Edinburgh's Golf Coast: Golf heaven on the capital's doorstep

May 18, 2011
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

David Brice, CEO of Golf International, reviews destinations on PGATOUR.COM that can be experienced by purchasing a package with Golf international, a leading provider of high-end international golf travel. For more information about this trip or any other of Golf International's destination trips, click here.

Filled with history and a charming elegance missing in many other European major cities, Edinburgh is special and no visit to Scotland would ever be complete without including at least a few days experiencing the many delights of her capital. Filled with history, culture, wonderful museums and galleries, amazing restaurants, shopping, sightseeing opportunities and pure Scottish character, Edinburgh is a city that appeals to everyone.

Edinburgh is one of Europe's most impressive capitals and the surrounding golf is nothing less.
Muirfield is considered the fairest of all British Open courses and has hosted the event on 15 occasions
Gullane no. 1 belongs on everyone's must play list
North Berwick's Glen Course is a charmer, sadly overlooked by too many visitors
Dunbar is an Old Tom Morris classic dating from 1856
Longniddry is a combined effort from Harry S. Colt, Donald Ross and James Braid and it's only a hop, skip and a jump from Edinburgh
Craigielaw may be only barely 10 years old, but the feel is that of a crusty old centenarian
Character-filled Luffness New presents shrewd bunkering and fickle winds to test visitors and locals alike
For other ideas on golf trips to Scotland, Ireland, British Open, Spain & Portugal, click here or call Golf International at 1.212.447.5003.

For all the interest Edinburgh holds, it remains a city of very human dimensions. It's a walking city, small enough to be manageable and a place that immediately makes every visitor feel comfortable and at home, while retaining a fascinating Scottish mystique. Constantly surrounding the visitor with centuries of tradition and culture, there's good reason why Edinburgh ranks second to only London among Britain's most popular cities.

Visitors come here to soak up the architecture, the ancient monuments, the castles; palaces and winding medieval streets of yester-year, but golfers are always even more enthralled. Seldom do you find a capital that is golfer friendly and even less frequently will you discover one that welcomes golfers with wide-open arms, but in and around Edinburgh, things are quite different.

This is Scotland, the home of golf where practically everyone plays the game, so don't be surprised to learn that within less than a 30-minute drive of Edinburgh's city center, lies a treasure chest of world-class courses. Unlike those other European countries where any golf course within an hour of the capital is practically guaranteed to be very private and unwelcoming to visitors, here they are all eagerly awaiting the chance to show all, just how wonderful Scottish golf really is.

You can take a drive in any direction from the center of the city and stumble upon golf courses within a few minutes, but if you are looking for the very best layouts, drive east along the coast to the small county of East Lothian. Fast becoming known as the Edinburgh Golf Coast, this is home to 20 excellent layouts, including some of Scotland's very best, all located along a 30-mile stretch of glorious linksland. The closest is a brief 10-minute drive and the furthest, no more than a half hour from the city -- East Lothian is Edinburgh's golf heaven.

From Musselburgh Old Links, the world's oldest golf course and host to 6 British Open Championships in the late 19th century, to Muirfield, home to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, authors of the original 13 rules of golf back in 1744, East Lothian is filled with as much golf history as St. Andrews, perhaps even more. Designed by the famous Old Tom Morris in 1891, Muirfield hosted its first British Open in 1892 and has been the chosen venue for The Open on a further 14 occasions since - Muirfield will again have the honor in 2013. Nearby is the unique golfing village of Gullane, boasting three superb courses, the most spectacular, Gullane No. 1, is a tough, crusty old links that has been frustrating even the most accomplished players since it first opened in 1844.

It's all of three miles further along the coast to reach the small town of North Berwick and its world renowned, West Links, a seaside course that has been admired, envied and literally copied by golf architects from around the globe for over 50 years. First opened in 1832, the West Links is considered as the most classic links of all and as close to a perfect example of what links golf was originally intended to be, as you will ever find. This is one that every connoisseur of the game must play before they die.

But East Lothian and the Edinburgh Golf Coast offer far more than a handful of links that have gained some name recognition and a little glory. The real beauty of this corner of Scotland is the depth and breadth of the collection of golf excellence to be found here. There isn't a mediocre course in the inventory -- each and every one deserves attention, including those with names totally unfamiliar. North Berwick's East Links, better known as The Glen, is a perfect example of the amazingly high caliber of East Lothian's unknown gems.

