very special day out: drive to Ullapool and then turn north up through the wonderful mountains and firths of Assynt - almost certainly the most beautiful countryside in the British Isles. Let the clubhouse know you are coming: during the week you will probably be the only people there and arrange for coffee or tea before you start and sandwiches at lunch. It is only a 9 hole course but with some wonderful wild holes around lochs and over sea bays. You could also visit Smoo cave while you are up there, rather than play the second nine. Definitely a course to visit before you die.
There are other golf courses to visit nearby such as Forres, Lossiemouth and Tain, which if not surrounded by such world class competition would also be classed as gems in their own right, but it might be best to leave those for a second visit.