In 1898 Harry Vardon secured his second Open Championship at the expense of an irate Scotsman, Willie Park Junior. The latter was so enraged he began issuing challenges to Vardon claiming the Claret Jug had been stolen from him. Vardon eventually agreed to a 72-hole contest for which each man would put up £100 of his own money. It was a duel that Vardon won with some ease. Park was shocked to such an extent he never played a challenge match again.
The first 36 holes of that infamous clash were held over the West Links at North Berwick on the East Lothian coast and an incredible 9,000 people came to see their hero battle against Vardon.
Boasting the oldest club (The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers) and oldest course (Musselburgh Links) lovers of the history of the game feel a trip to East Lothian is a necessary pilgrimage.
This stunning part of Scotland offers so many fantastic courses including Muirfield, Gullane, Archerfield and Longniddry that it would take a couple of weeks to experience everything this golfing Elysium has to offer. With only a few days to spare we tried to cover as broad a spectrum as possible.
The first port of call was North Berwick. The West Links where Vardon faced Park is the 13th oldest track in the world and it exudes history and romance. Around the course youll find yourself battling the pervasive wind while negotiating bumps, borrows, walls and burns. This is true links golf at its rugged best. Although the fairways are relatively generous youll be punished severely for straying off line. The layout features notoriously difficult pot bunkers, an abundance of gorse and knee-high rough through the summer months. Given its proximity to the sea, its not impossible for a wayward shot to end up on the beach.
Much like St Andrews, the course begins and ends in the town. Its a wonderful symbiosis in keeping with how important the game is to the people of North Berwick.
Travelling west past Muirfield and Gullane, its only five miles or so from North Berwick to Luffness New Golf Club. Designed by the inimitable Old Tom Morris in 1894, Luffness provides an exacting but fair test of seaside golf. Dont be fooled by the par of 69 this is a tough challenge, particularly when the holes climb into the Gullane hills.
The fairways are fast-running and the pot bunkers well placed. Add the Lothian breeze to the cocktail and youve got a stern trial on your hands. The Luffness rough is famous if you leave the fairway on a June day, as I did frequently, youll be reaching for a provisional ball as a matter of course.
Drained, I returned to our base in North Berwick. This is the perfect place for a holiday home, and as a result the town has the highest property prices of any seaside town in Scotland the average house here will set you back more than £250,000. Aside from the golf there are great beaches and sites of geographical interest. The area is also crammed with fascinating wildlife go on a cruise and see puffins, seals and the huge colony of gannets on the Bass Rock. Alternatively, visit the hi-tech Scottish Seabird centre. For those less interested in twitching, perhaps a jaunt to the Belhaven brewery in Dunbar might be more appealing.
The final destination on my brief tour provided a slightly different challenge. Kilspindie is a links course but pretty short at just over 5,400 yards. Full of bravado and misplaced confidence I looked at the card before playing and imagined signing for a 65 on the 18th green. However, this is a layout that places an emphasis on a precise short game so I was far less boisterous when recording an 82.
Having said that, Kilspindie does offer relaxing golf to suit all standards. After the rigours of North Berwick and Luffness, Kilspindie provided a welcome respite. Although far less well known that its neighbours, the course is immaculately maintained and offers beautiful views. Opened in 1867, Kilspindie is the 35th oldest club in the world and its packed with character. And the cosy little clubhouse serves an awesome burger and chips!
The East Lothian coast is home to some of the leviathans of British links golf but its also dotted with littlegems like Kilspindie. Make North Berwick your base and explore this unique corner of our coastline.
Where to play
T: 01620 895040
Stats: par 71, SSS 71, 6,420 yards
T: 01620 843336
Stats: par 69, SSS 70, 6,122 yards
T: 01875 870358
Stats: par 69, SSS 66, 5,480 yards
For more information on golf courses in the region visit www.golfeastlothian.com
Where to stay
Macdonald Marine Hotel and Spa
T: 0870 830 4812
Overlooking the 16th green of the West Links at North Berwick, the Marine is a magnificent Victorian hotel that has been recently refurbished. There are 83 bedrooms, a spa and a gym.
Nether Abbey Hotel
T: 01620 892802
Refurbished in 1994, the Nether Abbey has a contemporary style with clean lines and open-plan public areas. The hotel has been run by the same family for 40 years and Stirling Stewart and his team deliver a personal and friendly service.
The Scottish Seabird Centre
Open all week.
For information on the Island cruises, telephone boatman Chris Marr on 01620 890181.
Tours available Monday to Friday.