Planning a golf trip to Scotland? Here’s your caddie: a series of posts for the average woman golf traveler. Part I of Scotland Golf for Women.
If my husband hadn’t wanted to take a golf trip to Scotland to celebrate his 60th birthday, I probably never would have gone. I’d heard enough about golf courses that are too long, too windy and too short on toilets for women golfers like me. Give me Florida, the Carolinas or California, I’d say.
Well, shame on me. I would have missed 15 days rich in history, warm in personal encounters and surprisingly delicious in food. The golf courses? Generally too long, too windy and too short on toilets for women golfers like me — but also some of the most wonderful golf courses I will ever walk.
Our trip focused on three regions: East Lothian, considered the Golf Coast of Scotland and within 35 miles of the great city of Edinburgh; Fife, considered the home of golf and centered around the charming, golf-centric small city of St Andrews; and the Highlands, the region north that you’ve seen watching Game of Thrones, Outlander and Braveheart.
We flew into Edinburgh and used car services until we left St Andrews and rented from Arnold Clark for the Highlands portion of the trip. Here’s how we rolled during our four days staying in North Berwick.
EAST LOTHIAN, THE GOLF COAST OF SCOTLAND
Seaholm: This small bed-and-breakfast on the coastline turned out to be one of the most joyful surprises of the trip, courtesy of our hostess, Italian-born Lorena Peressini. Lorena goes out of her way to please all of her guests, starting with the fresh fruit and yogurt that precedes her expertly cooked breakfasts but also counseling on plans and offering rides. One woman who was traveling alone was particularly appreciative of Lorena’s hospitality and friendship. We will remember her warmth and hospitality along with the stunning North Berwick sunsets we saw (not until about 10 p.m. each night!) from our bay windows on Seaholm’s second floor.
Gullane No. 3: We chose scenic, seaside Gullane for our first round because it has a driving range and short-game practice area, and we needed time to get acquainted with the clubs we had rented from Ross at Scotland Golf Club Hire so that we didn’t have to schlep our own. (Yes, it was cheaper than shipping, and we really liked our clubs!) I’m really glad we ignored the golf snobs who disdain No. 3 because it is shorter than No. 2 and the more acclaimed No. 1. From the forward tees, that meant 4,920 yards (yes, they use yards) rather than 5,566 or 5,903 — and $54 instead of $82 or $200. On a day when the wind howled, we managed to enjoy our new clubs, the views (paralleling those on 1 and 2), the 19th hole, and the cleanest restrooms (“toilets,” to UKers) I’ve ever seen on a golf course. Alas, the toilets were accessible only at the 10th tee. But I rate Gullane five stars for women for its options, value, size, and friendliness. It did require the biggest climb of our trip, over Gullane Hill, but how fun to come back down with a par-3 you could practically putt!
Kilspindie: So glad, again, we didn’t listen to the golf snobs who blanked when we mentioned Kilspindie. Every hole on the course has a view of the sea, and most routings are open to the eye from the tee. We loved how an ancient wall came into play on the back nine, and the way the course finished on a tiny green right in front of the tables outside the clubhouse. Onlookers will applaud your good chips and putts. Kilspindie has only one toilet, literally, and it is at the 12th tee; women used to first-class amenities may balk, but, the women’s club here has 217 members, for good reason! I met some of them and would love to meet more; they are proud of their course and generous with advice. There’s a wonderful old clubhouse experience awaiting at the finish, with a generous pour of whichever local nectar you select. I wish the forward tees were a tad more brazen; my husband definitely got a shorter course experience at 5,494 yards from the back, while for me it was a fairly standard 5,092. The $80 visitor green fee seemed a bit steep for a round that was over all too quickly; this is one course where I’d spring for an all-day ticket, especially in sunny, calm weather. Four and a half stars for women!
The Glen: We walked to the Glen from Seaholm on Sunday morning, my husband manly enough to carry my clubs along the street while he rolled his. It had rained all night and we had donned our weathers. We chose to play here at the East Links rather than the West Links at the other end of town for three reasons: It had new blue forward tees measuring 4,801 yards (as opposed to 5,755 up the street), it cost us $100 rather than $190, and the spectacular views of North Berwick drew hikers and dog-walkers to the course fringes every day. With the weather changing practically hole to hole — rain, drizzle, sun, but with an unrelenting gale — the rolling Glen kicked our butts in every way. We couldn’t possibly keep the local two-ball pace of 3 hours 15 minutes with our constant clothing and equipment adjustments, but persevered to reach the 18th tee while others surrendered and headed for the gorgeous clubhouse view. A marshal here noted, “Ah, you played the kids’ tee.” So much for the woman-friendliness of the new blue forward tees. But, I’d play them again at the Glen, in much better weather. There’s a flush toilet at the turn, which I never needed because I was dehydrated from walking the hills, and the 19th hole was the brightest and best we encountered on our trip. Four stars and a half stars for women!!
We took a day off from golf and headed for the train station, arriving in Edinburgh 30 minutes later for a skip-the-line tour of the castle there. Our well-educated guide regaled us with tales alternately funny and brutal from Scotland’s alternately funny and brutal history, and then sent us to the Jolly Judge down the street for our first authentic pub experience. The lessons we learned here about Scottish pubs: Order at the bar, pay at the bar, have a seat, make sure you have the soup, and leave a 5-to-10 percent tip only if you are so inclined. In North Berwick, a wonderful walking town, we loved the pasta, pizza, amaretto affogato and Italian merlot at Cucina Amore. We also were very pleased with local car services, especially Stuart Pearson’s East Lothian Private Hire and Jim’s Taxis.
What I’d do next time
I wouldn’t change much with my husband, but with a group of women I’d stay in the center of Edinburgh and savor the city. We’d venture out to the coast for golf at Kilspindie, Gullane 3 or the Glen, and maybe test the West Links this time. I’d also seek out an educational, brand-agnostic gin or whisky tasting that could guide my selections later in the trip. More about that to come!