Both whiskey (or whisky, if you’re in Scotland) and golf got their starts in the British Isles, and it ends up, they pair well together. The long histories of the spirit and the sport mean any local place will have its own version of the story to tell, and you can get a lot of different flavors in the glass and on the green.
If you’re traveling in Ireland, Northern Ireland, or Scotland for one, you may as well plan to enjoy the other as well! Here are five of my favorite pairings of golf courses and distilleries in Great Britain and Ireland.
Glenmorangie and Royal Dornoch
Dornoch is a peaceful town on the northeast coast of Scotland overlooking the Dornoch Firth (or estuary), which is a nature reserve. The Glenmorangie Distillery was founded there in 1843 and has attempted to capture this peaceful spirit in the whisky it bottles ever since. The scotch brand’s name even means “valley of tranquility” in Scots Gaelic. The Royal Dornoch Golf Club was founded just 33 years after the whisky distillery, and its spellbinding landscape offers that same inner peace. The Championship course presents the classic challenges of a natural links course, and thanks to its relaxed atmosphere, the club is a must-play for many golfers around the world.
Bushmills and Royal Portrush
Bushmills Distillery and Royal Portrush like to set themselves apart with their unique achievements: Bushmills is the oldest distillery in the world (first licensed in 1608), and Royal Portrush is the only golf course in Northern Ireland to host The British Open. They are both important destinations in County Antrim, which might otherwise be just another small community of fishing villages. I recommend spending the morning golfing and then touring the Old Bushmills distillery in the afternoon to wind down with your favorite of Bushmills’ varied flavors.
Laphroaig and Machrie
Laphroaig is a Scotch whisky from Islay that is renowned for its rich flavor, and they’ve been dividing the opinion about Scotch locally and abroad since 1815. The taste may not be for everyone, but a tour of the grounds and a round of tastings of their various casks and years may help you find a flavor you love. The Machrie has also been causing a stir in recent years, with construction to upgrade the links course to a fully-modern version causing some traditionalists to question the remaining authenticity. The course was famous for having more blind holes than any other, and for having a wild, untamed quality, like the golf courses of yore. Have the updates to the course lost it its charm? I don’t think so, but you might as well play a round to decide for yourself.
Glenkinchie and Muirfield
When touring Edinburgh, you should make time for Edinburgh Castle, the Stone of Destiny, and Arthur’s Seat, of course. But it’s also worthwhile to take a tour just outside the city and see some of the surrounding countryside. I recommend a day on the links at Muirfield and a tour of the Glenkinchie Distillery for some Scotch whisky. Muirfield, home to “The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers”, was updated in 2010 and 2011 to make it a more challenging championship course for the 2013 British Open, and the changes received universal approval. The Club will allow women to play as guests or visitors any day of the week, but they are pretty strict about two-ball match play, regardless of your handicap. Glenkinchie, by contrast, offers, several tour options depending on what level of Scotch tasting you’re interested in, including a tasting of Scotch from around the country.
Kingsbarns and The Old Course
I’d be remiss to mention golf in Scotland without bringing up the Home of Golf: The Old Course at St. Andrews. The course is arguably the most popular destination in Scotland for the sport, due to its six centuries of history and renowned difficulty of play. After the excitement of securing a tee time and crossing the Swilcan Bridge, it’s always nice to finish up with a dram of whisky. I like to pair the old with the new and recommend a trip to nearby Kingsbarns Distillery. This new addition to the scotch whisky scene was a dream until 2014, when the Wemyss family turned an aging and derelict farmhouse into their top-of-the-line modern distillery. The first single malt from Kingsbarns, the Dream to Dram, was released in early 2019, and produces a light, fruity and floral Lowland malt worth adding to your collection. A tour and tasting at Kingsbarns are a perfect addition to a week in St. Andrews.
With over 120 distilleries in Scotland to match with 550 golf courses, and 30 whiskey distilleries in Ireland to go with the 300 golf courses, there are sure to be hundreds of pairings worth trying. What are your favorites?
Ravi Coutinho is Founder and Lead Golf Travel Expert at Worldwide Golf Adventures. Worldwide Golf Adventures is a luxury golf tour operator that arranges custom golf vacations for clients around the world.