Lothian is a region of the Scottish Lowlands between the south shore of the Firth of Forth and the Lammermuir Hills. The region is subdivided into three shires, East Lothian, Midlothian, and West Lothian. In 2012 the East Lothian Golf Tourism Alliance and the East Lothian Council launched “Scotland’s Golf Coast” brand. With a view of the Firth of Fourth and the ground ripe for links style golf, it isn’t hard to understand why East Lothian is a world-class tourist destination. East Lothian boasts 22 golf courses with the majority along a 30-mile stretch of coastline. If the density of attractions or the view of the Firth of Forth aren’t enough, East Lothian also draws upon a rich golf history. A Sir John Foulis of Ravelston wrote in an account book in 1672, “he lost at golfe at Musselburgh” – making Musselburgh Links, The Old Course – the oldest continuously played golf course in the world, and making East Lothian the birthplace of modern golf.
Here are the 22 golf courses of East Lothian (all prices are US dollars converted from pounds):
Musselburgh Links Old Course
Visitor green fees from $20
A 9-hole links course more famous for its history than for its play. Musselburgh Old is the oldest golf course in the world still in use. With a yearly membership of $165 and visitor green fees from $20, there is no excuse not to take a tour of this 2874-yard short par 34. For an added historical experience, call ahead and reserve the hickory clubs for $50. Mary Queen of Scots is said to have played the course in 1567. Musselburgh Old is the original Open Championship venue, hosting the event six times between 1874 nd 1889. Though its no longer known as a championship course, it is a must-see for golf history buffs.
Castle Park Golf Club
Visitor green fees start at $30
Castle Park is an 18-hole parkland designed by golf historian Archie Baird and a gang of golf enthusiasts, later assisted by Alastair Patterson and his design team, in 1994. Castle Park is an average 72 par, 6443-yard course, publicly accessible, with visitor fees as low as $29 and membership fees from $600. Once a deer park for the Yester Castle, the castle ruin is still visible behind the 14th green. The woodlands of the Yester Castle provide a scenic backdrop to the south, while golfers traverse the pleasant hilly terrain. Described as friendly by some, and ‘less than a championship golf course’ by others, Castle Park adds diversity and accessibility to the world famous East Lothian county.
Gifford Golf Club
Visitor green fees from $30
Gifford was established in 1904 and is arguably the finest 9-hole in Scotland. Gifford Golf Club has membership at $165 with an annual of $400. Green fees as low as $16 for the visitor. And it’s worth a visit. Located at the foot of the Lammermuir Hills, bounded by woods and farmland, this parkland course stretches as far as some 18-hole courses; with 6256-yards of challenging greens, trees and parkland. Varied positions for the tees on the back nine offer variety for those doing 18-holes at par 71.
Winterfield Golf Club
Visitor green fees from $30
Bring your short game to this flat course located on the edge of the North Sea. A length of 5155-yards has some users describing this par 65 as an overly ambitious 9-hole. Located on the west side of Dunbar and initially opened s a municipal course in 1935, Winterfield is a ruddy little course with an imposing clubhouse a low rate. Visitors pay from $30 per round and membership is from $500. The course weaves in and out of the coastline and can be described as neither links or parkland, but certainly offers some tough Scottish golfing.
Glen Golf Club
Visitor green fees from $40
An 18-hole links course with a length of 6243-yards, Glen Golf Club was originally laid out as a 9-hole in 1894. Another historic site. In 1906 James Braid and Ben Sayers developed the design for the 18-hole, par 70 that is played today. Glen’s clifftop location provides remarkable views of the Bass Rock Island Bird Sanctuary. Players can watch from elevated tees, the seabirds doing whatever seabirds do. The 13th has been described as the best par 3 in the Lothians. Given the history and quality of the area, that is saying something. Glen has an annual membership fee of almost $1000 with no joining charge. Visitors can be expected to pay $90 for a morning round.
Musselburgh Golf Club
Visitor green fees from $40
Musselburgh is a parkland course designed by James Braid, opened in May of 1938. The layout has remained virtually unchanged for over 70 years. The course is dense with trees and overlooked by the historic village of Inveresk. The par 71 with 6725-yards of length is built around the bend of the river Esk. From $40 for a weekday round, visitors are welcome – just not on Saturdays. Saturdays are members only, Musselburgh home to about 900 members. A difficult and respectable course.
