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A Trip to The “Sunny” Home of Golf

by Jeff Skinner

As we all watch the players at the Scottish Open make their way around a sunny Castle Stuart golf course, yes I said sunny, there is a burning in every real golfer’s soul.  A trip to Scotland is tops on every golfer’s bucket list and with a shockingly sunny Castle Stuart beaming from the Golf Channel and the anticipation of next week’s Open Championship charging us up the “Scotland Golf Trip Jones” is approaching its seasonal high.

A week or two among the links of the Home of Golf isn’t an easy undertaking and it’s best to seek some experienced advice before we book a flight and try to walk on the Old Course.  Here are two articles that can serve as primers for any soul looking to return to the roots of the game.

Geoff Shackelford, author, architect and genuine golf fanatic offers us an alternative to the exhausting 36 hole a day trip that so many of us book.  How many times have you come home from your trip so tired you need a vacation to recover from your vacation?

Shackelford invites us to slow down, smell the heather and taste the haggis, if you will.  “The Real Home of Golf” in the July issue of Golf Digest says“The Open Championship at Muirfield is another reminder: visit East Lothian for great golf at a more relaxed pace.”

There’s good reason to back off the two rounds a day and soak in some history and character of the home of golf.  “If golf is your religion, then the only proper pilgrimage to make is to the place where the first documented rounds of golf were played, and where the world’s best will once again descend for the 2013 Open Championship. Your expedition destination can be found in the real home of golf: Edinburgh and its suburban brother, East Lothian. Or, as new road signs brand East Lothian, “Scotland’s Golf Coast,” an apt description for the scenic terrain 30 or so minutes east of the British Isles’ second-most-visited city.”

Musselburgh“Many of the aforementioned golfing societies had set up shop at the Musselburgh Old Course by 1874, when Leith and Bruntsfield became too popular. The original clubhouses overlooking Musselburgh and the surrounding racetrack still stand tall as you drive in to the links. They are worth walking by, if nothing else to see the Musselburgh Old Course Golf Club’s sculpted homage to five of the six Open Championship winners here fronting the stately structure. The nine-hole gem they play is the oldest continually open golf course, with origins to 1567.

Musselburgh was home to the first women’s golf competition, the original cup-cutter and the first mid-round snack bar. Golfers reach the culinary landmark after teeing off on the fourth hole over the still-active horse racetrack, before playing a second shot to a more inviting version of the Old Course’s Road Hole green. Awaiting is the legendary Mrs. Forman’s, serving as a backstop for an unfortunate shot but a fortunate opportunity to consume.”

After Musselburgh he suggests seeing Gullane and its many courses and its neighbor, Muirfield.  “Taking A198 in order, Gullane is a terrific place to set up because the town lives and breathes golf. The Golf Inn is just steps from Gullane Golf Club, providing a super place to meet like-minded folks. You’re a short walk to any of the Gullane Golf Club’s three courses, which offer spectacular views and a few downright bizarre holes. Any of the three courses will provide enough thrills, with the No. 1 and No. 2 courses offering the best sea views as they wrap around Gullane Hill, though No. 3 might be the most fun to play. For a mid- or post-round meal, head across the street from the current clubhouse to the Old Clubhouse, which overlooks Gullane’s children’s course and dates to 1890. Afterward, you’re still within 10 minutes or less to several splendid nearby links: Kilspindie, Longniddry or Luffness. Each of these can easily substitute for one of the Gullane courses in terms of design quality, ambience and fun. Gullane also features Archie Baird’s Heritage of Golf Museum, where a visit with the club’s historian includes a brief tour that will give you a sense of the game’s evolution and importance to East Lothian. The next-door Gullane golf shop is also the only place you can buy Muirfield merchandise, so stock up!”

The New York Times Travel Section gives us travel tips from one of Scotland’s travel insiders.  Bernard Murphy is the general manager of the hotel and golf course at Gleneagles which will host the 2014 Ryder Cup.  Murphy suggests many different options to enjoy Scotland’s links and of course includes the Old Course but points out there is more than just St. Andrews.

St. Andrews on the east coast, because the Old Course is where it all began — links golf — though people wouldn’t hold it as the very best-condition golf course. Kingsbarns would be another great links golf experience within the city of St. Andrews, right by the North Sea. That’s very much part of the links playing experience, the sea. If the wind is blowing from the east, you’re getting the wind from Scandinavia and Russia. It can be bitterly cold, and the driving rain can really make the golf more challenging. Some days you get no wind, and it’s a totally different game.”

He then suggests Ladybank Golf Club and Gleneagles, of course and the famous Tom Watson haunt, Turnberry,  “It has an excellent hotel, and the Ailsa course is fantastic. The ruins of the Scottish king Robert the Bruce’s castle you can see from the ninth hole. Around there are a whole host of hidden gems like the Prestwick and the Royal Troon, and that’s what you really want to get to in Scotland.”

To the north he recommends Royal Aberdeen, Nairn and Royal Dornoch, “Tom Watson said that (Dornoch)  it’s one of his favorite golf courses.”Times Scot

Getting on some of these courses may require a little leg work, “A lot of these smaller members courses like Muirfield, where the British Open is being held, Prestwick and Royal Troon, they have been around for hundreds of years. They’re run by the members for the members; consequently it’s not as straightforward as getting your credit card. But you can get on these courses on certain days and times. Ring them up or check their Web sites to find out which days are open to visitors. Or hook up with larger resorts like ourselves because our pro will know the places that one can and can’t get on. Or find a good travel adviser.”

If you haven’t taken the time to look into a Scotland trip it’s safe to say after seeing the Scottish Open and the glory that is Muirfield you’ll be hitting the internet to start to plan your adventure.  These two links are a good place to start.

Link to Shackelford’s Gof Digest Article.  

Llink to New York Times Travel Section.

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