East Lothian vs. St. Andrews vs. Highlands as Scotland golf destinations
One of WorldGolf.com’s more passionate readers and writers of links golf in the U.K. and especially Scotland has written in asking for my opinion. From Shanks:
BTuck, I’d love to read your comparison of golf in northern Scotland to the East Lothian and St. Andrews area.
I’ve thought it over as I’ve been replacing my suitcase’s waterproofs and wool hats with shorts and sunscreen for San Antonio this weekend, and the differences are plenty:
What’s great about East Lothian is, despite it’s close proximity to Edinburgh, the towns all feel very rural and old fashioned. There are no North American chains, which gives every town it’s own character. In Gullane, Musselburgh and North Berwick, you really feel like you’re in golfer’s country. That said, the towns are still small enough to walk easily and see just about everything before stumbling home into bed at night.
The Highlands towns are a little more sparse and remote aside from it’s capital of Inverness. It’s a little longer drive to the golf courses, but you probably won’t complain as you pass through scenic mountains and sheep-filled farms.
I just thought of another difference: I didn’t see a single sheep in East Lothian. If sheep with your golf are a MUST, head north (especially to Brora).
But the Highlands have a very romantic appeal to it and some new resorts have opened up recently like Castle Stuart and Spey Valley, so you can get a great mix of courses when you include traditional links like Brora, Tain or Nairn. There are some incredible castles, too (as seen in the Highlander).
And don’t forget, the Highlands are whisky country with distilleries all over. On the other hand, East Lothian, with it’s Belhaven brewery, is known for it’s great beers. I like my whisky (and whiskey) once in awhile, but I brush my teeth with beer.
East Lothian is also plenty scenic, especially from points like Gullane No. 1’s 7th tee box and the 10th hole of North Berwick, but I would recommend everyone try and make the drive up to the Highlands once - especially if they can make a quick detour into Loch Lomond National Park (Click here for my Highlands drive feature). If we factor in the northeast golf courses north of Aberdeen like Cruden Bay, Royal Aberdeen and Murcar, those courses have some of Scotland’s most dramatic dunes, while East Lothian’s land is for the most part a little flatter, and the courses sit above the sea and not shielded by dunes like in St. Andrews.
On the other hand, St. Andrews is a much livelier base with an almost carnival-like atmosphere to it. In fact, it kind of feels like visiting the Vatican, since everyone has their cameras out and it’s busy, though they are trying to be respectfully quiet. There are hundreds of people just hanging out at all times around the 1st tee and Road Hole. But head into to town and it’s a mix of cute co-eds and groups of golfers exploring the many bars and golf shops.
St. Andrews and East Lothian are great too because the courses are all so close to one another. After six days in East Lothian I hadn’t even gone through half a tank of petrol. The only time I filled up was when I was dropping my car hire back off at the airport to leave. Not so in the Highlands.
It’s tough for me to have a preference because they’re all so very different, but if I was doing my own Scotland trip, I’d be sure to visit at least two regions, even if that’s including South Ayrshire or some of Fife’s non-St. Andrews links. I wrote a quick feature for GolfEurope.com comparing all the regions, click here to read it.
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wait to play the following courses in July:
- New Course
- Old Course
- Castle Course
- Gullane #1
- North Berwick
I found Ayrshire to have a distinct blue collar feel, reminiscent of, say, Pittsburgh. Of course, there was ome great golf and we were made welcome.