Haddington Golf Club
Visitor green fees from $45
A parkland course of 6317-yards within the boundaries of a former country estate. Unique walled surroundings and the River Tyne on its North boundary make Haddington a true stand-out amongst the East Lothian courses. This 18-hole, par 71 has smaller greens and more strategic bunkers than many of the surrounding courses. Indigenous wildlife proliferates amongst the mature beech trees and along the three ponds of the closing stretch. Haddington offers an extensive practice area and 130 acres of quiet country life. Ordinary membership will run close to $750 per 16 months. Visitors can expect weekday rounds from $45.
Longniddry Golf Club
Visitor green fees from $48
Longniddry is the closest seaside course to Edinburgh on the south side of the Firth of Forth. The club was formed in 1921 with course design by Harry S. Colt. The course is an non-traditional links with tree-lined fairways. At 6260-yards the course proves substantially shorter than most. The par is 68, the course record of 62 set by amateur Mike Thomson of Peebles. Joining Longniddry requires two sponsors and a joining fee of $1320, with an annual of $1150. Visitors can expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $120 depending on the time of day and the season.
Royal Musselburgh Golf Club
Visitor green fees from $50
East Lothian may very well be the birthplace of golf. Royal Musselburgh is another one of those historic golf clubs that make a trip to East Lothian more than just sightseeing or putting practice. Touted as the 5th oldest golf club in the world, Royal Musselburgh was established in 1774. Their Old Club Cup is one of the oldest trophies in golf still competed for annually. The course is positioned at the beginning of that famous East Lothian golf coast stretch along the Firth of Forth. The design of the 18-hole links course, by James Baird, is that of a short par 70. Stretching to about 6237-yards, distance is less important than precision on these grounds. The homeward stretch through the trees is said to be particularly challenging. When the winds prove too fierce, one can retreat to the baronial castle that Royal Musselburgh calls a clubhouse. Membership for men $990, women $900, with no joining fee. Visitors can expect to pay $50 per round on a weekday.
Craigielaw Golf Club
Visitor green fees start at $57
This 18-hole links course designed by Donald Steele & Co. opened in 2001. Craigielaw boasts memberships of Lloyd Saltman, top amateur in the 2005 Open Champoinship in St. Andrew and his brother Elliot whom qualified for the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry. With 6601-yards of cavernous bunkers and traditional greens this relatively new course has already acted as a qualifying course for the 2007 British Seniors Open at Muirfield. The fair but unforgiving terrain and steep sod bunkers on this par 71 course provide an experience both playable and challenging. Members can expect to pay $1500 yearly for regular access to this storybook course.
North Berwick Golf Club West Links
Visitor green fees start at $60
Founded in 1832 by ten members of high society, North Berwick is known as the 13th oldest golf club in the world. The course itself is The West Links, and is among the more famous of the East Lothian bunch. The 15th Hole, called “Redan” (a military term meaning guarding parapet), is a true original. Atop a plateau leading into a large sloping green and protected by bunkers on either side, “Redan” has been reproduced on golf courses the world over. The architect is unknown, what is known however is that the course began as a 6-hole and was expanded to the 18-hole, par 71 it is today by about 1877. The stonewall on the 13th is another popular attraction. The bunkers, humps, hollows and burns spread with precision throughout the course keep golfers returning. Becoming a member requires references and a love of waiting, currently 1-2 years before an application will even be processed. Visitors are welcome however, with green fees between $60-$150 depending on the season. This world class course is worth the price of admission, being a qualifying venue for the Open Championship when held at Muirfield, as well as a golfer’s historic landmark.
