Old Tom Morris Trail showcases Morris' design genius

Opened in 2022, the eclectic trail hits 18 Scottish courses that Morris either designed, redesigned or consulted on and pays a fitting tribute

Cullen Links.jpg
Old Tom Morris designed the first nine holes of Cullen Golf Links along the coast in 1870.

Scotland’s Old Tom Morris Trail can’t make any guarantees about the weather, though it’s highly unlikely you’ll enjoy quite as many successive days of sunshine as Jay Kerutis did recently.

Playing nine courses on the 18-strong circuit, the retired computer software company president had little need for the base layers, sweaters and trousers he had packed, relying instead on polo shirts and two pairs of shorts.

"It was unbelievable," he says. "We had a 5 to 15 mile per hour breeze every day and the temperature was in the mid- to high-60s. I didn’t think I’d need the shorts, but wore one pair or the other for every round."

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Old Tom Morris Trail map.

Kerutis plays a lot of golf nowadays, and has been a frequent visitor to Britain, where he has teed it up at 119 links courses. He first heard about the Old Tom Morris Trail during the pandemic and organized a trip in summer 2022. Joining him would be seven friends from Las Sendas Golf Club in Mesa, Arizona — five of whom had never been to Scotland or played anything approximating a genuine links.

Wild and windy Askernish Golf Club on the Outer Hebridean island of South Uist is the first course on the Trail, which follows a clockwise route around the Auld Country’s coastline. Not all the courses are Morris originals nor are they just as he left them, though each benefitted from his expertise to some degree.

Conceived by David Harris, a former caddie at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, the Trail officially opened on the 201st anniversary of Morris’ birth — June 16 2022. Harris, now owner of a travel company called Bonnie Wee Golf that organizes trips to Scotland and Ireland for a predominantly American clientele, had played all 324 holes with his cousin, Stewart Morrison, in May 2021 before seeking each course’s permission to be included.

"We’d picked the courses carefully," Harris says, "choosing only links that Old Tom had either designed, redesigned or consulted at. Every one of them liked the idea of a trail and were very happy to get involved."

Kerutis had little trouble convincing his group’s five Scotland newbies that playing the Old Tom Morris Trail would be a great trip, but he was a little concerned it would start at the unsettlingly remote Askernish.

"It’s among the least-known of the Trail courses," he says, "and was a bit of an eye-opener for those that hadn’t played a true links before. I could see them thinking ‘Holy cow, is this what it’s going to be like at every course?"

As natural and undefiled a links as exists, Askernish traverses a scarcely imaginable dunescape from the 7th hole on that is apt to overwhelm the first-timer a little. It can be a touch hostile at times but invigorating and utterly delightful at others.

"Whatever conditions you find at Askernish, it likely won'tremind a golfer of any course they've played before, and may take a visit or two to come to terms with.

"Nobody disliked it, certainly," Kerutis says. "And I could sense the others beginning to appreciate it for what it is as the trip went on."

Acclaimed author Stephen Proctor, who first met Harris in 2012 and who played all 18 of the Trail’s courses in June 2022, has had a year to reflect on his round at Askernish and remembers it fondly.

"I knew it would be like stepping back in time to experience golf as it was in the 1890s," he says. "The historian in me was more excited by that prospect than anything else along the Trail, and it did not disappoint. It was, and always will be, the most thrilling experience I’ve had in this game."

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Old Tom Morris designed Askernish Golf Club in 1891. Through the years, Morris' work faded until master greenkeeper Gordon Irvine and architect Martin Ebert revived what were thought to be Morris' original work.

Kerutis’s group followed up its extraordinary start with rounds at Royal Dornoch, Tain, Nairn, Moray, and the remarkable Cruden Bay before arriving at Cullen Links on June 2.

"Moray was perhaps most of the guys’ favorite," he says. "But, for me, the most memorable stop was Cullen. I’d not played it before, and seeing Old Tom’s holes on the back nine alongside the huge sandstone sea stacks was so cool."

Proctor had been similarly taken by the rugged, slightly unkempt, course that, with 10 par 3s, doesn’t even reach 5,000 yards.

"It was, far and away, my biggest surprise," he says. "Before I played the Old Tom Morris Trail, I would have said without hesitation that there is no more fun place to play golf than North Berwick. Now, I’m not so sure. Cullen is just ridiculously fun to play — an experience I won’t soon forget."

Technically, the next course on Kerutis’ journey should have been Montrose, but instead he headed west to Prestwick and finally Machrihanish, of which he is an overseas member and which he was desperate to show his friends.

"Machrihanish is just an incredible golf course," he says. "I’ve been a member for years and don’t think I can be happier than when I’m there."

The group flew home on June 7 full of amazing memories and eager to return next year when they will complete the Trail with rounds at Montrose, Carnoustie, St. Andrews (Old and New), Crail (Balcomie), Luffness New, Muirfield, North Berwick and Dunbar.

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Painting of Old Tom Morris commissioned by Bonnie Wee Golf.

