Scotland 2016: Golf in East Lothian

September 7, 2016

As JK mentioned in his earlier post (Scotland 2016), his aim was to provide merely a taste of our experience in Scotland.  An amuse-bouche of our adventure, if you will.  In the remaining posts, we will endeavor to provide more complete reviews for each of the regions we visited:  Glasgow, East Lothian, St. Andrew’s/Fife, and Carnoustie.  For the more OCD readers, unfortunately these reviews will not appear in chronological order.  We would apologize, but once they’re all written, you can just open different browser tabs and put them in order if you really need to.  Another brief aside: for these reviews, we had to borrow more photos from the internet than we would typically like to, but the conditions were relatively poor for photography purposes during our visit.  Thank you in advance, Google Images.

First up, East Lothian!  (A map of our travels in East Lothian)

During our visit to East Lothian, JK and I stayed at a property called the County Hotel located just off the main drag in the town of North Berwick.  We found the rooms using a combination of Google Maps, TripAdvisor, and Hotels.com.  Mostly, we just wanted to find a place where we could do as little driving as possible, and the County Hotel fit the bill.  Before I get into the course reviews,  I want to mention that this place was a perfect place to start a golf trip not only because it was a good “golf” bnb, but also because it captured the feeling of golf in North Berwick.  The rooms are basic, the beds comfortable, and the showers hot.  There’s a fantastic pub downstairs that’s as likely to have a group of golfers visiting as locals from town.  In fact, we met a group that was traveling from Wales on their own buddies golf trip.  There was a distinct small town vibe and quirkiness that was absent in our other destinations that made North Berwick very special to us both.

North Berwick – The West Links

In a word, the West Links at North Berwick should be described as fun.  It very well might have been the most fun course that JK and I played in Scotland together.  At just over 6,100 yards from the tips, this par 71 layout does not require the player to hit extremely long drives to have scoring opportunities.

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Panoramic view from the second hole at dusk

The course plays directly along the northernmost point of a peninsula that juts into the North Sea.  This leads to some phenomenal views of island-like features and geological formations such as Bass Rock that border this area as captured above and below.

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Bass Rock

While the front nine felt more like the typical links style golf we played in Scotland, the back nine took on a life of its own.  The course had a number of features that were unique to the West links including a series of stone walls that run through the course:

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These walls play as true hazards on at least two holes, with the most memorable being the par 4 13th “Pit” hole.  This hole requires a well-placed drive up the right side of a narrow landing area, and then a cleanly nipped short iron or pitch over a 3-4 foot stone wall to a small green.  Birdies must come at the price of one’s first child:

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Photo borrowed from a Google Image search – it was raining when we played this hole, so cameras did not make an appearance.

Other memorable features included the original Redan par three that features an off-axis green that tilts away from the player (Read more about Redan holes here):

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Also borrowed.

And finally, the most ridiculous green either JK or I have ever seen on the par 4 “Gate” 16th:

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Also borrowed.

yes, that’s about a 6 foot drop right in the middle of the green, which effectively makes this a hole with alternate greens.  JK made a nice birdie on this hole in some pretty questionable conditions.

Other memorable shots included the drive on 2 and the drive on 18.  2 felt very much like an inverse of 18 at pebble beach (slightly different scenery, but way better for a hook), while 18 felt almost like a copy of 18 from the Old Course.

JK and I agreed that if we were to do this trip again, we would try to schedule multiple rounds at the West Links not only to have another crack at some of these crazy holes, but also because the entire course seemed to have very high replay value.  Even from morning to afternoon, these links must play very differently, and even a slight change in wind would impact club selection on some of the shorter holes.

Gullane #1

(Disclaimer: My review of Gullane #1 likely won’t do the course justice, but our round there had us chasing the sun and rushing in to drink a couple of beverages to warm up.  I couldn’t imagine a more fun way to see a course quickly than the round we played there, but it doesn’t make for good review fodder.  Clearly, a return trip is in order to fill out this review.)

During the afternoon of our first day in East Lothian, we were treated to a game at Gullane #1.  This property actually has 3 courses, with number 1 being the most well known and the one we’d recommend playing if you only have time for one round at the facility.

