A Golf Guide to East Lothian and the Edinburgh Area

Scotland's Golf Coast!

Just a few miles from the beautiful capital city of Scotland – Edinburgh – you will discover a paradise of links courses. East Lothian is often branded as ‘Scotland’s Golf Coast’, and it is hard to disagree when you consider what is on offer there. With an assortment of classic courses – championship venues and lesser-known gems – all within a few miles of each other, it is a truly engrossing region for golf.

You will arguably find the highlight of the trip in Gullane, where one of the game’s truly great championship venues is situated. For many players and observers, Muirfield is the finest links on the Open Championship rotation. Home to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers – one of the oldest private clubs in the world - this Old Tom Morris design has played host to golf’s oldest and greatest championship on 16 occasions beginning in 1892.

Lacking the quirks and peculiarities of many links courses, it has often been described as the ‘fairest’ of the Open venues. Uniquely for a traditional seaside layout, Muirfield’s holes are arranged in two loops of nine holes – clockwise and anti-clockwise – which goes against the standard ‘out and in’ nines that you would see at somewhere the like the Old Course at St Andrews. Consequently, there is potentially a different wind direction on each tee. Making the challenge even more interesting.

It is often said that you can gauge the quality of a course by the stature of the champions it has produced. Well, if that’s the criteria, Muirfield is up there with the best. Vardon, Braid, Hagen, Cotton, Player, Nicklaus, Trevino, Watson, Faldo, Els and Mickelson have all triumphed on the Gullane links. A company of legends. You can walk in their footsteps by playing it.

Before continuing with the golfing side to East Lothian, it would be worth discussing the city of Edinburgh itself. Though it is difficult to capture in such a small space. You could literally dedicate a week to exploring the city – and not even scratch the surface. ‘Auld Reekie’ (as it is classically nicknamed in Scotland) is unquestionably among the most beautiful, culturally significant, historically textured and vivid capitals in Europe.

The Royal Mile leading from Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle is a hub of culture, history and (most importantly) people watching opportunities. There is an entertaining mix of nationalities and ages, with street performers engaging and (in some cases) confusing the visiting public. The Castle, itself, overlooks the city, dominating the skyline and is certainly among the more recognizable landmarks in the United Kingdom.

Throughout the late summer, the Edinburgh International Festival dominates attention in the city, with the alternative Festival Fringe now the largest performing arts gathering in the world. With numerous theatres – including the King’s, Playhouse and Festival (formerly the Empire) – in the center of the city, there is always something to see and do. It is a rich environment of activity.

If you can drag yourself away from Edinburgh, there is some more golf to experience.

Dunbar Golf Club is perhaps not familiar to you, but it is a fine compliment to the great venues that are found nearby. Yet another Old Tom Morris design (he was a busy old boy), Dunbar is an 18-hole championship course that is laid out along a spectacular strip of land, with many of the holes playing alongside the coastline – offering stunning views towards the North Sea.

With a solid and varied collection of holes, Dunbar is a thoroughly enjoyable course to play, and will set you up well for the challenges waiting on the other courses in the area. The town itself is very interesting – steeped in history – and it would be worthwhile visiting the ruins of Dunbar Castle, which was at one time among the most impressive fortifications in Britain.

 

Situated just along the road from Dunbar, if there was ever a course that could simply be described as ‘fun’, then it is the West Links at North Berwick. Unique, outlandish, but thrilling, it is unquestionably among the finest golfing experiences to be found in Scotland – not just East Lothian. It is also a hugely historic venue – believed to be the third oldest course in the world that is still played on its original fairways. Only the Old Courses of St Andrews and Musselburgh are older, and that sense of period certainly adds to the magic.

The West Links has proven to be very influential in the field of course architecture. The par 3, 15th is probably the most famous of all the holes at North Berwick. Named ‘Redan’, its design has been replicated on many courses across the world – including Riviera and The National Golf Links of America. When playing North Berwick, you will have to face pot bunkers, stone walls and undulations, just about everything you could imagine. It is the quintessential links course.

More conventional than the West Links, but arguably just as satisfying, Gullane Golf Club (adjacent to Muirfield) is a golf lover’s dream. With three courses all running alongside each other, there is something for everyone. This year, a worldwide audience will be able to appreciate the club for the first time with the European Tour’s annual Scottish Open being contested on a composite course of Gullane 1 and 2.

Renowned for its stunning views and excellent conditioning, playing Gullane No 1 is among the most underrated experiences to be had in Scotland. Uniquely for a links, there are a number of elevation changes throughout the course, all of which adds to the challenge and intrigue of the venue. Simply put – if you are looking for a solid course in a spectacular setting – then Gullane 1 is a must-play.

Golf has been played at Gullane since the 17th century, but just along the road is a somewhat more contemporary masterpiece. The Renaissance Club was opened for play in 2008, and is the first Scottish design from the respected architect Tom Doak. The course was built through a forest of pine trees, which adds a uniquely aesthetic quality to this modern links. It is a modern classic that has yet to be discovered by many. Make yourself one of the lucky ones who have played it.

In addition to these more storied and well-known venues, there are a number of lesser-known courses in the area that shouldn’t be discounted. Kilspindie is among the most likeable and welcoming clubs in the region, and boasts a short but thoroughly enjoyable course. With narrow fairways and small greens, it will test your precision and charm you in equal measure.

The same can certainly be said of the nearby Luffness New, which, despite the name, (rather like the New Course of St Andrews), is in reality about as “new” as the Democratic Party. Both of these courses are a fine addition to any East Lothian itinerary – providing excellent value for money.

In terms of golf, East Lothian is about as rich an experience as you will find anywhere else in Scotland. However, when you throw in the majesty of Edinburgh and its attractions, you have a trip that might even surpass the other regions for memorable sights. It is Scotland’s Golf Coast.

Request a quote if you are interested in playing any of these courses as part of your golf vacation with the golf travel experts at Golfbreaks.com.

Kieran Clark

Author, Kieran Clark.

I began playing golf at the age of five on the Isle of Bute in Scotland. It was the start of a relationship that hasn’t waned, with it becoming a mission to tick off as many courses as possible, with the Old Course at St. Andrews being my favourite. I love everything that it represents. After securing a degree in history at the University of Stirling, I have attempted to establish a career as a freelance golf journalist to express my love for the game and Scotland. And I relish any opportunity to share that adoration with anyone willing enough to read.