Old Tom Morris Trail
Bonnie Wee Golf launches the Old Tom Morris Trail
Introduction to the Old Tom Morris Trail by Golf Historian, Stephen Proctor
“In golf, all roads lead to one man: Tom Morris, of St Andrews. During the 19th Century, as the Scottish game was coming of age, Old Tom spread the gospel of golf by travelling the length and breadth of the nation creating one devilishly fun course after another.
From his earliest days at Prestwick, Old Tom demonstrated a gift for using the natural landscape to craft dastardly holes like the Alps, which even today strikes fear into the hearts of players facing the carry over that massive dune and the yawning Sahara Bunker.
Now, from the 200th anniversary of his birth, golfers can follow in the master’s footsteps along the Old Tom Morris Golf Trail, playing memorable courses from the Outer Hebrides to the Highlands, down the coast to Fife and the Lothians, and through the west from Ayr to the Mull of Kintyre.
Created by Bonnie Wee Golf, the Trail features eighteen classics designed or enhanced by Old Tom himself, from gems like Dornoch, Crail, and Cruden Bay to Open Championship stalwarts like Muirfield, Prestwick, and St Andrews.
Play them all in one grand loop — beginning at Askernish on South Uist and ending at Machrihanish — or choose a loop of your own in the region of Scotland that speaks to your golfing soul. What better way to celebrate the birthday of the game’s Grand Old Man?”
– Words by Stephen Proctor – Author of ‘Monarch of The Green’
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In 2021, Bonnie Wee Golf’s Dave Harris & Stewart Morrison embarked on this incredible golfing journey in May this year, playing all 18 golf courses in 18 days.
The official start of the trail is Askernish in South Uist, part of the incredible Outer Hebrides and the official finish is Machrihanish on the iconic Mull of Kintyre. The Tom Morris Bar & Grill in St Andrews will be the trail’s halfway house. The Old Clubhouse Pub at Machrihanish will be the official 19th Hole of the Old Tom Morris Trail.
We have carefully selected 18 Scottish golf courses that have been originally designed, slightly tweaked or masterfully enhanced by Old Tom. The below course list represents the official order of the Old Tom Morris Trail . . . .
” . . . IN THE SUN, WIND OR HAIL,
FROM ROYAL DORNOCH TO CRAIL . . .
. . . COME FOLLOW MY FOOTSTEPS
ON THE OLD TOM MORRIS TRAIL . . . “
On the Isle of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides, the golfing explorer can discover a stunning, restored piece of links land which has earned world renown. In June 1891, Old Tom, accompanied by his companion Horace Hutchinson, travelled to the remote island off the west coast at the request of the landowners and went on to lay out 18 holes over the rolling dunes. Incredibly, the course was lost for over 70 years before ‘Master Greenkeeper’ Gordon Irvine stumbled across it on holiday and re-discovered its remarkable heritage. In 2008 the course was restored and, at 6,259 yards, offers a superb challenge over the unique terrain.
2. Royal Dornoch
Royal Dornoch is revered across the world, a venue consistently ranked inside the top-15 of global standings. On the banks of the Dornoch Firth, the Championship Course presents a magical, engrossing challenge with glorious vistas from virtually every hole. Initially, there were loosely nine holes at Dornoch, with no greens, no fairways and merely stretches of links land closely cropped by animals such as cattle, sheep and rabbits. The Club invited Old Tom to visit Dornoch in 1886, make a survey of the links and lay out a more fully planned golf course – one that has stood the tests of time to this very day.
Tain, situated on the south shore of the Dornoch Firth, is part of the wonderful golfing menu in the Scottish Highlands. Royal Dornoch, Golspie and Brora are all in close proximity for the golfing visitor. It was in 1890 that Old Tom was counselled to weave his magic over the links. Only 15 holes could initially be constructed, then reduced to 12, and it was not until the 1894 season that sufficient finances were in place. The Club’s fortune is that so many of Tom’s original holes survive, either wholly or in part. These include the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 9th going out and, coming home, the 10th, 14th, and 15th.
