Skibo was Carnegie's getaway, and a fantasyland for his far-flung friends: King Edward VII, Rudyard Kipling, the Rockefellers. They came to Skibo to unwind on the golf links, to hunt deer in the meadows, to try their hand at falconing or fly-fishing.
Carnegie wanted to offer a true "highland" experience, so he hired a bagpiper to rouse his guests every morning at 8. The tradition lives on at Skibo today. So does Carnegie's insistence that his guests dine together each evening, be they kings or common men, to encourage a spirit of community.
Fancy as they are, meals at Skibo are famously unstuffy. One evening, the story goes, former Charlie's Angels star Cheryl Ladd had a few glasses of wine and slipped into song around the dinner table. A visit- ing Japanese businessman was impressed with the performance.
"You're pretty good," he told her. "Have you ever considered going into show business?"
"This way, sir."
Dinner is served.
My butler leads me into an ornate hall, graced with portraits of distinguished-looking gentlemen and a dining table long enough to run laps around. There are 10 of us altogether, including a group of London executives on a corporate retreat and a couple celebrating their anniversary.
The appetizer is a helping of haggis, a traditional Scottish sheep dish. But before we dig in, a castle staffer instructs us to raise our wineglasses. It's another Skibo tradition: Before dinner, everyone drinks a toast to Andrew Carnegie.
Fair enough. I'll drink to anyone who allows me to enjoy a day like this.
Early that morning, I'd waked to the strains of the bagpipe and sauntered downstairs for a hearty breakfast. I'd strolled the grounds, received a Swedish massage at the castle spa, and enjoyed an introduction to clay pigeon shooting. Then I'd hitched a ride with a chauffeur to the nearby town of Dornoch, the home of Royal Dornoch, an ancient links-style course that PGA legend Tom Watson supposedly called his favorite in the world.
After touring Royal Dornoch, a must for any golfing purist, I returned to Skibo to see how the castle's own links compared.
When it first opened in the late 1800s, Skibo's course was highly respectable. It now ranks as one of the best in the world. British business mogul Peter de Savary, who bought the castle in 1990, hired famed architect Donald Steele to transform the course into an 18-hole championship layout. In 1996, PGA stars Fred Couples and Greg Norman played a celebrated match here. I can only assume they scored better than I did.