This article appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of LINKS.
“There is probably no other golfing centre that is quite so good as Gullane in East Lothian.” So wrote Bernard Darwin in 1910, and more than a century later his words ring true. Not only are the courses of Darwin’s day still proudly in place, several others have joined them, along with a plethora of fine places to stay and dine.
Barely half an hour from Edinburgh Airport, the East Lothian area is also the ideal launch pad for a Scottish golf vacation—but probably not in the next few weeks, unless you’ve already booked, as the advent of the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield (July 18–21) has filled tee sheets and hotel dockets for much of the summer. With a bit of advance planning, however, you can time your visit to coincide with two future events—the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles and the 2015 Open at St. Andrews—allowing for a drop-in at those events while staying clear of clamor on the idyllic southern shore of the Firth of Forth.
DAY 1 Arrival: Stave off the jet lag by playing a tune-up round at gentle Kilspindie, a links of modest length with several holes set along the Firth, including the 18th, a drivable par four.
Evening: In the same town of Kilspindie is Ducks, a cozy hotel and restaurant operated by Malcolm Duck (his father was actually named Donald). Food—very good food—is important here, but so is fun. Ask if you can try the putting challenge where you tee off while standing on a barstool.
DAY 2 Morning: Head down to the eastern end of the Firth and Dunbar Golf Club. With 14 holes hugging the shoreline, this is an undiscovered gem and one of the most captivating links in Scotland. It has also served as a qualifying course for the Open Championship.
Afternoon: North Berwick Golf Club. About as scenic—and quirky—as Scottish golf gets, with a collection of distinct and distinctly challenging holes, including the original Redan (No. 15) and perhaps the most vexing green in the world (No. 16) where, should you manage to two-putt, you may view it as an accident.
Evening: Just a few steps from North Berwick’s final green is the Macdonald Marine Hotel & Spa. If you haven’t chosen to stay there, this is the evening to savor the fine cuisine of the John Paul restaurant while contemplating life’s blessings as you gaze out over the links and Firth beyond.
DAY 3 Morning: With your walking legs now back in form, take on Gullane No. 1, a links-golf rarity built around a single massive hill. In truth, only a couple of the climbs are taxing, and the stunning views to Edinburgh and across the water to Fife are ample reward as is the variety and challenge of the holes. Beside the 18th green is the Heritage of Golf Museum (see page 34), and if you’re wise you’ll phone ahead to its curator Archie Baird to book his 20-minute tour before or after your round. (From the U.S., dial 011 441 875 870 277.)
Afternoon: If you’ve booked at the Archerfield Lodges, head over there and play one of the two courses, both built within the last decade by former European Tour player D.J. Russell. The tree-lined Fidra is generally the more popular of the two while the links-like Dirleton poses a stiffer test appreciated by better players. Alternatively, check out Luffness New, another Open qualifier, just on the other side of Gullane Hill, with some of the best greens in the area. If, unimaginably, you need a rest from golf, head into Edinburgh for some shopping on Princes Street or a tour of the Edinburgh Castle and Royal Mile.
Evening: Dinner at Greywalls. Be sure to arrive well enough in advance of your reservation to allow a stop at the little bar for a pre-dinner cocktail. There’s no better place to
settle in for a wee nip.
DAY 4 Morning: Assuming you’ve been wise to coordinate your trip so that this day falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, head directly to The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (Muirfield). If your performance on the famed Open site doesn’t quite equal those of past winners here—including Nicklaus, Trevino, Watson, Faldo, and Els—take heart. You can still eat and drink like a champion at the justly famous clubhouse lunch (coat and tie required).
Afternoon: Just across a stone wall from Muirfield’s 6th tee is The Renaissance Club, with a Tom Doak course that opened five years ago. Although it is strictly private, the club has an unofficial policy that allows a visitor who inquires to play the course one time. Following a recent land acquisition, the course has three brand-new holes, all of them hard by the Firth. If you’re looking for something a bit more low key, head down to Musselburgh, rent a set of hickory clubs, and play the nine-hole links that hosted six Open Championships between 1874 and 1889 and is routed within a race track.
Evening: In the center of the town of Gullane is La Potiniere, a French restaurant that sources the freshest local ingredients and has been a favorite of locals and visitors for decades. There is plenty of fish on the menu, and after that Muirfield lunch, you’ll likely be looking for some lighter fare.