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FORGIVE me if I sound like I’m bragging, but I recently won the Open at Carnoustie by two shots. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration – I beat Jean Van de Velde’s notorious seven on the last hole at Carnoustie in the 1999 Open championship by two  shots. And this after finding a mound of greenkeeper’s clippings with my second shot.

Treading in the footsteps of the game’s greats, past and present, on this famous course was part of the lure of hitting the East Coast Links Trail, but while this may be the jewel in the area’s crown, there are other gems to be unearthed.

And Linksland Communications will do the digging for you before mapping out a trip to the Angus and Dundee area to take in as many or as few of the gems as time and your budget allow.

In my case, time only allowed a visit to three of the 20 listed by the Scottish Tourist Board. Carnoustie’s rich history would make a visit there top of most golfers’ lists while in and around Dundee, but head further up the coast, 35 miles from the city, and sample Montrose, which lays claim to being the fifth oldest course in the world. Here is a layout which takes the breath away, both with the golfing challenge it sets and with its outstanding views. And with a history stretching back to its establishment in 1562, the ghosts at your shoulder on these fairways may not be as celebrated as those at Carnoustie, but they’ll be a lot older.

Established in 1850, Monifieth is but a young boy compared to Montrose, and although classed as a links course has a stretch of heathland holes which are pleasant on the eye if deceptive and more than capable of ballooning your score as the Montrose winds will your golf ball.

The men behind Linksland Communications are golf writer and photographer David J Whyte and former golf magazine editor Bill Robertson. David still lives in the area and Bill, as a schoolboy, was brought up as a member at Carnoustie.

If you want, they will organise your off-course activities as well as making all your travel, accommodation and golfing bookings.

More fine golf is to be found north of Dundee in the Highlands. If Scotland really is, as it proudly claims, the Home of Golf then the Highlands is probably one of its best decorated but least used rooms.

When planning a visit to the cradle of the sport, Carnoustie will be considered alongside St Andrews, home of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, Turnberry, Gleneagles and Royal Troon. But towards the very tip of Scotland lie 42 courses in a golfer’s paradise which is larger in acreage than Wales and yet holds just 200,000 inhabitants.

Here is a heady mixture of heath, parkland and links courses set in yet more stunning scenery, the latter more likely to be appreciated, perhaps, by a golfing widow – or widower – than their partner engrossed in the complexities of this great but humbling game. To offer an extra incentive to visit the area, the Scottish Tourist Board have created a series of 72-hole tournaments at courses throughout Scotland, starting with Spring’s Highland Classic – this year’s runs from May 13 to 16 – held over the courses at Royal Dornoch, Nairn Dunbar, Tain and Fortrose & Rose-markie.

Only the élite amateur golfers usually get a chance to play in a four-round format mirroring the staple diet of the professional, and with daily as well as 72-hole prizes on offer, Spring’s Highland Classic proves hugely popular. Undoubtedly the golfing highlight of the four days is the visit to Royal Dornoch, a course described by TV commentator Peter Alliss as “a treasure among all of Scotland’s seaside courses, a magnet for golfers all over the globe”.

This is one of five-times Open champion Tom Watson’s favourite courses – the compliments and visits he has paid it in the past before and after competing in the Open being rewarded with honorary membership by two shots. Although sharing a latitude with Hudson Bay and northern Russia, the Highlands claims to have its own temperate weather system, cocooned from the extremes often associated with Scotland.

A trip to play the four Highland Classics courses provided no evidence to refute this claim with the journey around Royal Dornoch’s championship course an afternoon and evening in golfing heaven.

The cuts sustained searching gorse for errant drives failed to dampen my enthusiasm for a course which provides a stern test for the low handicap amateur and a wonderful shoreline background to take the high handicap golfer's mind of his or her problems.

Nairn Dunbar and Tain offer more sheltered links while Fortrose & Rosemarkie is a testament to the golf architect's art of making the most of the land available. Set on a peninsula, most holes on both the outward and inward nine hug the shoreline to provide a test of nerve and skill, particularly when the wind is blowing.

To the travelling golfer, one pleasure undoubtedly comparable to the sinking of a long putt is sinking into the hotel bath to soak away the aches and pains of an arduous round.

My bath at the four-star Mansfield House Hotel in Tain in the Highlands was as welcome as a long birdie putt and my room housing it bigger than my entire accommodation at some hotels of my reluctant acquaintance. Mansfield House, which dates back to the 1870s, is run by the friendly Lauritsen family and offers sumptuous food, rooms and surroundings. A truly wonderful place to come back to each day regardless of the standard of your golf.

The same can be said of the Glenmorangie Highland Home at nearby Cadboll, the main house of which was built in the 17th century and where I was made to feel so much at home I offered, without thinking, to help with the washing up after the evening meal.

Accommodation can be had either within the house itself or in adjoining cottages, and during your stay you may be lucky enough to enjoy, as I did, the delights of a ceilidh. The range of the bagpipes' music is matched by the range of emotions it can stir and there were few dry eyes in the lounge at the end of the evening.

Few fully focused ones, either, after a trip to the Glenmorangie Distillery. Sampling a selection of the area’s celebrated whiskies may not help your golf game but will leave you relaxed enough not to worry about it. And you can learn more about the whiskeys at the Glenmorangie Highland Home which regularly plays host to tutored whiskey tastings.

The Hilton Dundee was base for much of my East Coast Links Trail, situated on the river front with a glorious view of the Tay Road Bridge. While the rooms may not have the luxurious and spacious feel of Mansfield House - or indeed the Links Hotel in Montrose, another four star hotel - they are comfortable and the hotel adjoins a health club for anyone wishing to warm up to or warm down from their round.

The Hilton is within walking distance of the town centre and just a few hundred yards from the Discovery, the Antarctic exploration vessel which took the ill-fated Capt Robert Scott and his crew on their first voyage to Antarctica.

A tour around the ship and its excellent museum will give a sense of perspective to any golfer tempted to bemoan his or her lot should the weather not be as clement as it was on my visits.

Picture: David J Whyte

East Coast Links Trail and The Highlands

Published: April 13, 2002

Picture: David J Whyte

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