Pack the Sticks for Scotland’s Golf Coast

North Berwick golf course view of hole number one

Golf has been played on the West Links at North Berwick Golf Club, a marquee course on the Firth of Forth coastline, since at least the 17th century. (Image: North Berwick)

The East Coast of Scotland offers perhaps the world’s best selection of links courses. But if you’re pressed for time, base yourself in Edinburgh and make daily treks to Muirfield, North Berwick and other top courses in nearby East Lothian.

(Last updated January 2022.)

Like everyone who loves the game, you’ve fantasized about a golf vacation in Scotland.

With more than 550 courses, golf’s birthplace offers an almost overwhelming choice of itineraries. But nowhere is Scotland richer in famous links than along its East Coast, where the roster includes Muirfield, Cruden Bay, Royal Dornoch, Castle Stuart, Carnoustie, Nairn, Royal Aberdeen, Kingsbarns, Trump International and the Old Course in St. Andrews. All belong in any ranking of the world’s top 100 courses.

Rent a car and happily spend a week or two golfing your way along the rugged coastline. But if you’re pressed for time or don’t want to spend so many hours behind the wheel, then consider basing yourself in Edinburgh, a city of almost unrivalled Georgian splendour, and make easy daily treks for golf to the adjoining district of East Lothian. Marketed as Scotland’s Golf Coast, this stretch of the Firth of Forth coastline offers 21 courses, including Muirfield and two other world-class links, North Berwick and Gullane No. 1.

Edinburgh (Image: Visit Scotland)

Edinburgh is a city of almost unrivalled Georgian splendour. (Image: VisitScotland)

See the Sights

Historic towns and villages—most memorably Dunbar, North Berwick and Haddington—dot East Lothian, a still largely unspoiled district defined by stunning coastal scenery.

But many visitors will choose to stay close to the bright lights of Edinburgh. During your stay be sure to visit looming Edinburgh Castle, the symbolic heart of Scotland since the 12th century, as well as magnificent crown-spired St. Giles’ Cathedral, lovely Princes Street Gardens, and the lavishly renovated Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Edinburgh’s Summer Festivals

Every August Edinburgh’s world-renowned Summer Festivals take over Scotland’s capital. Artists from over 70 countries participate in over 45,000 performances in over 300 venues. The Festivals have been the stage for emerging actors, artists, musicians and authors such as Emma Thompson, Mike Myers, JK Rowling and Alan Cumming.

The Courses

Muirfield green (Image: Muirfield)

East Lothian standout Muirfield has hosted the Open Championship 16 times. (Image: Muirfield)

East Lothian, where golf has been played since at least the early 17th century, is ripe with brilliant courses.

Needless to say, Muirfield: The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers is a must-play. Muirfield, which hosted the first of its 16 Open Championships in 1892, is regarded as perhaps the fairest test of all Open venues, with two circuits of nine rotating in opposite directions. The back nine loops inside the front nine, ensuring that golfers never face the same wind direction on two consecutive holes.

Another essential stop is famously scenic North Berwick Golf Club, overlooking the Firth of Forth, with stirring views of Bass Rock and Craigleith Island. North Berwick is also home to one of the game’s most copied holes, Redan, a heroically long par three played to a sloped plateau green.

Of the three excellent courses at Gullane Golf Club, the best is No. 1, a classic links that hosted both the ASI Scottish Open and the Ladies Scottish Open in 2018.

Equally historic—and thrilling to play—is Dunbar Golf Club, a wind-swept links laid out in 1856 on the thin strip of shoreline where Oliver Cromwell encamped his troops before the Battle of Dunbar in 1650.

Where to Stay

The Caledonian, a refurbished former Victorian railway hotel now part of the Waldorf Astoria chain, is an Edinburgh landmark.

An equally luxurious option is The Scotsman, a boutique hotel housed in the baronial former offices of The Scotsman newspaper.

In spring 2022, iconic Gleneagles Hotel will launch its first city property, Gleneagles Townhouse, in Edinburgh’s St. Andrew Square. The luxury downtown hotel (about an hour’s drive from the resort’s home base in Perthshire) features 33 guest rooms, each with a unique design.

Planning to play Muirfield? Greywalls Hotel, an intimate and luxurious retreat favoured by Tiger Woods, overlooks Muirfield’s 9th and 18th holes, with stunning views of the Firth of Forth.

Another good bet in East Lothian is Marine North Berwick, a recently renovated Victorian-era jewel overlooking the fairways of North Berwick Golf Club.

Raise a Pint

Got a thirst for a downtown Scottish pub-crawl? Raise your first pint at lively, modish Cambridge Bar on Young Street and end the night with a journey back in time at Pear Tree on West Nicolson Street, a beloved local institution for more than 250 years.

St. Andrews The Old Course (Image: Visit St. Andrews)

Less than a two-hour drive from Edinburgh, the Old Course in St. Andrews is a must-play for every golfer. (Image: VisitScotland)

The Essential Side Trip

Impossible to resist is a side trip to starkly beautiful St. Andrews, the cradle of the game and a town as recognizably Scottish as the kilt and sporran. Waiting less than two hours from Edinburgh by car or train are the Old Course, the British Golf Museum, Scotland’s oldest university and the palpably present shades of Old Tom Morris and other golf immortals.

Once settled in at Rusacks Hotel or the Old Course Hotel, enter your name in the ballot to play the Old Course, the experience of a lifetime. Or purchase a three-day unlimited pass and play to your heart’s content on the six other courses managed by the St. Andrews Links Trust here on the old sod where it all began.

 

Comments

  1. Gordon Lawrie says

    One small correction: courses like Muirfield, Gullane, Dunbar and North Berwick can hardly be described as Scotland’s “north-east” coast – just miss out the “north” and it’ll be fine. Most of us wouldn’t even call Carnoustie “north-east”.

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