Dunbar Golf Club
Visitor green fees start at $65
Dunbar Golf Club was established in 1856. The first course was laid out in the same year. Over the years, there were numerous revisions and additions. The fifth revision, laid out by five times Open Champion James Braid, and Ben Sayers of North Berwick, reflects the course that is played today. The 18-hole links course was lengthened to 6597-yards in 2008. It plays hosts to countless national and international championships and is qualifying course for the Open when at Muirfield. The harsh sea winds and rocky shoreline give the area a rugged feel, mediated only by the natural contours of the course. Dunbar Golf Club has an extensive history and is a part of the culture of the town of Dunbar and of the East Lothian county. Initial membership fee is $900 with an annual of the same, whereas visitors can be expected to pay upwards of $100/round in the high season.
Whitekirk Golf and Country Club
Visitor green fees from $65
A unique heathland amongst the links giants, Whitekirk is an 18-hole par 72 three miles east of North Berwick. In 1995 Yorkshire farmer George Tuer commissioned Cameron Sinclair to turn the hilly area of his land into a pay-and-play golf facility. Two miles from the sea, it combines the feel of the links course with the fertile gorse-laden fairways of a luscious inland course. With four lakes and undulating standard greens, Whitekirk is a challenge. Don’t let the panoramic views on the 5th distract you from the two solid shots required to clear a hill and a gully to get to the green. Visitor rates from $65 per round on a weekday.
Kilspindie Golf Club
Visitor green fees from $70
Kilspindie is an 18-hole links course coming in at 5480-yards and 69 par located in the village of Aberlady. The course was formed in 1867 and the current grounds brought into play in 1898 by designers Park and Sawyers. It’s reputed to be the 35th oldest golf club in the world and sees a staggering 27 thousand visitors per year. Visitors can expect to pay from $70 per round, in exchange for a tight layout, and views of sunning seals. Kilspindie requires accurate driving and a top-notch short game; it’s said to test parts of your game that other courses will not. The heavy sea winds add to the challenge with the back nine often played into the wind. Kilspindie is known for having hosted an alternative Ryder Cup with 12-man teams using vintage hickory shafted clubs.
Luffness New Golf Club
Visitor green fees from $130
Located on the edge of Gullane, the 18-hole Luffness New is often overlooked in favor of the more famous Gullane and Muirfield courses, but it is not to be missed. With some of the best putting surfaces in the area, Luffness New is a contender. The course is a slow-build until the 6th, “The Quarry,” where the strength of Tom Morris’s design begins to show. The Luffness course runs adjacent to the Gullane courses but has a very different feel. The 8th hole overlooks Gosford Bay and requires a difficult shot over a beach to make it to the green. The short 6502-yard course is made more challenging by the par of 70, and is often used as a qualifying course when the Open is at Muirfield. Luffness New is a private club with restricted visitor times and dates, the green fees running at $130 per round.
Gullane Golf Club
Visitor green fees range from $55 to $160, depending on which Gullane course is played
Gullane is world class links golfing. The club has three 18-hole courses and a children’s 6-hole. Gullane No. 1, established in 1884 is famous for pristine greens, numerous bunkers, and stiff sea breezes, not to mention hosting the Local Final Qualifying for the Open at Muirfield. Golfers climb until the 7th, “the Queen’s Head,” when they reach the 300-foot summit of Gullane Hill and one of the most picturesque holes in golf, according the the PGA’s online article ‘The Top Five Most Picturesque Golf Spots in the World.’ After completing the seventh, golfers start the trek down Gullane Hill. The “infinity green” at the 8th hole offers the illusion of a green floating over Gullane Bay. All for the visitor price of $160 per round, although one can expect to wait for their tee time. Book 12 months in advance. For those interested in becoming members, requirements are strict (two letter of recommendation from Gullane members of at least five years standing), and some claim wait-list times up to five years.
An estimated 200-yards shorter than No. 1, at 6244 yards, Gullane No. 2 is known for its excellent short holes. Built in 1898, it runs along the A198 road and winds along towards the Aberlady Bay nature reserve. Unlike No. 1, there are no restrictions on visitor times, and the wait is considered substantially less. The only Gullane designed by an architect, Willie Park Jr. laid this hilly, treacherous course in the late 1800s, and Freank Pennick made his adjustments in the 1970s. This short course is a favorite of locals. Visitors can expect to pay $80 per round.
