The majestic links at Muirfield, home to The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, is the centrepiece to a string of unforgettable courses on the Firth of Forth. The West Links at North Berwick has for centuries been an inspiration to course architects around the world while a growing number of modern links have further added to the area’s appeal.
Muirfield, The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Gullane, East Lothian
Par 71, 7,245 yards
The course: Host to 16 Open Championships and 11 Amateur Championships, this classic links rightly holds its place in the list of the world’s best golf courses. Renowned as the fairest golf course on the Open Championship rota, there are few better examples of a course where you must think smartly to score well. The course is laid out in two separate loops, the front none running clockwise on the outer and the back nine going in the opposite direction on the inner.
Signature hole: Considered to be the 1st, a 444-yard par 4 that Jack Nicklaus maintains is the toughest opening hole in golf.
What makes it special? The course changes direction constantly, so you’ll need imagination, a shrewd golfing brain and a comprehensive shot repertoire.
North Berwick West Links, North Berwick, East Lothian
Par 71, 6,506 yards
The course: Undoubtedly, one of Scotland’s finest, the West Links has antiquated charm with walls, burns, challenging bunkers and commanding views out to sea and of the Forth estuary. The golf course is one of the most copied in the world, having had several course designers attempt to recreate its difficult holes.
Signature hole: It’s a close call between the wonderful Redan, par-3, 15th hole and the weirdly wonderful Gate, the short par-4 16th protected by a green that is narrow, raised and dissected by a gully.
What makes it special? The 18th green is unwittingly situated in the middle almost of the quaint seaside town of North Berwick.
Dunbar Championship Links, Dunbar, East Lothian
Par 71, 6,597 yards
The Course: Perfected over 150 years by three giants of the game, Old Tom Morris, James Braid and Ben Sayers, this Open Qualifying venue hugs the coastline along a narrow strip of land within yards of the waves crashing onto the rocky shore. Blessed with a reputation for abundant sunshine, the course lives long in the memory of all who play it.
Signature hole: Hole 14, Mill Stone Den, is a risk and reward par four that offers a stunning view down to the old boathouse with the Bass Rock looming on the horizon.
What makes it special? Stunning scenery and a welcoming clubhouse complete the memorable experience.
Archerfield Fidra, Dirleton, East Lothian
Par 72, 6,948 yards
The course: Golf had been played on the Archerfield Estate since the early 18th century until the Ministry of Defence took over the grounds during World War II. The Fidra Course opened for play in 2004 and combines a tree-lined front nine with a classic, open links challenge on the return and features eye-catching revetted bunkers and sloping greens to test the best of putters.
Signature hole: The course opens up from the trees with the signature 12th hole, a par-4 that challenges with a tight drive and a short approach to an up-turned saucer green.
What makes it special? From the long entrance drive, to the state of the art practice facilities and the luxurious clubhouse, the whole experience is first class.
Gullane No.1, Gullane Golf Club, East Lothian
Par 71, 6,466 yards
The course: Gullane Golf Club is one of the most prestigious member clubs, mixing the finest tradition with some of the world’s most admired natural links land. It boasts 3 excellent golf courses, with a combination course hosting the Scottish Open, a leading European Tour event. Whilst the opening hole is simple enough, the second hole up Gullane Hill is brutally tough. The course then opens up, constantly exposing the golfer to cross winds as the course meanders its way to and from the coastline.
Signature hole: The par-5 3rd hole and its airstrip fairway from tee to green is recognised in the world’s top-500 golf holes, but the 7th hole enjoys 360 degree panoramic views.
What makes it special? The turf is simply pristine to play off, no matter the time of year.
Luffness New, Gullane, East Lothian
Par 70, 6,502 yards
The course: Don’t be fooled by the name – the course is a classic links created in 1894 by Tom Morris with holes on each side of a coastal road. An Open Qualifying venue with thick rough and distinctive bunkers to punish errant shots, it plays into the hands of the straight hitters. It becomes even tighter when the wind blows, which it frequently does.
Signature hole: The 196-yard par-3, third hole played on to the best green complex on the course.
What makes it special? The greens are billiard-table smooth and fuse nicely into the flat fairways like crème blends with coffee.
Craigielaw, Aberlady,East Lothian
Par 71, 6,601 yards
The course: Opened in 2001, Craigielaw is a modern championship links enjoying panoramic views over the Forth estuary. The firm, fast and treacherously undulating greens ensure that distance control and a deft putting touch are required to score well around this challenging Open qualifying venue.
Signature hole: ‘Kilspindie’, the par-3 6th hole, 174 yards in length that plays alongside a stone wall to a green well-protected by cavernous bunkers.
What makes it special? The clubhouse plays a large part in the social fabric of the village and it is often filled with local folk telling their tales to visiting golfers. It’s hard to tell gospel from fable but it is entertaining all the same.
Longniddry, East Lothian
Par 68, 6260 yards
The course: A unique combination of woodland and links gives Longniddry its distinctiveness on Scotland’s golfing coast. It is this diversity, alongside nicely raised greens complemented with exquisite bunkering, which make this former Open qualifying venue a pleasure to play. The course is particularly challenging when played into the prevailing westerly wind.
Signature hole: ‘Cadell’s Nuke’ is the 314 yard par-4 fifth. Whilst it is reachable off the tee for the long-hitters, line of entry into a two-tiered, elevated green is the key to playing the hole well.
What makes it special? Four of the very best golf architects – Harry Colt, James Braid, Philip Mackenzie Ross and Donald Steel – have left their mark on Longniddry. It’s hardly surprising therefore, that the course is easy on the eye.
Royal Musselburgh, Prestongrange, East Lothian
Par 70, 6,270 yards
The course: A delightful, historical parkland course, renowned for its welcoming appeal to golfers of all abilities. The undulating front nine is balanced off with a much flatter inward half, but the entire course benefits from well-designed green complexes with exceptional mounding and bunkering throughout. Blessed with a trio of beautiful par- threes, this course deserves ‘little gem’ status.
Signature hole: The aptly named ‘Gap’ 362-yard par-4 twelfth requires a well-placed tee-shot to allow appropriate entry into a tightly guarded green.
What makes it special? Being the sixth oldest golf club in the world there is a huge amount of history to be told within the grand, castle-like clubhouse.
Musselburgh Links, Musselburgh, East Lothian
Par-34, 2,968 yards (9-holes)
The course: The oldest golf course in the world with records emanating as far back as 1567, Musselburgh Links hosted the Open Championship on 6 occasions between 1874 and 1889. Any true golfing aficionado should add this to their Scottish golf playlist. The current nine-hole course remains very much as the original layout, but is now contained within a horse racing track.
Signature hole: The 431 yard par-4 fourth is the most challenging hole on the course thanks to a semi-blind tee shot and a traditional putting area offering few straight putts. This was the most popular resting point on the course and drinks used to be served to golfers through the Mrs Forman’s pub window adjacent to the green.
What makes it special? Besides its authenticated history and significance in golf, the nine-holes are a privilege to play – especially if you take up the challenge of taking them on with hickory clubs and a gutta percha ball.