Course rankings lists aren't just about the trophy courses. They should also cut through the hype and judge on merit, says Dan Murphy

From Portpatrick to Wick, and The Machrie to Peterhead, visits to some of Scotland’s golfing outposts in the name of course rankings research happily dominated my 2018 season.

I hope you agree that our list of the best golf courses in Scotland is a diligent and thorough course rankings feature on the very best that the Home of Golf has to offer.

I was lucky to lead a phenomenally knowledgeable and dedicated panel. I took it upon myself as chairman of the project to visit as many courses on our shortlist that I hadn’t played as possible. Plus those that had materially changed since my last visit and others I simply hadn’t seen for a while.

As you can imagine, logistical challenges played a part. There is often little more than a geographical reason why a course is under-appreciated and that’s unfair. No course is materially worse because it happens to take an extra hour to get to.

As panellist Ed Battye and I recently discussed, expectation is a huge and under-rated element of golf course rankings. Stand on the 1st tee of a trophy venue and you expect an awful lot. Subconsciously, you can be in the frame of mind of picking fault rather than admiring.

By contrast, arrive at a little-known links with a modest clubhouse and you are thrilled to discover smooth, true greens, rippled fairways and a view of the sea.

I try to speak as I find, and I try to judge a course on its merits. That’s why I decided to remove elements like off-course facilities, clubhouses, dining and service from our course rankings lists.

For our purposes, a course begins on the 1st tee and ends on the final green. We only care about the course.

Course rankings features – the lowdown

Buckpool is a great example of where this approach to course rankings can take us. This unassuming links is some 50 miles east of Inverness, on the Moray Coast, heading in the general direction of Aberdeen.

It’s a modest club and you shouldn’t exactly expect to find fine dining, or a concierge service, or a pro shop packed with logoed merchandise or a starter calling you on to the tee. If that’s your thing then look elsewhere.

On the other hand, it has 18 holes by the sea, some of the best greens I putted on all year and a couple of the cutest par 4s you could ever wish to play.

Is it the best course in Scotland? No. Should we add it to the Open rota forthwith? Maybe not.

Course rankings features Buckpool

Course rankings features Buckpool

Course rankings features – the lowdown

But I guarantee that anyone who takes the trouble to play here will have a great time. Team it up with the Nairn (Nairn Dunbar is pictured above) and Lossiemouth courses and what a great trip you will have. The Moray coast is a special part of the world, and I predict you will love it.

Every town and village has its own little course, whether inland or Elgin or coastal at Cullen.

Discovering places like Buckpool – and there are several others like it on this coast alone – is what makes course rankings projects like this worthwhile.