A collaborative design effort from James Braid and Ben Sayers, The Glen dates from 1908 and sadly, misses the attention of many visitors only because it sits in the shadow of North Berwick's celebrated, West Links. Take the time to play The Glen and you'll discover one of Scotland's most precious jewels. Not only does this spunky seaside track provide thrills aplenty, it also throws in some of the most gorgeous views you will ever find and a welcome for visitors that's as warm and genuine as exists.

There's another jewel of a 150 year-old links just a few miles further along the coast at Dunbar, another layout by Old Tom Morris, arguably the greatest golf architect of all time. This is vintage Morris, nestled between a centuries old stonewall and the rocky shoreline, with barely enough room for the two fairways, a sharp shooters dream - or nightmare - depending on the fickle wind. Boring Dunbar is not, this is one that keeps you on your toes from start to finish.

Heading back toward Edinburgh, Luffness New is also an Old Tom Morris links, although as a centenarian, it's hardly new, but well worth playing. Boasting superb greens, fiendishly clever bunkering and the most cantankerous, ever changing winds, Luffness New provides a stern examination of links skills for even the most accomplished Scots.

Neighboring Longniddry Golf Club is another fascinating layout with an impressive pedigree. The original was designed by Harry S, Colt in 1921, with later improvements made by James Braid and Mackenzie Ross, then a more recent toughening-up treatment was provided by Donald Steel. The end result is an elegant course that shouldn't be taken lightly and another worthy member of the East Lothian collection.

If you think it's only the antique, classic courses that warrant attention from visitors, think again. East Lothian has a few newer courses, both seaside and inland, that will change your mind in a hurry and perhaps the 10 year-old links at Craigielaw will convert you faster than most. A course this young isn't supposed to impress the most dyed in the wool, links traditionalists, but that's precisely what Craigielaw has done.

Filled with imagination and variety, the great English designer, Donald Steel, has created a piece of golf artistry that simply wows all who play it. An exhilarating assembly of 18 holes, each with a challenge quite different to the previous and every one a joy to play. Steel's respect and sensitivity for links golf comes shining through in grand style. He has worked with Mother Nature and not against her. There have been no massive transformations of the landscape, only a very carefully thought out routing of the holes, which shows off the "made for links" terrain to its best golfing advantage.

The end result is a very tough links layout, more than enough to test the scratch golfer from the back tees, but with a selection of three different tee-positions, a course that can also be savored by the mid to high handicap player. Craigielaw is a special treat and a links that belongs on the must play list of every visitor to this golf-rich corner of Scotland.

And there are more that should be mentioned, including the historic old links at Kilspindie, where Mary, Queen of Scots, is said to have played golf back in the 16th century. Kilspindie may be shorter than many others, but that doesn't seem to detract from the tricky test of shoreline holes it conjures up, made all the better by the spectacular views that come along as a bonus. There's a wonderful parkland layout at Royal Musselburgh deserving of attention with more at Whitekirk and Haddington, and still the list is incomplete.

Stay in Edinburgh taking in as many of East Lothian's amazingly good courses as time permits or take your pick of East Lothian's wide range of excellent hotel accommodations and stay among the golf courses. From an award winning restaurant that also offers accommodation, to 3 and 4 star hotels and from simple Bed and Breakfasts to stately homes and grand houses -- even a small castle, the choices are impressive and there is something to fit every taste and any budget.

Staying in East Lothian may be the ideal solution for those who wish to play more golf, or are a little fearful of handling Edinburgh's sometimes frustrating, one-way traffic system. There's also a frequent and very convenient commuter train service that takes you from North Berwick and other East Lothian points, into the very heart of the city, all in a short half hour. Popping into Edinburgh for a half-day's shopping or sightseeing, even a night on the town, becomes a very easy and hassle-free thing to do.

No matter where you stay, make certain you don't miss experiencing at least some of the golfing banquet that calls East Lothian home -- Edinburgh's Golf Coast is just too good to be missed.

For more ideas and suggestions on how to get the most out of a stay in East Lothian or Edinburgh, contact the Scotland experts at Golf International by calling toll free, 1 (800) 833-1389, or click here.

©2011 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.