Golf Scotland: Musselburgh, North Berwick, and Panmure

I’m back in Vancouver with a puppy, and someone ran off to Scotland to do a bucket list golf trip by himself. I’ve heard so much in the past couple years about R wanting to golf in Scotland, and he’s finally doing it and has been writing about each course. This post is going to be on the first three courses he played. Did I mention he planned a two week trip and included ten rounds of golf? This little ‘Golf Scotland’ series will all be written by him and include his photos from his trip.

Musselburgh Links Old Course

My first full day in Edinburgh I decided a good place to start would be at Musselburgh Links. It’s a 9-hole layout about 20 minutes east of downtown Edinburgh. Don’t let the hole count fool you, this course isn’t your average municipal 9-hole back home. Musselburgh hosted 6 British Open’s (one of only 13 courses to have hosted The Open) and is littered with everything you’d expect from a proper links course including blind tee shots, deep pot bunkers and severely undulating greens. The course itself is located inside of the 2nd busiest horse racing track in Scotland which makes for some interesting shots while horses are practicing on the track. You’re greeted by a long par-3 to start which plays over the track itself, while many of the holes play adjacent to the track making for some nervy tee-shots. The par-4 4th hole features Mrs. Foreman’s Pub roughly 20 feet from the green. The story goes that during a match Old Tom Morris simply walked off the course here, sat down at Mrs. Foreman’s, order a pint and refused to continue the match leading to it being cancelled. For anyone looking to dip their toe into links golf I would highly suggest Musselburgh as it gives you everything it’s more famous neighbors at Muirfield and North Berwick offer, in a friendlier package. This is a place I wouldn’t hesitate to bring my girlfriend… no one is pushy, and the course is very beginner friendly. The place oozes history and is the oldest continually played golf course in the world with evidence suggesting it was first played here in 1672! You can even rent old hickory shafted clubs and play it the way they did back in the 1800’s. It’s not one of those pristinely manicured country club courses, and is instead one of the few courses left in the world that lets you experience golf the way it was played 200 years ago. Check your ego at the door and you’ll have an experience you won’t soon forget.

North Berwick West Links

Day 2 brought me east on what’s known as the Scotland’s Golf Coast. Leave early because there’s so much to see on this short drive that a 30-minute trip easily turned into an hour and a half for myself. You pass golf course, after golf course, and famous one’s at that like Scottish Open venue Gullane, and Muirfield which hosted the British Open 16 times. I decided to stop at Muirfield to snap a photo of the historic clubhouse home the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, as well as walk to historic grounds where Woods, Nicklaus and Palmer have all walked. From there it was onto North Berwick where I was greeted at the clubhouse as if I had been a member for past 30 years. The friendliness I’ve experienced in my short time here has really astounded me, and this is coming from a Canadian. Again, I would suggest showing up that little bit early so you have a chance to enjoy a proper cuppa tea, and soak in the history of their stunning clubhouse. The course hugs the sea the entire way around and you’re never further than 100 meters from the beach. This makes for some unique situations where the beach acts as one giants bunker, this is especially true on 2nd hole where you’re forced to hit your drive over the beach while biting off as much as you’re willing to chew! There’s lots of blind shots as well that force you to find a line, trust it, and hit your shot – it’s very rare for you to get away with a poorly executed shot on this golf course. A 12th century wall snakes through much of the course and is very much in play throughout. There’s a saying here, “don’t argue with the wall – it’s older than you” and I have to admit it’s pretty accurate. The 13th hole is probably the best example where your approach shot must navigate over the wall (there is literally no other option) as the green is tucked right in behind of the 4-foot-tall wall. Hole 16 also forces you to carry the wall which is roughly 20 feet in front of the tee boxes, surprisingly this isn’t even the most difficult feature on this hole as the green is split in the middle by a roughly 5-foot-deep swale, if you’re shot ends up on the wrong side of this green, good luck getting away anything less than a 2 putt. Still to come however is probably the nerviest tee shot I’ve hit in my life (so far), with the 18th hole coming back towards the clubhouse, but also being bordered by the parking lot up the entire right-hand side of the green… I hadn’t hit anything other than a cut this entire round, yet, managed to hook my tee shot and (almost) put a nice dent into a new Jaguar, luckily my ball caught a fence post and missed. Golf Digest called North Berwick the most underrated golf course in the world, and it’s ranked #63 in the world’s top 100, and I can’t say they’re wrong. There is not one weak hole on this golf course, and as challenging as it is, it’s an absolute treat to play!

north berwick

North Berwick West Links

north berwick links

North Berwick West Links

north berwick west

North Berwick West Links

Panmure Golf Club

After taking a day off to head down to Glasgow for the Celtic-Aberdeen match, crossing another item off my bucket list, it was back to the golf. I’m up further north in Dundee now, and my first stop was Panmure Golf Club. Founded in 1845 the course is only about 5 minutes from its noisy neighbour Carnoustie. It will host the British Women’s Amateur Championship later this summer. Panmure gains its fame from being the course Ben Hogan used to prepare in solitude for the 1953 British Open (his only time competing – and winning the event) while staying away from the busier Carnoustie. Membership is limited to just 500 and you’ll notice when you arrive that the majority of those members are, well, old. This seems like the kind of club where once you’re in they have to pry your membership card out of your cold, dead fingers. Don’t let that scare you though, visitors are warmly welcomed and the clubhouse is quite friendly. If you’d like to dine in the Hogan Room be sure to bring a pair of nicer shoes because runners and golf shoes are not allowed. The course itself however neither fussy, nor pretentious. There are no sprinkler heads every 25 yards telling you how far your next shot will be, there’s only very subtle 150 yard poles on the edge of the holes, so subtle in fact that I didn’t realize they existed until the 13th hole. You really feel like you’re just out in nature hitting a ball towards a flag in the distance. The thing I’ve noticed most so far on this trip is how undefined these links courses are. It’s not like North America where every hole is neatly framed by trees and rough, over here it’s so easy to get lost trying to figure out where your next shot will be played. My favourite hole was the par-4 6th, Ben Hogan described it as the “perfect golf hole,” and the bunker fronting the green hidden behind a large dune is named ‘Hogan’s bunker’ after he suggested placing one here would indeed make the hole “perfect.” I managed to avoid it while playing the 6th, but felt the need to see if I could get out of it on my way back around before teeing off at 14 (which is maybe 10 yards from the 6th green). This is the first course I’ve played where I really felt the need to think my way around, it’s easy to simply pull out driver on most holes but even a well hit drive can easily leave you in a bad position for your next shot. Panmure feels like a chess match and the course forces you to think two or three shots ahead. The greens are like nothing I’ve seen before, and the undulations made Musselburgh and North Berwick look a dance floor. I managed to hold my tee shot on the par-3 9th only to realize I had no chance at getting my putt inside 15 feet of the hole, never mind sinking my birdie putt! Don’t let that scare you though, I’ve had few rounds more enjoyable than this one. If you’re considering coming to the area to play Carnoustie you’d be making a huge mistake by not stopping at Panmure for a round while you’re in the area. It’s a can’t miss!

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