4. The Nairn
Assisting clubs in the far north of Scotland is a legacy of Old Tom Morris’ work. The Nairn GC is another of his fine achievements, a glorious links course hugging the Moray Firth and host to countless leading events down the years – notably The Amateur Championship in 2021. Taking forward the initial design of Archie Simpson for the Club’s founding in 1887, Old Tom was called upon a few years later to totally revise the course and extend it westward over the Earl of Cawdor’s property. Today, it is a masterpiece of a design with the sea in play on six of the first seven holes, with raised greens and others nestled in hollows to test the best.
5. Moray Old
The sweeping views from the first tee at Moray Old provide anticipation and delight in equal measure. The Old Course is widely considered to be one of the finest links courses in Scotland. A classic links designed by Old Tom with deep bunkers, undulating gorse-lined fairways and smooth, fast greens. It was developed by Old Tom in 1889 and is a superb par- 71 test with a host of challenging par-4s. The course begins and ends in the town of Lossiemouth and shares many characteristics of the Old Course at St Andrews, such is its overall quality. The views from the Clubhouse are also among the best in the country.
6. Cullen Links
Cullen is arguably the most unique of Old Tom’s designs. Using the natural golfing terrain and the site’s best features to perfection, he carved an eye-catching course in this small village in Moray. Old Tom did so in 1881, where prior to that perhaps only three holes had existed. Situated east of Elgin on the North Sea coast, the course sits on Cullen Beach overlooking Cullen Bay and was fully opened in 1905 after being extended from nine holes. A par-63 at 4,623 yards, it features 10 par-3’s across its 18 holes – including four in a row on the back nine. It’s highly entertaining, memorable and challenging at the same time.
7. Cruden Bay
Cruden Bay is one of the most synonymous names in Scottish golf, a venue steeped in history and design. Offering a unique and unforgettable experience, the course in the north-east – some 25 miles north of Aberdeen – represents old-fashioned links golf at its very best. The course was commissioned by the Great North of Scotland Railway following the expansion of the railways at the end of the 19th century, designed by Old Tom, and opened in 1899. The creation demands all facets of a player’s game, against a backdrop of subtly contoured greens and magnificent panoramic views.
Montrose is part of a rich stretch of links golf on Scotland’s north-east coast. Golf has been played for over 450 years at the venue, remarkably making it the fifth oldest in the world. Its greens, tees and fairways stretch along the North Sea, with the exception of holes 10 to 13, which are inland. A renowned venue for various amateur and professional championships, Old Tom worked with the Club in 1901 to make alterations to the original design. Willie Park Jnr made further modifications two years later, with several of the opening holes today played over the same centuries-old links land.
A respected venue of The Open and host to the AIG Women’s Open as recently as 2021, Carnoustie is a Championship test to rival the very best – and is often regarded as the toughest test. Golf is at the heart of the Angus town, much like St Andrews, and has been played there for almost 500 years. In 1842, Allan Robertson laid out a 10-hole course with the help of Old Tom, before Tom returned to Carnoustie in 1867 to extend the layout to 18 holes and maintain a legacy to this day. In 1926, James Braid introduced substantial changes to the course, one that continues to challenge yet also enthuse the world’s greatest players.
10. St Andrews Old
The effect and influence Old Tom had on the game of golf cannot be understated. That is nowhere truer than at the iconic Old Course in St Andrews, the home of golf. Morris’ presence can still be felt wherever you go in his hometown, where he was born in 1821. His career went from caddie to club-maker; custodian of Prestwick where The Open was born to four-time winner of the championship; then back to St Andrews as ‘Keeper of the Green’. From 1864, Old Tom made significant changes to the Old, making it the course we adore today. He widened fairways, removed whins, rough and heather, enabling greens to be approached from more angles, as well as adding bunkers and removing others. The 18 holes became the standard for courses around the world.
11. St Andrews New
A pitch shot from the adjacent Old Course in St Andrews, the New Course is arguably the toughest test in the town and one that is admired by many. Given the ‘New’ title to differentiate from its illustrious neighbour, the course was in fact built by the ‘Keeper of the Green’, Old Tom, back in 1895. Boasting undulating fairways and challenging greens, the New is a classic test of links golf and similar in character to the Old. The layout was based on the traditional out and back routing, and among its most famous features are the shared fairways and a double green at the 3rd and 15th holes.
