Scotland’s Golf Coast
What’s the first thing to do on a golf trip to Scotland? Check the weather? Find a bobble hat? Invest in solid rain-gear?
The first thing you do, of course, is to order a deep-fried Mars Bar from the local chippy!
Depending on where you are travelling from, there’s no better journey than a road trip to Scotland late one Thursday evening in November with your mates. Cruising in a sporty saloon (not mine!) and jam-packed with golfing gear for three days of golf in and around Gullane on Scotland’s Golf Coast, we’d been looking forward to this trip for some time.
If your driver is anything like ours, then he too probably wasn’t impressed by the aroma of cheap whisky and Tenants hovering like a haze somewhere along the A7 near Hawick.
The tables are turned when we realise our driver is also the key decision maker on whether we stop for a comfort break.
The Golf Weekender: Scotland’s Golf Coast
The stretch of East Lothian coastline east of Edinburgh is called Scotland’s Golf Coast for a good reason. There are 21 golf courses along its 30 miles that includes Muirfield, Musselburgh, The Renaissance, Dunbar, Gullane, North Berwick, Archerfield, Craigielaw, Kilspindie and Longniddry.
We played three of them…
For a lads golf weekend to be successful requires a timing. A strict timetable is critical when three chaps without either WAGs or diaries find space in hectic early middle-age lifestyles to meet up for a golf weekender.
As you can see, the itinerary for the weekend was surprisingly simple…
|Thursday||Work||Drive to Haddington||A few beers|
|Friday||Gullane No. 2||Lunch/Dinner||A few beers|
|Saturday||Kilspindie||Lunch/Dinner||A few beers|
|Sunday||North Berwick||Lunch||Drive home|
…and by and large, we kept to that timetable.
Gullane No.2 – Not The Scottish Open course but the Open Qualifier
First up was a Friday morning jaunt around the surprisingly empty Gullane No. 2. So empty that the starter bumped us up the order a bit, which was thanked, because the late morning wind had started to chill. Perhaps he was feeling sorry for us.
Warming up on the range here are just some things not to say before any round of golf in Scotland:
“I’ve just been sick!”
“If there’s no wind today boys, this could be an excellent day of golf”
“I’m on fire!”
[Reading the Weather app] “It looks like we’ll have some sun by the time we get to the 8th”
The first two holes are really just a prelude to get you to Gullane Hill, which bisects the clubhouse and road with the views out to sea.
Once there it’s a quick march up it – worthy of the Grand ol’ Duke himself and guaranteed to warm you up – and then a quick march back down when the course really hits with a 454 yard par 4 (SI 1) hole laid out in front of you with the Firth of Forth beyond it.
There are five gorgeous bunkers protecting this green and they are much nearer than they appear (a bunker strategy throughout the course). On a two or three club wind day, they get a lot of action!
“With the wind today lads, it might be a bit tough going on the opening nine, but it’s from the 13th where you’ll get your score back” – Gullane No. 2 Starter
The course then meanders it’s way towards the nature reserve at Aberlady Bay (with enough room for another course) and while it may seem open and roomy, it certainly isn’t when you find yourself in thick fescue just a few yards from a perfect fairway lie.
The 7th and 8th were used as part of the Scottish Open layout in 2015 and it’s the 8th which proves the tougher, with bunkers seemingly positioned exactly where I want to be on each shot. And when we leave the 8th green the drizzle hits.
Time to get the score back
However, the rain is short-lived and the pick of the holes coming home are undoubtedly from the par 3 11th, which drops you down to beach level and has eight nasty little bunkers waiting to catch anything errant. Then the long (it is into the wind) remodelled 12th taking us to the far end of the golf course.
From here we head homewards with the short but steep uphill 13th which is a birdie hole so long as you miss the trio of perfectly-pot fairway bunkers. Then there’s the cute dogleg par 4 14th.
After a log par 5 takes us back to the summit of Gullane Hill we have some fun and games with the downhill (almost reachable) par 4, 17th and the pretty 18th with a narrow opening to a long, tricky green with the sun chasing our long shadows from the West behind us.
And the starter was absolutely bloody right too, a poor 6-over on the front nine preceded a 1-under back nine meant I played to handicap. I still lost by 6 points though!
Perhaps there’s no better validation of arriving in Scotland than at the end of the first day of golf, when the beef pie has been consumed, a pint has been supped and, with no hint of irony, the bar tender begins listing her family’s favourite deep-fried, sweet-battered treats.
Kilspindie Golf Club – 35th oldest club in the world
Across Aberlady Bay from Gullane is Kilspindie Golf Club. It is the kind of golf course that, in the sober light of day, could (and should) be taken apart by anyone of any standard of golf.
