MyGolfSpy Experiences is dedicated to one of the fundamental truths of the cosmos: the best bucket-list golf trip is the next one.

And this, my friends, is the story of that “next” one.

You may remember our 2019 travelogue on the trip of a lifetime to the Home of Golf, St Andrews. Well, with the 150th Open Championship staring us in the face, we’d like to take you back. But this time, we’re going to start with, as the Scots might say, a wee detour two hours south to East Lothian.

Known as Scotland’s Golf Coast, East Lothian is home to some of the oldest and best-known courses in the world. It’s also home to some of the most wonderful hidden gems anywhere. You just have to know where to look.

We can help you with that.

So, with a tip of the tam o’ shanter to this week’s Genesis Scottish Open, we’ll start in East Lothian and share with you the places to stay, play and dine. Next week, we’ll head north to give you a taste of St Andrews, the Old Course and the town that is the Home of Golf.

MyGolfSpy Experiences Renaissance

MyGolfSpy Experiences: Three Years in Planning

As any good golf trip planner will tell you, post-pandemic pent-up demand has put a premium on bucket-list tee times. Our eight-person sojourn was originally scheduled for the spring of 2020. COVID disrupted that plan. Five postponements and many Zoom meetings later, we finally nailed down the first week of May.

Jack Sallis of Halcyon Golf Travel in Nottingham, England, presented us with several options. His best suggestion was to visit Scotland’s Golf Coast. I’m not sure you could find a greater concentration of championship-level golf courses so close together anywhere else on the planet. Specifically, the Golf Coast boasts 21 world-class courses along 30 miles of shoreline. You’ve no doubt heard of many of them, including the legendary Muirfield, the West Links at North Berwick, the three courses at Gullane and Renaissance, site of this week’s Genesis Scottish Open.

We only had four days so we couldn’t hit them all but we did hit a few. And we did discover one hidden gem the group couldn’t—and two months later still can’t—stop talking about.

MyGolfSpy Experiences Renaissance

Arriving in Edinburgh

Our original plan was to fly the redeye from our various locations, arriving in Edinburgh on Sunday, June 1. We’d play golf that afternoon. The group ultimately decided that arriving Saturday, checking out the city, getting a decent night’s rest and then playing golf might be a better idea. Turns out it was.

Pro Tip No. 1: Fly in a day ahead if you can. It gives you time to sightsee and souvenir shop in Edinburgh, which is a treat. And it gives you a full night’s sleep before your first round of golf. It’ll help get your trip off on the right foot.

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and its history can be traced back to the Bronze Age. It became Scotland’s capital in the 1400s. The heart of the city is called Old Town and features The Royal Mile. It’s a cobblestone roadway through the heart of Old Town from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland. Our hotel was within walking distance to the Castle, several museums and many, many pubs.

There’s no shortage of excellent restaurants along the Royal Mile. We opted for dinner at Ox184, a relaxed urban eatery perfectly suited to meat-loving traveling golfers. The menu includes rib tips, sirloin, ribeye and pork loin and, for the vegetarian in the group, maybe the best plant-based burger you’ll ever have.

At least they said it was plant-based.

Our first meal together also started a trip-long hunt for Scotland’s best sticky toffee pudding. Ox184’s was good but we would find better.

Meet Malcolm Duck

Our first home in Scotland, the Ducks Inn in the town of Aberlady, dates back to 1683. The Ducks takes its name from current owner/innkeeper Malcolm Duck. Malcolm is a former Royal Marine who specialized in running small squads in Northern Ireland and the Falklands. In other words, perfect training for running an inn.

MyGolfSpy Experiences Malcolm Duck

Malcolm spent much of the ’90s as an upscale restauranteur in Edinburgh before bringing that same gastronomic flair with him to Aberlady. That experience, plus a pretty sharp golf game, has allowed Malcolm to turn Ducks into the spot for traveling golfers in East Lothian. Our first meal included seafood spaghetti, duck leg confit, salmon and the staple of the Scottish diet, fish ‘n chips. Golfers travel on their stomachs and all of us rated the meal as one of the best of the trip.

And that sticky toffee pudding quest we mentioned? Malcolm’s was the best we found.

Sunday night turned into a rager at Ducks. It was a “bank holiday” weekend and the bar was packed with partyers. The highlight was Malcolm’s legendary bar games. The most famous one asks you to stand on one bar stool and putt a ball off another, onto the floor and up a seesaw-looking device. The goal is to get the ball to stay on the far end of the seesaw. It’s harder than it looks.

And for sheer joy, there’s nothing like watching Scottish septuagenarians and my cousin Paul trying to decipher each other’s accents. I think Paul’s “chowdah”-thick Boston accent won but after all that Scotch, who could tell?