The shortest of the three at 5252-yards and par 68, as opposed to the par 71 of No.1 and No.2 – Gullane No. 3 offers a stern challenge. Completed in 1910, the course is tight, slippery and fast. It’s known for having the best greens of the three courses and is essentially a condensed version of the previous two. Green fees run visitors about $55 per round, with no restrictions on days and times.
Gullane also offers a children’s 6-hole course at no cost and with no booking required. Children can play anytime. Adults can also play the children’s course – if accompanied by a child.
Muirfield, The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers
Visitor green fees from $300
The famous Muirfield is a championship 18-hole links golf course of 7292-yards and par 70. The Open has been hosted at Muirfield 16 times, among other national and international competitions. The first Open hosted at Muirfield was only a year after the completion of the Tom Morris designed course, in 1891. Though the club is private, and exclusive, visitors are welcome on Tuesdays and Thursdays for $300 a pop – if bookings are made in writing 12 months in advance. Membership is not available to the general public, and as of 2013, over a century after opening, Muirfield members numbered only 650. Annual memberships fees vary. Members do not pay food and drink, but split the costs annually. The club’s exclusive nature is designed counter-intuitively around a kind of community. For example, the clubhouse features large tables that seat from 6 to 24, to promote mingling. The club has been criticized for their refusal to allow women to become members, so it seems that Muirfield’s sense of community reflects something of an ‘Old Boy’s Club.’ Even the food is described by club secretary Alastair Brown as “very masculine in nature, with little regard to calorie count.”
The community is exclusive and the play is spectacular. Unlike most links which follow an out-and-back along the coast routing, Muirfield is arranged in two circles. The first nine are clockwise and the last nine are counter-clockwise. The direction of the circles create variance in the wind patterns.
Muirfield is home to The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, one of the oldest golf clubs in the world. It’s listed in Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Golf Courses in the world. To be sure, Muirfield is a great old institution, and well worth visiting, for the history, for the golf, and probably for the manly snacks.
Visitor green fees start at $330
Archerfield Links is divided into two courses, the Dirleton, an inland course, and the Fidra, along the coast. Together the Archerfield Links are estimated to be worth 90 million US. Both courses were designed by senior tour professional David J. Russell, each 18-hole links courses, each par 72. The Fidra course opened in May 2004 with a membership fee of $24,000 and annuals of $1800. The 6948-yard private course was much lauded for its tree-lined fairways and spectacular views of the coast of Fife. The only slighter shorter 6946-yard Dirleton course opened in 2006 with a more traditional links feel. Deep bunkers, sand dunes and a view of the Dirleton Castle, are only a few of the attractions of the world-class course. As the popularity of the courses grew, so did their memberships. By 2012 the initial membership fee had doubled to an estimated $50,000 US, with an annual of over $3000. Though private, visitors are allowed to play the course for a green fee starting at $330.
The Renaissance Club
No visitors. Membership from $8,200, with joining fee of $123,000
The Renaissance Club is the newest and the longest of the East Lothian courses, with play as long as 7435-yards stretching along the coast of the Firth of Forth. A links club in good company, Muirfield borders the estate on the west and Archerfield to the east. The Renaisance opened in April of 2008 with lead American investor, Jerry Sarvadi, heading the charge. A portion of the club is actually on the Archerfield estate, leased from the Duke of Hamilton family for the next 99 years. The par 71 course boasts Tom Doak design, carved out of 300 acres of pine forest with no cart path in sight – the course is to be walked. The 10th to the 13th are among the highest in elevation and are closest to the Firth of Forth. The 11th, with its position over the Firth is thought to be one of the most picturesque holes. The back nine are said to be the most topographically interesting, with rises and falls in elevation. The Renaissance is a private course and does not allow visitors. One must be a member, or invited to play by a member. Membership fees run about $8200 annually, with the joining cost coming in at $123,000. Joining, however will place one amongst golf elites like winner of the 2013 Desert Classic, Stephen Gallacher and winner of the 2013 European Masters, Richie Ramsay. This 50 million dollar project was built to be a championship tournament course. The first tourny is already set for 2016, The Boys Amateur Championship, will no doubt thrust this course into the limelight.