Golfing Scotland, by Rail: Another Forth North

At Carnoustie, the train delivers you via Golf Street railway station, naturally.

By the time we had arrived in St. Andrews our twosome had grown by half. Dr. Pete, my personal physician and food-taster, had joined us two holes into our rain-soaked round on the Old Course, having arrived from Maine only that morning (and a bit late) via Dublin and Glasgow, bedecked in the latest Gortex fashions and bearing gifts.

“Viagra?” Trevor spluttered, highly circumspect, upon receiving his “medical” benefaction. “You shouldn’t have.”

“Aren’t we staying at your place tonight, Trevor?”

“Aye…”

“Consider it a hostess gift.”

Having followed our 18 the Old Course with 18 more that afternoon on the Old Course at Crail, we marked our last night in St. Andrews with a grueling pub crawl through the boisterous streets of this ancient university town. That modifier is often overlooked. St. Andrews isn’t just the Home of Golf. It’s home to The University of St. Andrews, the oldest university in Scotland and the third oldest in the English-speaking world. Few of the UK’s many golfing hotbeds boast this particular synergy of peerless golfing and kick-ass partying amenities. To wit, think about the number of pubs you’d expect to find in a typical British town of 15,000 souls. For an American, that number is quite high already. Triple it, add the vivacity and eye candy you’d expect from any burg sporting 8,500 college students, and you begin to get the idea.

And so we arrived at Leuchars Station the next morning doubly pleased with our preferred mode of travel. Nothing like a train ride to sleep off any lingering legacies of the Dunvegan, Lafferty’s, The Cellar Bar, Broons and The Raisin. We crashed hard, all three, as we crossed over the Firth of Tay. Try doing that in a rental car.

U.S. golfers tend to fixate on St. Andrews, with good reason. The game began there. However, it did not begin and end there.

Life goes on in Fife without its coastal route, and so does our rail journey — to the north, where Beeching’s Axe did less egregious damage and another stirring coastal route survives. Brawny Carnoustie rests less than an hour north of Leuchars, the links coming into view just as the train begins its station approach. We arrived there one afternoon at 3:30 p.m. and teed off (dead into a 4-club wind) at 3:55 p.m. The station and 1st tee are that close.

The convenient rail link was key in returning Carnoustie to the British Open Rota, in 1999, but the new Carnoustie Hotel, Golf Resort & Spa — completed just prior to the event — was equally pivotal, as it provided a facility modern and large enough to accommodate competitors, media and other tournament bigwigs. In between Open Championships (its most recent gig was 2007), the facility’s one-source design scheme (clubhouse, rooms, restaurants and bars all housed under one roof) deftly serves pilgrims drawn by a golf course the equal of any in Scotland.

Folks may not realize it, but there’s a second course at Carnoustie — the charming Burnside where Ben Hogan qualified for his famous Open victory in 1953 — and a third, the short but character-laden Buddon Links. With the fine links of Panmure and Monifieth just a cab ride away, Carnoustie is another golf-by-rail destination on the order of North Berwick. But make it a weigh station, for there are several more must-plays just up the line.

If the schedule permits, work in a game at Stonehaven, a quirky cliff-side links with breathtaking North Sea views and a 1st tee located half a mile (all downhill) from the station. Otherwise, press on to Royal Aberdeen, until recently the most underrated links in Britain. The 2005 Senior British Open telecast proved a powerful agent of change in this regard. The Balgownie Course at Royal Aberdeen is out of this world, and now everyone knows it.

[This is the penultimate installment in a six-part travel log. Be sure to check back in a couple days for the finale, along with other new content.]

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