East Lothian Memories

While PGA Tour rookie Matt Wolff, only months removed from  was making history at the 3M Open by winning in only his third professional start with his one-part boogie-woogie/one-part Jim Furyck-like swing, Spaniard Jon Rahm fired a final round 62 to capture the Irish Open for the second time in three years (Jon O’Rahm has a bit of a ring to it, no?). Quirky Lahinch yielded some spectacular golf, and the town of 700 handled the throngs of spectators quite nicely. I’ve yet to travel to Ireland; after watching this, I need to find a way to get there.

So while the Tour moves on to the John Deere Classic in the Quad Cities (where a charter plane awaits to transport qualifiers for the Open Championship to Royal Portrush), most of the top ranked players will be taking on The Renaissance Club, this year’s site for the Scottish Open.

The Renaissance Club is likely the most exclusive course in Scotland (even its stuffy nextdoor neighbor, Muirfield, allows outside play a couple of days a week), so for most of us, we’ll be having our first look at Tom Doak’s seaside links design. Doak is a master of using native environments to create natural masterpieces (Pacific Dunes may be the best example of his work); that alone should be enough of an incentive to tune in this week.

Scotland features several strong golf regions, but most would argue that Fife and East Lothian (both located east of Edinburgh on opposite sides of the Firth of Forth) offer the best variety of courses in the country. The rivalry between the two boroughs extends back to the days of the famous challenge matches that featured Old and Young Tom Morris of St Andrews vs Musselburgh’s Willie and Mungo Park.  The Renaissance Club is the latest addition to the East Lothian coast.

When one leaves Edinburgh towards East Lothian and chooses the coastal A199 route, he/she will encounter several seaside villages and courses, each one seemingly more charming than the next. The center of all golf activity is the town of Gullane (pronounced GULL-in), which is home to three fine links courses (creatively named Gullane #1, #2, and #3), as well as The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, a/k/a Muirfield, which is universally accepted as the finest links in all of Scotland and is usually ranked no worse than the 5th best course in the world. Muirfield has hosted many memorable Open Championships, including Lee Trevino’s chip-in to break Tony Jacklin’s spirit in 1972 and Phil Mickelson’s popular 2013 victory.

Just to the east of Muirfield lays North Berwick, whose West Links should be experienced by any golfer who values both superior shot making and history of the game. The West Links features two holes whose design has been copied worldwide – the 15th, a mid-length par 3 called Redan which features an angled green protected by nasty front bunkers, and the 16th, whose bisected green earns the name Biarritz.  Charles Blair Macdonald, the Scottish immigrant who was instrumental in bringing golf to the United States, used both of these holes as templates and passed that knowledge on to his associate and protégé, Seth Raynor.

There’s a 16th century wall that comes into play throughout the course, no more so than on the 13th hole. Known as “The Pit,” it’s a short par 4 that requires a nervy approach shot over that wall which borders the right side of the green. Much like the 5th at Lahinch, designing a hole like this today would likely bring howls of indignation, but anyone with a golfer’s soul would love it – as well as the rest of the West Links of North Berwick.

There are other fine links along the East Lothian coast, from Musselborough (where one can play with hickory shafts and gutta-percha balls) all the way to Dunbar. If you decide to make the trek across the pond, include both Fife and East Lothian in your itinerary and decide for yourself which is better.  You won’t be disappointed with either.

[Note: For more ruminations on Scottish golf, check out Golf In Scotland, The Walking Game, The Kingdom, Waiting in Line at St Andrews, and Carnoustie Follies.]

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