Had the good fortune to participate in a Scotland golf trip last year. Rotation was as follows:
36 at Muirfield;
18 at Gullane;
18 at Tain;
36 at Castle Stuart;
36 at Royal Dornoch;
18 at Nairn;
18 at Cruden Bay;
18 at Royal Aberdeen;
36 at Trump International;
18 at Carnoustie;
18 at Kingsbarns;
18 at St Andrews (Old Course).
Muirfield: One of the most unique and wonderful golf experiences of my life. Knew going in that if we wanted to have lunch in the clubhouse we had to bring jacket and tie. It was completely worth it and I would recommend it to anyone. Played 18 in the morning and then in to the locker where we put on our Sunday best for lunch. Clubhouse was steeped in history (apparently Churchill spent time there strategizing during WWII) and we were fortunate enough to be taken under the wing of one of the members who I struck up a conversation with while having a pint in the Smoking Room. He made us feel truly welcome. Afternoon is alternate shot only at Muirfield, a pleasant quirk which was did not detract from the experience one bit after having already played 18 in the morning. Muirfield is a must play.
Gullane: A little gem just down the road from Muirfield. It was being prepared for the Scottish Open that year and was a real surprise. Lots of elevation changes and by about the 6 or 7th hole you are up pretty high and have wonderful views of the Firth of Forth.
Tain: History and its connections to Old Tom Morris were why it was chosen. It was quaint. But if I'm honest it was probably the weakest track of the bunch. We stayed in North Berwick at the Marine Hotel overlooking North Berwick GC and missed out on playing it. If I had it to do all over again I would've swapped out Tain for North Berwick.
Castle Stuart: Fun. One of my favourites. Breathtaking layout and views, with some great elevated holes particularly on the back nine. While challenging, it is probably the most playable course of the entire rotation. It has something for everyone. Fantastic clubhouse with great staff. Doesn't have the history or patina like Royal Dornoch or Royal Aberdeen but somehow this didn't detract from the experience in the same way that it did at courses like Trump International and Kingsbarns (see below). Can't conceive of going back to Scotland to golf and not playing this course again.
Royal Dornoch: Constant topic of debate in our group was whether Royal Dornoch was better than Royal County Down (previous trip to Northern Ireland). Almost came to blows. The debate still rages. Royal Dornoch is a must play. Consensus of our group was that it was the best course in the rotation by a considerable margin. A trip to Scotland without playing Royal Dornoch is a missed opportunity.
Nairn: Charming course. Lovely clubhouse and staff who were kind enough to show us the club's archive room. Fascinating collection of record books and turn of the century golf paraphernalia. But the course itself paled in comparison to the others.
Cruden Bay: Fantastic course with some really interesting hole layouts around holes 8-15 with everything from blind shots to elevation changes and interesting routing though/around several berns. Played in the morning with it bitterly cold and the wind really blowing. Felt like a bit of a death march at first but by the 3rd hole (one of the best par 3's of the entire trip) we were in the groove and could start looking around at more than just the tips of our shoes. Can't help but feel like if we played this course with nicer weather it would've been higher in our rankings.
Royal Aberdeen: Feels like the course that Trump International desperately wants to be (see below) . Absolute stunner of a layout with one of the best opening holes (starting at the clubhouse out towards the ocean) of the entire trip. Clubhouse was fantastic with one of the best ambiances of any on the trip. A must play.
Trump International: Wanted to hate this course, but I just couldn't. Unlike most links courses, each hole is like a separate room in a house. The massive dunes cocoon you so that the hole that you a playing is the only one that you can see. Each hole is like its own amphitheatre. It is staggering the lengths that have been gone to to create this track although ultimately it feels like links-Disney. Accordingly the very attributes that make it so impressive are likely the same ones that will leave certain links-golf purists cold. Can't escape the feeling that if anyone other than Trump had a hand in its construction it would be a far more popular destination. Walked 36 which the staff informed us was almost never done (there is a considerable distance between many holes). If i were to do it again I would cart the second round if I was playing the next day.
Carnoustie: I can't believe I am about to type this, but Carnoustie was a disappointment. Perhaps it fell victim to high expectations as I was really looking forward to playing it, given all of the history, however it left me non-plussed. Clubhouse is an architectural abomination (looks like an aquatic centre plunked in the middle of a field) and should be razed immediately.
Kingsbarns: Views were so perfect they didn't look real, almost to the point of distraction as I kept trying to take pictures of every hole. Ranked very high on everyone's lists (mine included) but it has a fundamentally different atmosphere than courses like Royal Dornoch, Royal Aberdeen and the Old Course. It has all of the constituent elements of a classic, but without any of the history that makes you feel like you are walking on hallowed ground. Should be a stunner in 200 years or so. Best men's locker-room (top-floor with ocean views) I've ever seen.
Old Course: We didn't have a tee time as booking a round for 12 guys was a logistical nightmare not to mention an astronomical price-tag. We were staying in the Old Course Hotel the evening after our final morning round at Kingsbarns and as soon as we checked into our room (overlooking the Road Hole), my playing partner and I concluded that if we didn't at least try to walk on, we would regret it forever. Anyways, long story short the two of us broke away from our main group and rocked up to the the starter with our bags on our backs and our fingers crossed. Starter was great guy who informed us that a twosome was moments way from teeing off and that the other two spots in that group were the last available of the day. Slapped down the plastic quick (approx 75 pounds including pullcart - how's that for a deal) and raced out to the first tee where we were met by a lovely husband and wife (who were members) who could not have been more gracious and welcoming. Playing the course amongst the grandstands set up for the Open Championship later that summer was the pinnacle of my golfing life (parred the Road Hole). Anyways, top tip: if you can't book the Old Course, try walking on. If there are 2 of you or less and you go in the afternoon, you have a good chance of getting on and for far less than of you were to book in advance.
Hope the foregoing is useful when selecting courses in Scotland.
P.S. Most courses do not have driving ranges. I packed an Orange Whip swing trainer, which proved invaluable as a means of warming up before teeing off.