Guest blogger David Jones is a keen Scottish golfer who runs the ukgolfguy.com website where he shares his experiences of some of the best golf courses in the world. Here he has some tips for a trip to his home country.
Golf in Scotland is slowly beginning to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. Following a complete close-down for 9 weeks, members are now allowed to play with restrictions and some courses are beginning to open up to visitors too. Travel is still very limited but it’s hoped that in the months ahead tourists will again be encouraged to visit the country and play some of the very best golf that the world has to offer.
Wherever you go in Scotland you aren’t far from a golf course. Many first-time visitors will try to fit in as many of the top courses as they possibly can in a short period of time. They will think nothing of playing Turnberry, Muirfield, St Andrews and Dornoch in just a few days.
The problem with that approach is that you will probably find yourself spending most of the time loading and unloading a car and rushing around. Instead I would recommend staying in one place for a few days and really getting to know that area well.
I may be a little bit biased, but East Lothian would be a great place to base yourself. Within 45 minutes’ drive of Edinburgh airport you will discover a beautiful coast packed with some of the best links golf courses in the world.
Scotland isn’t known for it’s amazing weather, but East Lothian is one of both the sunniest and driest parts of the country. It’s likely that restrictions won’t be lifted until the end of the summer but there’s still time to fit in a visit this year. September can be a great month to visit the region – it’s drier than July and August and the days are still long enough to manage 36 holes a day.
Here’s an itinerary for a 5 day trip to play golf in East Lothian, taking in some of the very best courses and some tips on where to stay and eat. I would absolutely recommend hiring a car. While you won’t have any long drives, taxis can be a bit hard to find in East Lothian so a car will give you extra flexibility.
Day 1: Golf in East Lothian
Drive 35 minutes from the airport to Kilspindie Golf Club in the small coastal village of Aberlady. Kilspindie is the perfect place for your first round. It’s under 5,500 yards and only a par 69 so it won’t beat you up at all. There are four par-3s and only one par-5 with plenty of short par-4s thrown in. It will, however, give you a great introduction to some of the shots you’ll need over the next few days as well as some lovely views over the Firth of Forth.
After your round drive 15 minutes to North Berwick. North Berwick is a great base for your trip. This is a golf town through and through with a good selection of restaurants and pubs to enjoy and it is an easy drive from all of the courses you’ll be playing. There are many small hotel and bed & breakfast options as well as numerous Airbnbs. Make sure you choose something close to the town centre so you can walk everywhere easily.
Day 2 – Gullane
It’s a 10-minute drive to the nearby village of Gullane today. Golf has been played on Gullane Hill for over 350 years and you will find 3 courses at Gullane Golf Club. Depending on how you feel you can take on 18 or 36 holes today. All three courses provide a proper links test with great views over to Edinburgh and Fife. These greens are also acknowledged at some of the very best in the country and are in fantastic condition all year round.
Gullane 1 is the most prestigious of the three courses. It has hosted the Scottish Open twice in recent years (well 16 holes of it, they add in 2 from Gullane 2) and this will give you the hardest test of the three. Expect to have a good mix of length of holes with some change in height too as you go both ways over the steepest part of Gullane Hill. You are rewarded by thrilling, swooping holes and great views.
Gullane 2 is probably the course which gets overlooked the most by visitors to the Gullane trio, however members know that this will give you a test pretty much every bit as good as number 1. It is maybe a little more straightforward in places than number 1 and a little shorter but probably a little bit more accessible and there are some fun holes. If you’re playing a match that’s alive still on the 18th then finishing with a driveable par 4 is a great way to end it!
Gullane 3 is the shortest of the three courses by far, clocking in at a mere 5,100 yards, par 65. However, don’t think this is any pushover. While the holes may not be long they will still pose a challenge – the green complexes are especially fun with plenty of bunkers in play and some sloping greens. This is the perfect accompaniment to a round on Number 1 or 2 if you are looking to play 36 holes in a day.
Green fees in Gullane have crept in recent years but if you give them a call they may be able to offer you a special deal on playing 36 holes in a day or a seasonal deal.
I would recommend eating in Gullane this evening. There are two good options. The Main Course provides great Italian food with wonderful service while The Bonnie Badger (formerly The Golf Inn) is a new gastropub from Michelin starred chef Tom Kitchin. If it’s just a drink you’re after then The Old Clubhouse is a good option. All are within a few minutes walk of the golf club.
Day 3 – North Berwick
No need to drive today, just walk from your accommodation to the joyous North Berwick golf course. The West Links is one of the most interesting golf courses in the world. It’s not a massively long course and is very playable but it is packed with interesting quirks and features. I ran a series on my website recently asking players, architects and journalists to choose their favourite courses and North Berwick was chosen more than any course in the world. It is just fantastic fun and I would say the only absolute ‘must play’ on this trip.
Try one of the other great restaurants in North Berwick tonight.
Day 4 – Muirfield
If you are looking for the ultimate experience when you play golf in East Lothian, then you should try and play at Muirfield, located on the outskirts of Gullane. It’s one of the very best links courses you will find anywhere in the world. Some Open courses are intimidating – Carnoustie comes to mind. Muirfield is no pushover but it is a course you can get around and will enjoy the first time. The bunkering and greens here are simply sensational and the course has huge variety over the 18 holes. It is one of the most traditional courses in Scotland – jacket and tie will be required if you are eating in the clubhouse –
You can play at Muirfield on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and tee times are normally booked up a long time in advance. However, the pandemic will mean that lots of tee times are being cancelled this year so my advice would be to give them a call to see what is possible. If you do play, make sure you stay for lunch and go out again in the afternoon. You’ll need to play alternate shots for your second round but you won’t regret it!
If you aren’t able to get on at Muirfield, or the green fee is too much for your budget, then head east to Dunbar. Here you’ll find another great Scottish links course with coastal views.
You will have had a great lunch at Muirfield so maybe this evening turn your attention to the pubs of North Berwick. You’ll get a good pint of local beer and maybe some live music too.
Day 5 – Luffness New Golf Club
On the way to the airport, stop in at Luffness New Golf Club, just outside of Gullane. Luffness flies under the radar a little as it has only recently welcome visitors. But the course won’t disappoint. The holes are relatively straightforward but there are plenty of swales around the green to keep things interesting and the conditioning of the course is always fantastic.
This part of Scotland is absolutely packed with high quality golf courses. Within 20 minutes of these you will find others which would happily grace your trip – The Fidra and Dirleton at Archerfield, Tom Doak’s Renaissance and Craigielaw. You will find a warm welcome awaiting – and will want to keep coming back for more!!
David will be contributing blogs to Leadingcourses in the months ahead and you can read more from him at ukgolfguy.com