Just as they did this time, they’ll leave the organizing to Bonnie Wee Golf and have one of the team’s employees drive them from course to course while dispensing sage advice on how to play them, as well as providing a little history and insider information.

"We wanted to relax and enjoy a few pints," Kerutis says, "so didn’t want to drive."

Proctor had a little more time between rounds when he visited last year and enjoyed a few side trips visiting Balmoral Castle, the Royal Lochnagar whisky distillery, and Jack White’s famous golf shop in Gullane — now run by golf historian and hickory player Boris Lietzow — among other attractions.  

The focus of the trip, though, will obviously be discovering the superb golf courses Old Tom Morris designed or contributed to the design of. He had what Proctor calls a "genius for finding adventuresome, natural green sites" and a "Midas touch for routing courses in a way that provided stirring golf."

"He spent half a century traveling to remote corners of the nation to lay out courses," Proctor adds. “At the time, reaching some of those places could be torturously difficult. And he never once raised his design fee above £1."


Website: OldTomMorrisTrail.com

Location: Askernish, Scotland.
Year opened: 1891.
Yardage / Par: 6,259 / 72.
Twitter: @AskernishGC
Website: AskernishGolfClub.com
Good to know: Laid out by Old Tom Morris in 1891, the course faded over subsequent decades, but was revived by master greenkeeper Gordon Irvine and architect Martin Ebert, who found what are thought to be many of Morris’ original holes. The new Askernish, which looks as old as any course on the mainland, opened in 2008.

Location: Dornoch, Scotland.
Year opened: 1877.
Yardage / Par: 6,799 / 70.
Instagram: @royal.dornoch
Twitter: @RoyalDornochGC
Website: RoyalDornoch.com
Good to know: Golf was first played among the dunes at Dornoch in 1616, though a club didn’t form until 1877. It was awarded Royal status in 1906. Morris extended the original nine holes to 18 in 1886. Club secretary John Sutherland made subsequent changes, and Dornoch native Donald Ross worked here as greenkeeper, clubmaker and professional from 1893 to 1899 before leaving for America.

Location: Tain, Scotland.
Year opened: 1890.
Yardage / Par: 6,404 / 70.
Instagram: @taingolfclub1890
Twitter: @TainGolfClub
Website: Tain-GolfClub.co.uk
Good to know: Morris found only 15 suitable green sites in 1890. Sutherland revised the layout a few years later, retaining 10 Morris originals and finding three new holes. The approach to the 11th green through a gap between massive sand dunes is perhaps the highlight of this course.

Location: Nairn, Scotland.
Year opened: 1887.
Yardage / Par: 6,832 / 71.
Instagram: @nairngolfclub
Twitter: @NairnGolfClub
Website: NairnGolfClub.co.uk
Good to know: In 1890, Morris revised Arthur Simpson’s 3-year-old layout, extending the course west over the Earl of Cawdor’s property. Since then Ben Sayers, James Braid and Tom Mackenzie / Martin Ebert have made changes.  

Location: Lossiemouth, Scotland.
Year opened: 1889.
Yardage / Par: 6,572 / 71.
Twitter: @MorayGC
Website: MorayGolf.co.uk
Good to know: The first club in the town of Lossiemouth was founded in 1875, but quickly fizzled out. When it was revived in 1889, Old Tom Morris found 16 holes but more land was soon leased to find two more. A nine-hole ladies course was built in 1935 and, in 1979, Henry Cotton added nine holes to the existing nine to form the club’s New Course.

Location: Cullen, Scotland.
Year opened: 1870.
Yardage / Par: 4,623 / 63.
Instagram: @cullenlinks
Twitter: @CullenGC1
Website: CullenLinksGolf.co.uk
Good to know: Morris designed the first nine holes along the coast in 1870. Moray professional Charlie Neaves added 10 more inland from OTM’s holes in 1905 — one of the original holes was lost. Sandstone stacks on the back nine are Cullen’s most memorable feature.  

Location: Cruden Bay, Scotland.
Year opened: 1899.
Yardage / Par: 6,609 / 70.
Instagram: @crudenbaygolf
Twitter: @Crudenbaygolf
Website: CrudenBayGolfClub.co.uk
Good to know: The Great North of Scotland Railway Company commissioned Morris to design the course, which opened in 1899. Tom Simpson and Herbert Fowler made significant changes in 1926, though much of OTM’s layout remains.

Location: Montrose, Scotland.
Year opened: Morris turned the existing 11-hole course into 18 in 1863.
Yardage / Par: 6,488 / 71.
Instagram: @montrosegolflinks
Twitter: @montrosegolflin
Website: MontroseGolfLinks.com
Good to know: Records show golf was played here in 1562 — there are two courses, 1562 and Broomfield — though the Montrose Mercantile Club wasn’t founded until 1810 and was later awarded Royal status in 1845. Royal Montrose Mercantile Golf Club and Montrose Caledonia Golf Club now call the links home. Coastal erosion has badly affected Montrose in recent years and remains a threat.