JK and I were already both quite tired due to jet lag at this point, but did not want to miss out on the opportunity to play.  Luckily, we were playing with two gents from the area and were able to settle on teams for a foursomes game.  For those unfamiliar, foursomes is a team game where partners alternate shots on the same ball; four players will play two balls.  Teams alternate tee shots regardless of who holes the last putt as well.  If you are tired, but still want to see a course, or have limited daylight, or just want to play a fun new format, we highly recommend foursomes/alternate shot.

A quick look at the map (located here) will show the difference in the shape of overall layouts of Gullane and North Berwick.  While NB is a more traditional out-and-back style links, Gullane is a sprawling property that has spectacular views of many holes and several prominences that offer spectacular views of the North Sea.
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If North Berwick should be described as fun, Gullane #1 should be described as breathtaking.

The view of the second hole from the first tee was unlike anything else we saw in our 9 rounds:

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Borrowed from golfnook.com/gullane.htm

The second hole itself might have been one of the hardest holes we played during our trip as well.  In any event, the course continually offered wonderful challenges, long driving holes, and the need for a solid short game.  More than almost any course during our trip, elevation change played a significant role in the course routing.  The exception maybe Kingsbarns.  It is not surprising that this course has hosted numerous championships in Scotland and is on the Scottish Open rota.

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A view from the blue tee on the 13th hole – Hole Across (178 yards)

Kümmel

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No.  It’s not a golf course.  Kümmel is the local drink in North Berwick/Muirfield.  From what I can tell, it’s actually a German liquor, but 1/3 of the world’s supply is consumed in East Lothian.  No one ever poured a single of this marvelous beverage, and we never questioned it.  We highly recommend you drink the kümmel

Muirfield

Much ink has been spilled about Muirfield’s wonderful lunch, tradition of playing fourball in the morning and foursomes in the afternoon, and its recent vote not to allow female members, so I will focus on my opinions of the course and experience.

Let’s see.  If North Berwick = Fun… and Gullane = Breathtaking … then it must be true that Muirfield = Prestigious.

Even walking up to the clubhouse (which one must do in coat and tie) inspires the distinct feeling of arriving at an exclusive private club which I have only experienced in the United States.  As with all of the courses of that ilk that I have been lucky enough to play, Muirfield was in nearly perfect condition.  The week after our visit the club was set to host the R&A’s Boys Amateur Championship.  Accordingly, the course was being prepared and the rough was grown to a height that we did not experience anywhere else in Scotland.  I don’t recall what happened with JK, but my bag left considerably lighter due to the lack of golf balls after our round.

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View from the 3rd Fairway at Muirfield

As with most very private clubs, we limited the number of pictures we took and just enjoyed the experience.  Muirfield is also known for playing rounds very quickly, so we didn’t want to spend a lot of time pulling phones out and being tourists.

The course was one of the finest we had an opportunity to play.  Particular highlights included the par 4 3rd (pictured above) due to the fantastic second shot and the fact that I made birdie, the par 4 6th due to the incredibly difficult approach after a very tight drive, the par 5 9th (also made birdie), the par 4 11th due to the blind drive, the par 5 17th with its fantastic second shot and green complex (and my third birdie), and of course, the iconic par 4 18th where Phil won his Open Championship.

Odds and Ends

Other places we visited and liked in North Berwick included a wonderful pub called The Golfers Rest, the Turkish Kebab House three doors down from The Golfers Rest (second best meal we had in Scotland), and a San Francisco-style coffee shop called Steampunk Coffee from which I’m now regretting not buying a mug.  There was also a beautiful cemetery behind the County Hotel that surrounds the ruin of an old church that JK and I had a chance to walk through one morning.  It was quite an experience to see families have 6 or 7 generations buried in the same plot, with some predating the American Revolution.

Additionally, what we would call a “semi-golf” experience: right next to the West Links is a putting course that costs £2 per person.  While neither of us would recommend playing this course directly prior to playing a round at the course due to the fact that it runs at roughly the speed of Congress deciding where to eat lunch, we would suggest it as a great place to settle wagers or enjoy a brew after a good day on the links.  Also, thanks for the putter cover, JK!

Finally, if we had a chance to play more rounds in East Lothian, we would have considered Archerfield, Gullane #2, The Glen, and Craigielaw in that order.  The order comes from no other rationale than the number of times we were told by others where we should play, and where the group of travelers from Wales I encountered at the County Hotel said they were playing.

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One Response to “Scotland 2016: Golf in East Lothian”


  1. […] our whirlwind time in East Lothian with our new friends, and in particular crossing the behemoth of Muirfield off our respective […]


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