While the highlands might not be the best bet for golf at this time of year, in lowland areas of Scotland — including some of the first places the game was ever played — courses are open year-round. The Fife Peninsula on Scotland's eastern side is known as the "home of golf," and it's often much easier to get a tee time at one of its 45 courses during the fall or winter.
Scottish courses aren't the manicured sort Americans are used to, so a little mist or sprinkles just add to the challenges that already exist. And many of Scotland's coastal courses are near some of the country's most intriguing scenery and historic sites.
A visit to St. Andrews Links, where golf was invented, is a must-do for many serious golfers. Its Old Course, known for its challenging bunkers, has been around for 600 years. The New Course, designed by Old Tom Morris, is a mere 100 years old. If you'd like to live the golfer's dream of playing the Old Course, be sure to consult the St. Andrews website to find out how to reserve a tee time in advance — well in advance: You usually need to book a year ahead to get a spot.
The only exception is playing in the typically wet months of November and December, when you can still reserve a spot on the Old Course as part of a winter package that includes three of St. Andrews' 10 diverse courses over a few weekdays.
Other courses in Fife also come with their fair share of history along with challenging play — and discounted rates during the winter. Not far from St. Andrews, Scotscraig Golf Club is known for its expansive rolling greens and favorable weather.
Ladybank Golf Club prides itself for its abundant wildlife as well as its beautiful greens. But it has its challenges: "If you stray off line expect to be heavily punished for your sins," one online description warns.
Lundin Golf Club, known locally as "Lundie," is a challenging course right on the sea. Like Ladybank and Scotscraig, it's often used as a qualifying course when Open Championships are played at St. Andrews. Along with Crail Golfing Society, another of the world's's oldest courses, the three courses offer discounted rates and easy booking through the Links With History initiative.
Consider sticking around for a few days and play more than one course. The First in Fife golf pass lets you do three rounds of golf at one of 13 Fife courses for £63 or a five-round pass for £99.
For something completely different (and truly historic) try golfing as it was a hundred years ago at Kingarrock Hickory Golf. Frederick Sharp, the golf-loving owner of the estate in the early 20th century, had the nine-hole family course built on the grounds in front of his mansion. Today, players hit rubber balls with the same hickory-shaft clubs used in the 1920s. The staff "will provide you with a Spoon, Driving Iron, Mid Mashie, Mashie Niblick and Putter, together with helpful advice on play," the website says. The house and gardens, restored by the National Trust for Scotland, also make for an interesting visit.
Golf lovers can do more than play: The area hosts professional and amateur tournaments for those who like to watch the best tackle tough courses. The Old Course, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie Golf Links cohost the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship each October. Olympians Michael Phelps and Oscar Pistorius were among the players paired with professional golfers for the 2012 team event (Phelps, who had just won a record-breaking 18th gold medal in the London Summer Games, sank a 53-foot putt during the tournament, while Pistorius got a birdie on the 18th hole at the Old Course).
When you've sufficiently chilled yourself on the links, you can warm up at one of Fife's pubs. And during days off the course, there's plenty to see at the castles, cathedrals and other historic sites that rival the golf in making the area famous. Most of these sites are open year round (although some have shorter opening hours or be closed a day or two a week; check before you go).
Explore the remains of Dunfermline Palace and Abbey, for example: Originally built as a Benedictine abbey for Queen Margaret in the 11th century, much of the existing structure dates back to the 12th century, when Scottish hero Robert the Bruce was buried there.
The ruins of St. Andrews Castle include the remnants of underground siege tunnels and fortifications. The castle was the center of the Scottish church in medieval times as well as the political and religious intrigues of the Scottish Reformation in 1560. The crumbling but still magnificent stones of nearby St. Andrews Cathedral rise over the coastal cliffs and the town of St. Andrews. Although many of its walls have tumbled down, its sheer size (it was the largest church in Scotland in medieval times) is evident from the remnants.
by Christy Karras
Top: England cricket captain Andrew Strauss in action during The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at the Kingsbarns Golf Links, in the heart of Scotland's "home of golf." (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Right: A view of the 12th green during the Open Championship on the Old Course, St Andrews. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
Left: The ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral dominate the town of St. Andrews, Scotland and the coastline. (Photo: Britain on View/Visit Britain)