MyGolfSpy Experiences Ducks Inn

Kilspindie and Craigielaw

Kilspindie is less than a mile from the Ducks and is a perfect first-timer’s introduction to Scotland’s Golf Coast. When you look back on Kilspindie, you’ll remember having fun.

Kilspindie is a par-69 seaside course dating to 1867. It’s only 5,400 yards from the tips but don’t get the idea Kilspindie is some kind of “executive” course. It’s a legit links course. Several holes are on the ocean with plenty of blind shots and sneaky pot bunkers to swallow up the best drive you hit all day.

Kilspindie was showtime for a shot I’d been practicing for weeks, something the Scots call a “wee 7-iron.” The Scottish wind makes flying a wedge to the pin a challenge so it’s best to take the low road with a bump and run, even from 120 yards out. I did manage to roll one up to about a foot-and-a-half at Kilspindie. Missed the birdie putt, but still …

MyGolfSpy Experiences Kilspindie

One last Kilspindie note: the first hole is a modest, albeit intimidating, par-3. Our group played a closest-to-the-pin challenge for a bottle of 10-year-old Glen Moray Walter Hagen Scotch. The catch was we had to use a hickory club. None of us hit the green but one reached the fringe. He smilingly describes Walter as smooth and tasty.

Craigielaw opened in 2001. It’s next door to Kilspindie and is the quintessential “good bones” course that could use some TLC.  Craigielaw does feature a modern clubhouse, lodge and a driving range/practice area, which is unusual for Scotland. Our group was split on Craigielaw but we all agreed that if you had to pick one, pick Kilspindie.

Pro Tip No. 2: Kilspindie is a perfect “first round in Scotland” course.

The West Links at North Berwick 

If you like your golf loaded with history, North Berwick’s West Links won’t disappoint. Golf was played on that spot while Shakespeare was still working out the Macbeth plotlines. The West Links course itself officially dates back to 1832. Since first playing it in 2018, North Berwick has been at the top of my Most Fun Places on the Planet to Play list. After this trip, it had company.

North Berwick (pronounced BER-ick by the Scots) is as classic as it is quirky. It features blind shots, the original Redan par-3 and some funky greens. Stone walls crisscross the course, coming into play on the second and 13th holes (again, we learned the hard way). As with most links courses, the back nine hugs the coastline coming back into town and is as challenging of a stretch as you’ll encounter. The 14th hole is called Perfection because you’ll need two perfect shots to reach the green. You finally get a break on the driveable 18th but the line of parked cars on the right is enough to give you the willies as you start your backswing.

MyGolfSpy Experiences North Berwick

Pro Tip No. 3: Don’t worry about your tee shot hitting a parked car on the right side of North Berwick’s 18th fairway. Your green fee covers insurance if you do happen to damage someone’s vehicle.

The Marine Hotel, adjacent to North Berwick’s 17th fairway, provides a fine dinner, featuring outstanding pork chops, oysters and various forms of red meat.  There’s also sticky toffee pudding. It was good—just not quite Ducks-level good.

MyGolfSpy Experiences North Berwick

Dunbar: The “Perfect Wave”

Have you ever seen the 1966 documentary The Endless Summer? It’s about two surfers who circle the globe chasing “the perfect wave.” They ultimately find it, quite by accident, off Cape St. Francis in South Africa. If anyone were to make a golfer’s version of The Endless Summer, they’d find golf’s perfect wave at Dunbar. 

Upon arrival, Dunbar underwhelms you with modesty. It’s not dazzling like North Berwick or opulent like Renaissance. But Dunbar eventually seduces you with charming simplicity. You’ll find plain hooks and wooden benches in the “locker” room and nary a trace of elegance in the lounge. But you’ll also find the friendliest members who always have time for a chat, plus some of the best on-course food around.

MyGolfSpy Experiences Dunbar

And if you’re looking for golf that’s fun and challenging, well, Dunbar delivers like Amazon Prime.

Dunbar gives you a little bit of everything, starting off with a pair of hearty par-5s before an interesting downhill par-3. It’s the fourth hole, however, that gets the old heart pumping. You pass through another wall (Scottish golf is filled with them) and you spend the rest of your round wrestling with the ocean. The only way to get closer to the North Sea would be to actually dive in.

The course itself dates back to 1856 and has seen the likes of Old Tom Morris, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray on its fairways. Dunbar plays to just under 6,600 yards with three devilishly short par-3s (and one devilishly long one). All three par-5s are on the front nine while the back nine tests you with four par-4s ranging from 432 to 460 yards.

MyGolfSpy Experiences Dunbar

It is, quite simply, a joy to play.