However, the same cannot be said of this same seemingly too short, elementally exposed course, when forced to play golf one morning after nine too many on the previous night!
And it’s definitely not the place to turn up with absolutely no practice either!
Kilspindie could have been the greatest fun in the world. It has a fantastic opening stretch of holes including an opening par 3, a long par 5 and two challenging par 4s into the wind.
After the first hole (played in front of the clubhouse, the 18th green, the professional shop, car park and changing rooms – no pressure then?) the next three holes all lovingly hug the thin stretch of beach separating the golf with the surf coming from the Firth of Forth. Each has fairways sloping and stretching this way and that in the way only a very old links course can get away with.
However, by the time you approach the 4th green, which lies seemingly in the middle of the sea – modern architecture would call this an ‘infinity’ green – you have already navigated four of the best on the course.
The fun ends here
After this, there are 6 par fours measuring less than 300 yards, no par 5s and just one truly memorable hole, the short par 3, 8th played across a beach to a small, sloping and protected green, usually into a howling headwind.
The fun ends here. Unless you have an empty course in front of you, prepare yourself for an achingly long round of golf. Frustrating for one measuring just 5,449 yards!
Overall the course hasn’t aged well, with so many short holes, it requires a lot of standing on tees in the cold twiddling your balls and waiting for the right moment to hit while other groups of golfers slowly gather behind you. The holes adjacent to the firth are indeed fine, but the rest seem rather squished.
It is also one of the few courses I’ve played where, standing on the 15th tee, it’s possible to be in the direct firing line of four other holes.
At times it felt like being on the wrong end of a golf firing range. At times I felt genuine concern for my safety!
North Berwick – the best course in Scotland
Only St. Andrews can boast a club whose course has been played on continuously by one club for longer.
It has a bunch of other similarities to St Andrews too – especially when standing on the 18th tee:
The clubhouse behind the final green looks like a scaled down version of the R&A’s; it too is driveable; there are no bunkers or hazards on the huge fairway it shares with the first hole; there’s a road down the right with a similar white fence and parked cars suggesting this is out of bounds to golfers; and then there’s the little gulley protecting the front of the green, a final sin before the 19th.
But there’s something much weirder and arguably more soulful going on here.
As busy as this course gets during the Summer, pick a decent day in November and you can experience everything you might get in June in Scotland, at half the price, half as busy and no doubt with better weather too.
North Berwick is truly beautiful. From the moment you approach the first green, hidden by a huge dune and the road leading down to the beach, you realise you are in for something special.
Perhaps it’s the wonderfully unbalanced fairways, or Bass Rock gleaming in the Firth, or the quirky nature of golf holes that will never be recreated anywhere else. Ever.
Aesthetics apart, North Berwick’s original holes are still in play, hence the rather narrow and constricting nature of some of it’s home holes squeezed between the famous town’s Macdonald Marine Hotel and the sea.
Six holes that capture the imagination
If, by the time you reach the par 3 11th that drops you from the highest dune on the course to a small green surrounded by bunkers, you haven’t appreciated the rare nature of this golf course, then prepare yourself.
The 13th hole is one of the most photographed holes on the course, courtesy of the old stone wall separating the fairway from the green, which appears to have stolen real estate from the beach.
Then comes a blind and narrow approach to the 14th where the green drops off to the beach and the surf beyond it.
Next, on one of the most copied holes in golf, is Redan, the long par 3 15th where you shoot blindly over a ridge to a green that then runs away from you.
The 16th has a long, narrow green with the deepest gulley you’ll ever see running straight though the middle of it – don’t leave it short!
Then there is the difficult, long 17th with the elevated green, giving the golfer one final taste of the North Sea wind and encouraging you take aim on the 18th tee with one more swift hit before something warming in the bar beyond.
The final stretch of golf at North Berwick is a cunning mix of the quirky, the old fashioned and the difficult; a stretch of holes you’ll have a sheer thrill playing.
It also has some of the crinkliest fairways of any links I’ve ever played.
In short, returning to North Berwick is one of golf’s richest pleasures.
What You Need To Know:
The Golf Weekender’s Guide: Scotland’s Golf Coast
(November Rates quoted)
Where to play:
Gullane No.2 – £34.00 per round
Kilspindie – £45.00 per round
North Berwick – £75.00 per round
Where to stay:
We stayed in The Stables near Haddington for three nights with free WiFi, log burner, pool table, old-school pinball and three double bedrooms.
Three rounds of golf, three nights accommodation, three meals out and two big nights in (and incl. fuel costs), this golf weekender offered tremendous value for money.
Total Cost: £335.00 per person (which is just over £110 per day).
Other courses in the area:
Take your pick, there are plenty to suit all budgets.