Golf and access

There are over 500 golf courses in Scotland and many of them are important as green spaces for local access. You have the right to cross golf courses, but you must keep off the greens and avoid interfering with the game.

Our position
We recognise the importance of golf courses as places for people to enjoy a walk as long as walkers and golfers respect each other’s activities.

We have stood up for access and landscape in a number of golf course applications, including the Trump International Golf Links at Menie in Aberdeenshire. We took part in the 2008 public inquiry into this development - and continue to have concerns about it, reinforced by Scottish Natural Heritage recommending it lost its SSSI status in 2019.

We also objected to a proposed golf course at Coul Links near Dornoch in Sutherland, and took part in a public inquiry in 2019.  We were pleased that the Scottish Government agreed with us and refused permission for this development. Read more about Coul Links here. 

Scotland is famous as the home of golf and the sport makes a major contribution to the Scottish economy, ranging from the boost that comes from hosting world-class events like the Ryder Cup to the many tourists who come to play our more famous courses, as well as the small local clubs around the country which help people to keep active regularly.  

Access rights apply on golf courses because the ability to cross them is crucial, especially where golf courses could potentially place huge blocks on access. Links courses are a particular Scottish feature and golf courses run along long swathes of the coast in Fife, East Lothian, Ayrshire and the north east, among other places, so it’s important that people are still able to get to the coast. Golf courses aren’t in use 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and as well as providing good places to walk, the presence of walkers can help reduce the risk of vandalism or irresponsible behaviour.

Golf courses are the only places where the statutory right doesn’t include recreation as well as passage. The distinction was thought necessary as the inclusion of recreation within the right would have given statutory protection to anyone who wanted to play golf on a golf course without paying. This left the problem that safeguards were still needed for recreational activities such as sledging and cross country skiing – golf courses are ideal for these activities as the short grass on the fairways provides a good surface. The situation was covered by building into the Code a reference to the need for golf course managers to respect these traditional activities.

Access rights apply to virtually all golf course land, except the greens. Guidance on responsible access and responsible course management is given in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, and the Code makes clear that walkers are expected not to interfere with play, keep dogs on a lead and to follow paths where they exist. Cyclists and horseriders should stick to paths at all times.  

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code states

Responsible behaviour by the public:

You can only exercise access rights to cross over a golf course and in doing so, you must keep off golf greens at all times and not interfere with any golf games or damage the playing surface.  Golf courses are intensively used and managed, and there can be hazards such as where golfers are playing “blind” shots. In exercising access rights:

  • allow players to play their shot before crossing a fairway
  • be still when close to a player about to play
  • follow paths where they exist; and
  • keep your dog on a short lead.

To avoid damaging the playing surface, cyclists and horse riders need to keep to paths at all times and not go on to any other part of a golf course. When fertilisers and pesticides have been used, the duration of any hazard depends on the material used but should not normally extend more than a few days. Golf course managers can ask you to avoid using particular routes at these times. Following such advice can greatly help to minimise risks to safety.

Responsible behaviour by land managers:

Wherever possible, provide paths around or across the course and/or advise people on the safest ways through the course. This will help to minimise safety risks. In winter many people enjoy activities like sledging and cross-country skiing on golf courses. This can be important to local communities. These activities rarely cause any problems if done responsibly – by keeping off greens, tees and bunkers – and when there is sufficient snow cover. Golf course managers are encouraged to accept such access when it is carried out responsibly.

Page last updated June 2020