Pro Tip No. 4: Do not, under any circumstances, miss Dunbar.

The Legend of Jack White

We were sorry to miss the three courses at Gullane but we did pay homage to one of the town’s legendary citizens with a visit to Jack White’s Hickory 4 Ever golf shop. Jack White made his bones as both a player and a club maker. He remains the only native East Lothian to win the Open Championship (1904 at Royal St. George’s) and may be best known for making Jeanie Deans, the driver used by Bobby Jones to win both the Open Championship and U.S. Open in 1926, as well as the Grand Slam in 1930.

Hickory 4 Ever is the ultimate for any vintage golf equipment nerd, with the most impressive array of playable antique hickory and classic clubs you’ll find anywhere. Boris Lietzow runs the shop now and is a certified East Lothian legend in his own right. Pick up any classic hickory in the store and Boris will give you its detailed history, including who made it, who played it and why it’s unique.

Boris will rent you a set of hickories to try on any of the local courses if you want. Otherwise, a full set will run anywhere from $800 to $1,000. I was thankful I’d left my wallet in the van but still managed to drop a five-pound note on a still-in-the-wrapper Penfold Hearts.

If you’re looking to dine in Gullane, the Bonnie Badger won’t disappoint. The group gave sterling reviews for everything from the bacon-wrapped scallops and pancetta-wrapped monkfish to the Wagyu beef and steak tartare.

Renaissance: Home of The Scottish Open

Our final round in Scotland’s Golf Coast was at a place you may be looking at on TV as you read this piece. By the good graces of club member Malcolm Duck, we ended on a high note by playing Renaissance, the home of this year’s Genesis Scottish Open.

MyGolfSpy Experiences Renaissance

Open since 2008, Renaissance (the Scots pronounce it Ren-AY-ssance) is bordered by Muirfield on one side and by Archerfield Links on the other. Only four of the club’s 18 holes are on the ocean so Renaissance really can’t be considered a “links” course. In fact, the first eight holes of the challenging Tom Doak layout could easily be in Maine or Nebraska, never mind Scotland. But starting with the par-3 ninth, which heads toward the ocean, the course turns stunning, particularly the par-4 10th with its arrow fairway that slopes down and to the left onto the cliffs overlooking the Firth of Forth. There’s but one thought in your head on the tee box: Do. Not. Go. Left.

The course is being rerouted for the Genesis Scottish Open. The closest-to-the-ocean seventh through 12th holes will be played as 10 through 16 for the benefit of TV. So if you like your back nine packed with dramatic vistas, you’ll love this stretch of golf.

As for facilities, Renaissance has everything you’d expect from a top-tier private club: a first-class locker room with a hot tub and sauna, an excellent bar and dining room, an out-of-this-world halfway station and a sweet practice area. The pros may very well tear it up this week if the winds are calm. But our day featured a proper Scottish breeze, which certainly made the course plenty tough for a group of mid-handicappers.

Golf Trips and The Characters You Meet

When you look back on any golf vacation, it’s the people you meet who make the trip come alive. There was the Dunbar member out walking his dog who helped me look for the tee shot I pulled into the North Sea, and who wanted to know all about golf in New Hampshire. And then there was Michael, my caddie at North Berwick who wistfully reminisced about playing Pebble Beach while on his honeymoon many years ago.

And then there’s Laurence Gray, our caddie at both Dunbar and Renaissance.

Laurence played the European Tour for a couple of seasons as a younger man and shared with us a treasure trove of hilarious stories, most of which are most definitely NSFW. Laurence is a huge MyGolfSpy fan and agreed to a quick on-camera chat.

Scotland’s Golf Coast: Final Thoughts

While St Andrews gets all the glamour, East Lothian features 21 courses over 30 miles of coastline. It’s the largest concentration of championship-level golf courses in the world.

That’s why it’s called Scotland’s Golf Coast.

There’s plenty of great golf to keep you busy. And with lodging and dining options ranging from austere to elegant, there’s something for everyone and every budget.

MyGolfSpy Experiences Renaissance

That said, the highlight of Scotland’s Golf Coast was Dunbar. Upon arrival, you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about but the course captures you one shot at a time. After their round, two members of our group needed a club regripped. The pro took care of it right away and hand-delivered the clubs to the boys just as they were getting their first round of beers in the lounge. He only charged them the cost of the grip.

It’s the kind of course that once your last putt drops on 18, you start plotting your way back. It’s that satisfying.

We hope you enjoyed this travel guide to East Lothian. Please share any experiences you’ve had on Scotland’s Golf Coast and where you think we should visit next. And don’t forget, we’ll conclude this two-part MyGolfSpy Experiences next week with a trip two hours north to the Home of Golf, St Andrews.

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