Dan Murphy and the NCG Top 100s panel enjoyed the most pleasant of surprises when researching the Scotland 2023 ranking. Here are their favourites
I don’t want to be one of those people who ‘discovers’ a course that has quite happily gone about its business for over 130 years but I do want to talk about Kilmacolm.
‘Finding’ – not that it has been hiding – courses like this James Braid-revised moorland is what I love most about compiling and finessing ranking lists.
Kilmacolm lies on high ground between the south-western outskirts of Glasgow and the Ayrshire coast.
Despite it being very early in the season when we visited, especially for a course at this elevation, the turf was fantastic.
Kilmacolm’s calling cards are crisp, tight fairways and beautifully framed short par-4s.
In 1924, Braid needed less than 6,000 yards to remodel a course that more or less runs uphill and away from the town and back again.
Despite significant changes in elevation, there are only a couple of holes where you truly notice. This is a masterclass in how to route a course across hilly terrain.
Generally, the longer holes play across the slopes or downhill, while gaining elevation is achieved through the one-shotters and short par-4s. You never feel required to plough uphill.
The first two holes show that – the opener is drivable in the right conditions with a shot that embraces rather than fights the contours, while the 2nd is a quite delightful short hole where the right side of the green is set tight against a stone wall. Reach the 3rd tee and you are already up on the moors with dramatic vistas, having played two thoroughly entertaining and modest-length holes.
Of the par-4s, only the 7th, 13th and 18th (just) are in excess of 400 yards, and two of those play significantly downhill. The 13th is surely the hardest hole, all things being equal, with a semi-blind tee shot, out of bounds up the left and a well-protected green at the end.
This is a course where yardage can be deceptive. You might find yourself needing as much club to reach the shelf green on the uphill, 344-yard 4th as you do on any of the aforementioned, longer par-4s.
Kilmacolm has one par-5, the 11th, and it is the kind of hole you want to play again and again. The appealing, elevated tee shot is begging for a high draw and the approach is directed over the brow to an obscured, sunken green. The backdrop throughout is a Gleneagles-style vista.
There are four short holes and each one lingers in the memory for different reasons. The longest by far is the 6th, which plays downhill and may be thought of as a par three-and-a-half. It’s an appealing tee shot with a suitably generous green awaiting in the distance.
The shortest in every sense is the 137-yard 17th, just a flick with a wedge down the hill – unless, of course, the wind has other ideas.
One of the most appealing features of Kilmacolm – and courses of its ilk – is that you are back in the clubhouse within three hours or so of setting out. Nor will your boots ever be covered in mud.
For me at least, such a boast is a seriously good start for any golf course.
More underrated golf courses in Scotland
I asked the rest of the NCG Top 100s panel to name their favourite Scottish golf courses that deserve a bit more recognition. Here’s a selection of their answers…
Sometimes it doesn’t even feature in the rankings yet goes toe-to-toe with the bigger names.Ed Battye
James Braid at his finest: dog-legs, pot bunkers, blind shots and the majestic Cairngorms as a backdrop. You will not be disappointed.Michael Atkinson
Everyone goes to play the Championship course, but more should take on its immediate neighbour. Some genuine quality here.Steve Carroll
I have two sister courses. The Craighead – Gil Hanse’s first solo design – and Dornoch’s Struie both make for great 36-hole days on the Scottish links when paired with their more famous siblings.Dove Jones
It doesn’t get mentioned enough for me – I think it is a gem.Greg Webber
A wonderful traditional links course near St Andrews that epitomises what Scottish seaside golf is about.Neil Gray
It occupies a wonderful piece of land and it makes the very best of the varied terrain. The greens are always in top-class condition and it has bags of old-world charm.Jim Banting
Everyone claims huge affection for this East Lothian beauty, then places it low on their list behind longer, less absorbing links. A victim of geography too, but a must-play if you’re in the North Berwick area.Craig Morrison
It probably doesn’t get as many visitors as other places due to privacy, but a class, understated links.Josh Poysden
The stretch of opening holes is brilliant and the collection of par-3s superb.Mike Robertson
Beautiful and challenging. Possibly the best Dave Thomas course in the UK.George Oldham
Hardly a hidden gem but it has four amazing par-3 holes that collectively are arguably the best on the Open rota. It is a course that tests the best and the setting is incredible.Peter Rudd
A great links golf test and always in good condition but is overlooked due to its location.Niall Flanagan
How many courses are reduced in quality by six weak holes? Shiskine sticks to 12 great ones. Thrills, spills and a dash of eccentricity.Sam Cooper
As good as some of its neighbours but usually overlooked.Phil Bedford