News & Opinion

Scotland or Ireland? Endless bucket-list stops abound

Royal County Down Northern Ireland
Royal County Down in Northern Ireland lands on any list of must-play courses on the Emerald Isle.

John Hawkins favors the Emerald Isle for its ‘unforgettable recreational experience’ and friendly people, but Mike Purkey can’t get enough of the ‘soul-speaking magic’ of St. Andrews and golf’s ancestral roots in Scotland. So, go ahead and argue among yourselves, but be advised: There are no losers in this debate.

Hawk & Purk Podcast Hero Article

Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the weekly Hawk & Purk podcast on, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Which destination in the British Isles has the best golf courses, Scotland or Ireland?

Hawk’s take: Considered separately, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland can’t really match Scotland in terms of high-quality volume. As a single entity, however, these bickering brothers boast the finest golf terrain on earth and hold a slight edge over their neighbor to the northeast. From the gritty brilliance of Lahinch to the seaside splendor of Ballybunion, from the unrelenting challenge at Royal Portrush to the visual magnificence at Royal County Down, the Emerald Isle offers the game’s most complete and unforgettable recreational experience.

The recent additions of Old Head, Doonbeg and the K Club have added crucial depth to Ireland’s roster of must-play venues. It wasn’t all that long ago when a golf trip to either region meant an inordinate amount of drive time to and from locations, but the motorway system has improved substantially since my first visit, in 1992. This still isn’t the place to go for those who easily get carsick. If your stomach permits, the views on the ride often are spectacular.

Perhaps most importantly, the Irish are justifiably known as some of the friendliest people on the planet. When you’re spending several thousand bucks and traveling several thousand miles to enjoy the pleasures of the little white ball, it makes perfect sense to do it in a land where the locals are glad to have you. It might even leave you wondering how these folks ever fought with one another.

St. Andrews, Old Course — Hole No. 18
A golf trip to Scotland would not be complete without a stop at St. Andrews’ Old Course, known as ‘the home of golf.’

Purk’s take: For the record, I love Ireland and was smitten on my first visit. But I also can make an impassioned case for Scotland.

And it begins and ends in St. Andrews. The Auld Grey Toon is and should be every golfer’s holy place. Even those who don’t play the game find a soul-speaking magic there. And those who do know it’s the end of a pilgrimage.

As for the golf, the Old Course heads the list of the Scottish greats, but it’s a deep lineup. Muirfield and Royal Troon join the Old Course as British Open venues. Granted, that trio can be harder than the Road Hole bunker to secure a starting time. If so, it doesn’t mean you’ve missed the best of Scottish golf.

Carnoustie and Turnberry also have hosted Opens and aren’t as difficult to get on. Royal Dornoch in the north is an absolute treasure, and down the coast, Royal Aberdeen and Castle Stuart are gems. Must-plays include Prestwick, North Berwick, Kingsbarns, Crail, Cruden Bay, Western Gailes and Machrihanish. The list could go on for a while.

Granted, Ireland is greener, and its food is better. But if you love great golf and a good pint at the end of the day, Scotland has all you could ever need.

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