12. Crail Balcomie
The long entrance to reach the links at Crail simply whets the appetite for what is to come. Home to two courses, it is the Balcomie that is the most famed. Golf on the links dates back to 1857, with much of the course as it is played today down to the eye of Old Tom. He laid out the first nine holes in 1895 and extended the course to 18 holes in 1900. In the East Neuk of Fife, a short drive from St Andrews, the Balcomie is unique, challenging, scenic and, perhaps above all, fun. Natural hollows, stone walls, shared greens and tricky bunkers make the Balcomie Links a truly special place.
13. Luffness New
Part of the stunning stretch of golf that makes up ‘Scotland’s Golf Coast’ in East Lothian, Luffness New was established in l894 when the course was designed by Old Tom. A traditional links course and in excellent condition all-year round condition, Luffness offers challenging and enjoyable golf in an historic setting. Not overly long, it offers a true test of golf, especially if the wind blows down the Firth of Forth and the rough is up in the warm summer months. The bunkers are well placed to punish an errant shot, so there is a premium on accuracy and patience.
A 16-time host to The Open and venue for the AIG Women’s Open in 2022, Muirfield’s illustrious history is well known. Indeed, it is consistently ranked as one of the finest courses in the world, such is its overall quality from first hole to last. Golf was first played at Muirfield in 1891 on 16 holes laid out by Old Tom, which was extended to 18 holes for The Open the following year. Situated near Gullane along the Firth of Forth, it is the home of The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, the oldest society of golfers in the world. In 1928, further course revisions improved this respected venue yet further.
15. North Berwick
There is a feel like St Andrews on the links of North Berwick, given you start and end in the town centre. The West Links is part of the very fabric of the local area. Heading out, you can glance at the sea on every hole while you find yourself negotiating walls and burns, bumps and hollows. The stretch of holes from the 12th tee coming home are among the finest in the game, all full of character and history. With the East Lothian club founded in 1832 and the origins of the course dating to the same year, Old Tom had a strong influence on the design of the West Links and also played challenge matches on the famous links.
A 40-minute drive from Edinburgh along the A1 brings the golfer to Dunbar, where the North Sea meets the Firth of Forth. Golf has been played on the links since at least the early 1600s, before the golf club was formed in 1856. Old Tom came down from St Andrews to redesign the course in 1894, yet the current layout came from the work of James Braid and North Berwick’s Ben Sayers in 1922-24. The course is primarily an out-and-in design – the
majority of holes on land between the sea and a long, stone wall that was the original course’s boundary – yet the course begins with an interesting three-hole inland loop.
Old Tom moved his young family to Prestwick on the west coast of Scotland in 1851. He laid out and cared for the original 12-hole course at Prestwick GC, with the venue hosting the first Open Championship in 1860. The final six holes were added in 1883, well after Morris returned to St. Andrews in 1864. Six of his original greens are still in play. An exceptional course, while quirky at times, your rarely leave Prestwick without a smile. Packed with blind shots – the 17th ‘Alps’ is a prime example – driveable par-4s, huge bunkers and slick greens, it’s a lesson in golf course design and one to savour.
The journey to the far south-west of Scotland is rewarded with the delights that await at Machrihanish. Old Tom extended this famous Kintyre links from 12 to 18 holes in 1879. In doing so, he created one of golf’s most iconic opening holes where you drive across the beach and carry as much of the water as you dare. Set at the remote southern tip of the Mull of Kintyre, the course weaves its way through magical dunes, especially on the front nine. Machrihanish is almost as ruggedly natural now as it was back in Old Tom’s time. Staying focused on the fairways given the beautiful surroundings is no easy task.
Each golfer will be gifted a unique Old Tom Morris Trail collectors edition commemorative coin for each of the 18 golf courses that they play and those who complete the trail will be awarded a commemorative wall display for all 18 coins.
We’re excited to launch the Old Tom Morris Trail in early 2022 . . . please visit OldTomMorrisTrail.com for more information.