Location: Carnoustie, Scotland.
Year opened: 1842.
Yardage / Par: 6,945 / 72.
Instagram: @carnoustiegolflinks
Twitter: @carnoustiegolf
Website: CarnoustieGolfLinks.com
Good to know: In 1842, 10 holes were designed by Morris and Allan Robertson. Morris returned in 1867 to add eight more holes, which were extended by James Braid in 1926 — five years before the course hosted the first of its eight British Opens. Fair to say this is by far the toughest course on the Trail.

Location: St. Andrews, Scotland.
Year opened: Golf first played here in early 1400s. Royal & Ancient Golf Club founded in 1754.
Yardage / Par: 6,670 / 72.
Instagram: @thehomeofgolf
Twitter: @TheHomeofGolf
Website: StAndrews.com
Good to know: The Old Course has evolved over centuries and no one architect can claim it as theirs, though Morris certainly had the most significant impact, creating the standalone 1st and 18th greens, widening the playing corridors by cutting back gorse and establishing the seven huge double-greens.

Location: St. Andrews, Scotland.
Year Opened: 1895.
Yardage / Par: 6,517 / 71
Instagram: @thehomeofgolf
Twitter: @TheHomeofGolf
Website: StAndrews.com
Good to know:  There is no ancient stone bridge, Valley of Sin, Hell Bunker, hotel or Road Hole. And it has only one double green. But while the New Course at St. Andrews has none (or few) of its much older neighbor’s landmarks, the course itself is every bit as good.

Location: Crail, Scotland.
Year opened: 1786.
Yardage / Par: 5,922 / 69.
Instagram: @crailgolf
Twitter: @CrailGolf
Website: CrailGolfingSociety.co.uk
Good to know:  The ninth oldest golf club in the world, Crail Golfing Society was formed in 1786 and played over eight holes at Sauchope. A local farmer later built nine holes at Balcomie Links, a couple of miles east of Crail, and Morris was called in to makes upgrades in 1894. He extended the course to 18 holes four years later.

Location: Aberlady, Scotland.
Year opened: 1894.
Yardage / Par: 6,581 / 70.
Website: LuffnessNew.com
Good to know:  Located just to the west of Gullane, Luffness New began with 17 Morris-designed holes before an 18th was added in 1872. The course didn’t formally open until 1894, however, when Morris, Willie Auchterlonie, Andrew Kirkcaldy, Ben Sayers and others competed in a professional event with a £25 top prize.

Location: Muirfield, Scotland.
Year opened: 1891.
Yardage / Par: 6,728 / 71.
Instagram: @hceg.muirfield
Website: muirfield.org.uk
Good to know: The Gentlemen Golfers of Leith was formed in 1744 and played over five holes at Leith. It became The Honourable, The Edinburgh Company of Golfers in 1800 and, shortly after, The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. The club moved east to then eight-hole Musselburgh in 1836, but overcrowding forced it to move again, in 1891, to Muirfield where Morris laid out the original course, which was subsequently remodeled by Harry Colt.

Location: North Berwick, Scotland.
Year opened: 1832.
Yardage / Par: 6,579 / 71.
Instagram: @northberwickgolfclub
Twitter: @NorthBerwick_GC
Website: northberwickgolfclub.com
Good to know: The original six-hole course that existed since 1832 was extended west in 1868 to create a nine-hole layout. In 1876-77, Morris assisted David Strath, the course's keeper of the green, in laying out 10 more holes. Several were deemed too short, however, so the club leased more land to the west and, in 1932, hired Ben Sayers and C.K. Hutchison to create today’s layout.

Location: East Links, Scotland.
Year opened: 1856.
Yardage / Par: 6,597 / 71.
Instagram: @dunbargolfclub
Twitter: @dunbargolfclub
Website: DunbarGolfClub.com
Good to know:  The Dunbar Golfing Society was formed in 1794, but soon closed when the military took over its course during the Napoleonic Wars. The club and course were revived by six men in 1856 and the layout has since been significantly extended and revised four times — the second revision being carried out by Morris in 1894.

Location: Ayrshire, Scotland.
Year opened: 1851.
Yardage / Par: 6,908 / 71.
Instagram: @prestwickgc
Twitter: @PrestwickGC
Website: PrestwickGC.co.uk
Good to know: Tom Morris, then 30 years of age, moved from St. Andrews to Prestwick in 1851 to be keeper of the green, as well as the club’s ball and club maker. He laid out the original 12 holes, which hosted the inaugural Open Championship in 1860. Morris returned to St. Andrews in 1864, and 18 years later his successor at Prestwick, Charles Hunter, extended the course to 18 holes.

Location: Machrihanish, Scotland.
Year opened: 10 holes opened in 1876.
Yardage / Par: 6,226 / 70.
Instagram: @machgolfclub
Twitter: @machgolf
Website: machgolf.com
Good to know: Originally the Kintyre Club, Machrihanish began life with 10 holes that soon became 12. In 1879, Morris created an 18-hole layout that included the sensational opening hole.