x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Golf's rough diamonds

At the sport's home in Scotland, away from the best-known courses usually favoured by visitors from the UAE lie hidden gems of outstanding beauty.

Courses such as the Carnoustie Golf Links are known to visitors. Scotland boasts many more links that can be very challenging.
Courses such as the Carnoustie Golf Links are known to visitors. Scotland boasts many more links that can be very challenging.

There are few more enduring images of modern golf than Tiger Woods striding across the rough at the Old Course in St Andrews. The American sports star has won 14 Majors during a glittering career but his two Open victories at the iconic Scottish links stand out as something special.

"To win here is certainly one of the bigger highlights of my career because it is the home of golf," said Woods when at the course in July. In Scotland, the game's ancestral home, the sport is at its best in August, drawing large numbers of foreign visitors from all over the world, including the Gulf. But while courses such as St Andrews, Carnoustie and Prestwick trip off the tongue for most golf tourists, Scotland boasts many more secluded links that offer some of the most challenging rounds in the world.

Travellers used to the baking Arabian heat are undeterred by Scotland's notoriously bracing climate, says the golfing tour operator Kaleem Akbar, who works for Evolution Golf Scotland in Dubai. "They [Emiratis] really, really enjoy the weather," he insists. "The fact that it doesn't get dark until after 10 o'clock during the summer is a big plus." The long daylight hours allow for extended games into the evening or even a second round. Some courses offer "twilight teeing fees" after 3pm, which allow players to finish as the sun sets over the fairways.

Although London is still the biggest draw for Emiratis, Scotland saw 27,000 visitors from the UAE last year, according to the tourist board's VisitScotland. Mr Akbar says Middle Eastern tourism figures are increasing in Scotland, with visitors from Kuwait, Lebanon and the UAE leading the way, drawn by the country's famous links courses. This, he says, illustrates a shift in tastes by Emirati visitors, who are finding new holiday locations every year. "For a long time it was only London but I do think Scotland is rising as a tourist destination."

Many visit solely for the pleasure of teeing off from one of Scotland's picturesque courses. The historic heartlands of St Andrews and Perthshire on the east coast, where the sport initially took off, typically account for the largest number of golf trips. But although the east coast is the most common stomping ground for Scotland's golfers, there are other breathtaking courses tucked away around the country.

Askernish, on the isle of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides, is one such diamond in the rough. Far from the immaculately groomed lawns of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, visitors to this rugged island will be met by magnificent views of the Atlantic Ocean. After a six-hour drive and ferry trip from Glasgow, they will also play the most invigorating and challenging rounds of golf on what has been hailed as "the most natural links course in the world".

Tom Morris, the man known as the father of the professional game, founded the course in 1891 but it fell out of fashion on the golfing circuits over the years until it was rediscovered in 2002. After the course was reopened, the former Scotland international footballer Kenny Dalglish was asked to be the new president and he described the links as one of the most "spectacular settings in the world and a phenomenal golfing challenge".

"I will do everything I can to help promote this wonderful course," he added. "And I know that when someone comes here to play Askernish, that they'll be hooked for life." Scarista Links on the Isle of Harris is another hidden gem. Its topography formed over centuries by the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean, the course is one of the most remote in Scotland and can be reached only after a four-hour drive and ferry trip from Glasgow or by seaplane.

Some of Scotland's golf courses have had mixed fortunes over the years. Turnberry, which was bought by the Dubai World offshoot Leisurecorp in 2008 for £55 million (Dh321.4m), is one such example. The course and hotel were flattened and paved over to be used as an airfield by the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. But since 1945, it has become one of the most prestigious courses on the professional circuit, hosting The Open on a number of occasions.

Naturally, these fairways have become major tourist attractions. Mr Akbar, for example, runs customised tours for Middle Eastern visitors wishing to see these spectacular courses for themselves. He says another advantage is the proximity of areas of outstanding natural beauty to the shopping centres and restaurants of Scotland's urban centres. "You could be sitting in a cabin on Loch Lomond and in Glasgow city centre within 30 minutes," he says.

Mr Akbar's tours also include visits to local mosques and trips to Scottish restaurants where you can dine on the traditional supper of haggis, neeps and tatties … all halal, of course, and just the nourishment you need after a hard day on the links. business@thenational.ae

St Andrews Established in 1552, the Old Course at St Andrews, near Dundee in the east of Scotland, is the game's spiritual heartland and draws visitors from all over the world Carnoustie Also near Dundee, Carnoustie has reportedly been used for golf since the early 16th century. The course is challenging, even for the best professional golfers Turnberry Opened in 1906 in Ayrshire, near Glasgow, this course hosted an epic duel between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson during The Open in 1977 Prestwick Home of the first Open in 1860, the course hosted 24 championships until the crowds became too numerous and larger venues were sought Askernish Founded in 1891, the course on the isle of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides off the north-western coast of Scotland was rediscovered and restored by a retired policeman and golfing fan in recent years, reopening in 2008 Scarista A windswept course on the Isle of Harris in the Hebrides. With breathtaking views, the island is also popular among surfers who can withstand the chilly North Atlantic waves *Compiled by Gregor Hunter * Agence France-Presse