A links course road trip is our annual given travel fact and golf feast. Last month – when the very long hours of daylight provided for unlimited opportunities to start of the first tee – we made our yearly visit to Scotland. The place where golf was born, back in the 16th century. Once a diversion for the Scottish aristocracy, as so they say, now a game to be played by all.
And do they have the most beautiful links courses, our favourite style of golf because nothing beats a round of golf with stunning seaviews. This year we travelled from Newcastle, UK up to Edinburgh, Scotland. Golfing our way along the east coast, the ultimate road for some stunning links course golf.
Not only the impact of the high ranked, well-known courses but also the charm of local courses is what makes links course golf unique for me. These are our 6 links course gems of 2016.
1. Dustanburgh Castle links course
First golf stop after the ferry from Newcastle is Dustanburgh Castle, a very friendly course in Northumberland. Friendly but tough, especially when wind is in play. Like always, haha.
This traditional links course is created by golf course architect James Braid in 1900 and set among beautiful scenery along the Northumberland’s Heritage Coastline. With views of Dunstanburgh Castle ruins on many holes.
The atmosphere is very welcoming, the clubhouse is open to both golfers and those who like to hike along the large beach or take a leisurely stroll through the dunes.
On the first hole, a herd of cows viewed our putting skills with great interest. Favourite hole is number 6, a par 4 dog leg to the left which needs a good drive from the top of the hill. The views! The wind!
Dustanburgh Castle Golf
18 holes – 6298 yards – par 70 – green fees from £ 27
2. Bamburgh Castle links course
Castles everywhere in these surroundings, Bamburgh Castle can’t be missed. Next stop on our golfing road trip is Barmburgh Castle links course who’s (sea) views from the course are quoted as one of the most scenic in Britain and I can understand why.
This is a true links course experience. We played this course twice and because of quite a strong wind in play on one day and only a soft breeze on the other, it felt as two different courses. The course is lined by gorse, heather, whinstone and rare fauna and has a unique series of opening holes with back to back par 3s followed by two excellent par 5s. A testing course for golfers of every level but beginners be aware.
Hole 15 is quite challenging, and that’s an understatement. First take time on the tee to admire the vista all around with sea, hills and castles. Then concentrate on a straight drive, avoid the rough on either side of the fairway at this downhill par 4. The second shot plays over a gully so make sure to have the right club to hold the green. Anything too long means trouble.
The clubhouse is small, staff not overly friendly but they certainly serve a great carrot cake with a large cup of min tea. Well deserved after a demanding round.
Bamburgh Castle Golf
18 holes – 5.600 yards – par 68 – green fees from £ 46
3. Dunbar Golf club links course
Next golfing destination is along the Scottish coast, Dunbar Golf Club. Again this is all about a true links course because of the connection to the sea, therefore made by nature, with stunning scenery and all the elements in play. It’s about playing within yards of the waves as they crash onto the rocky shore. This championship course, founded in 1856, is welcoming visitors.
The course is easy walking and the holes are not too long, when keeping it on the fairway (isn’t that always the best advice?) the pin is within reach with the second shot at the par 4s. But will it hold the fast and well sloped greens?
Don’t get me wrong, by the way. As it might sound easy, it certainly is not. The ever-present and ever-changing wind of the sea demands accuracy and judgement and the right club selection. I saw the weather change from bright sunny to misty grey and back to blue with white clouds within the hour.
My favourite is hole 9, a long par 5 that starts with a blind drive (again, don’t forget to enjoy the view from up there) and a fairway rolling down the hill. To end on a large green where the wind can be as much of a factor in putting as the slope.
Both the staff in the pro-shop as in the clubhouse is very friendly and welcoming. Such a joy to play here.
Since this is a qualifying course for The Open, great pro’s like Colin Montgomerie, Paul McGinley, Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia have competed here. Feels so good to follow their golfing footsteps.
4. North Berwick West Links
Just further along the coast is another overwhelming course with a impeccable reputation, North Berwick West links. Here everything adds up. The nice gentleman who welcomes you on the premises, the friendly starter, the location in the middle of the historical harbour village of North Berwick and the well-kept links course. Compliments to the greenkeepers. This is one of the more expensive (from £ 105) courses but certainly worth the investment.
The course and the surroundings remind me of the Old Course at St. Andrews. Maybe a little bit too adjusted to the demands of American golfers, who appreciate a 360 true golfers experience.
Founded in 1832, this course hosted many a golf tournament ever since. The sea is in play on 6 holes and can therefore also be regarded a just one long and sometimes wet hazard if the tide is in. You will find ancient walls in the middle of fairways and in front of a green. History is all around.
Favourite hole is the par 4 12th, Bass. A ditch, some deep bunkers (play out backwards) and a tricky green as the wind plays a big part being so close to the shore. Posh and busy course, but don’t skip this one!
North Berwick Golf Club
18 holes – 6506 yards – Par 71 – green fees from £ 105
5. Gullane no. 2 links course
Further down the route towards Edinburgh you’ll find Gullane. Golf has been played here for more than 350 years, mixing fine tradition with natural links course land with dramatic coastal views. Gullane Golf Club is a private members’ club with three classic links courses simply addressed as no. 1, no.2 and no.3 reflecting their age.
We played no. 2 and dressed according to the weather forecast: fully prepared for wind and rain. Much to our surprise, after a few rain drops, the sun came out and the wind slowed down. Again another great sea view opened at the horizon. Since the weather can change by the minute, it’s very important to always dress in layers. Today I started in raincoat and sweater to finish the game in a polo shirt. Scottish weather, indeed.
Gullane no. 2 is an easy walking course with nice holes, but not as spectacular as Dunbar or North Berwick. Although after the turn, holes 11 (steep Par 3) until 16 really ask for the right stroke. To end up in one of the steep bunkers around the green..
Gullane Golf Club
3 x 18 holes – Gullane no. 2 6385 yards – Par 71 – green fees from £ 53
Well, what shall I say? If you followed recent golf news stating this course as controversial is an understatement. In short: Muirfield has been removed from hosting The Open after the members, who own and run the club, voted against admitting women members. Last May a two-thirds majority was required to change the club’s membership policy, but 64 per cent voted in favour and 36 per cent against. In two words: indefensible and old-boys-network. A fresh ballot will come up so it’s only a matter of time and all this is history as it should be.
Let’s put politics aside, if you’re up to a real classic links golf challenge ànd are willing to pay the equivalent of a designer bag, Muirfield is your course. First check the long list of restrictions, men and women alike:
- visitors only Tuesdays & Thursdays
- only allowed on premises with tee time confirmation
- handicap 18 or lower, must bring certificate
- no spectators
- caddies recommended (£ 50)
- strict dress code
If you’ve conquered all this make sure to enjoy your round to the fullest at one of the oldest golf clubs of Scotland. The course is tough, the rough is high and the greens hard to approach. No ladies tees so I was a senior for a day. Oh, and if you plan to arrive by chopper, no problem. Helipad available.
Muirfield the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers
18 holes – private club – 7245 yards – green fees from £ 230
Where to stay?
Just writing down these golf tips makes me want to check my golfbag and start all over again. No matter how bad a round was, it never influences my enthusiasm to start off the first tee again. A common saying in golf is that the most important shot in golf is the next one.
We stayed in two lovely Scottish places and travelled back and forth to the courses from there:
Comes rain or shine, the golf game must go on. Although it’s common practice to warn for Scottish weather, we’ve experienced reasonable good weather for the fifth time. We only had a few – short – showers, mostly sunshine and blue skies for two weeks. Wind in your hair and fresh sea breezes makes a day on the course, a day well spend.