Scotland is the ancestral home to two of humankind’s greatest achievements—golf and whiskey. Fans could easily spend a decade or more playing courses and sampling drams without getting bored. But if you only have four days, Edinburgh is the place to start. A bustling city with a continental cosmopolitan flavor, the Scottish capital is not only a great base to explore some of eastern Scotland’s finest golf courses, but also one of the best places in the UK to eat and drink.
You’ll need to rent a car to get back and forth to the golf courses, but you’ll want to leave it in the hotel garage while exploring in Edinburgh. The city is eminently walkable, and when you’re worn out, cabs are plentiful.
Driving on the left (also known as the wrong side) takes about a day before it becomes second nature. Just remember to pay attention to the signs and follow the traffic ahead of you, and you’ll be fine.
The Scottish weather is unpredictable and ever-changing. So along with your clubs, you’ll want to pack a few warm layers (even in summer), a rain jacket, and at least two pairs of golf shoes in case one pair gets soaked during a downpour.
The Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian
Centrally located, The Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian hotel dates from 1903 but was renovated in 2012. Modern rooms offer guests luxe digs located just a flip wedge from Edinburgh Castle. Superb service, a pair of solid restaurants, and a lightning-quick valet help make this one of our favorite hotels in the Scottish capital.
The Witchery by the Castle
If you’re traveling as a couple, The Witchery by the Castle might be worth a splurge. The hotel’s nine suites adorned in silk and carved wood feel like a highly polished Harry Potter set, a level of magical opulence fit for well-heeled witches and wizards.
A slice of Scottish luxury, the Balmoral is only a few minutes’ walk from the National Gallery and conveniently located near a bevy of bus stops and rail lines. Well-appointed rooms along with a gorgeous pool and sauna make a lovely respite after a day on the links. Plus, you don’t even have to leave the hotel to find good eats. Number One, a Michelin Star restaurant, is a fine dining experience you should enjoy even if you don’t stay there.
Eat and Drink
A progressive cocktail bar with a solid selection of single malts, Bramble is the spot for a pre-dinner drink if you haven’t spent the twilight hours on an emergency nine. Try the Campbeltown, a cocktail homage to a once-waning, now-resurgent whisky-producing region.
This back-alley gastro-pub features fantastic cocktails, a solid whisky list, and a quirky menu that includes dry-aged Scottish steaks, an outrageous beer-battered cod and chips, and a paired whiskey and cheese flight.
Bar at the Balmoral
Normally we shy away from hotel bars, but with hundreds of single malts to choose from, Scotch at the Balmoral is a great place to sample elusive drams you can’t find at home.
For a bit grander fare, Tom and Michaela Kitchin’s namesake eatery is one of the best in Britain. They use continental techniques on local Scottish ingredients, like lamb and venison from the Highlands and fish from the North Sea, to create pristinely presented, exquisite food. If you’ve got the time, they’ve got the tasting menu.
Mmmmm, mussels. The Mussel Inn, as you might have guessed, is a seafood joint. While the scallops and tiger prawns are not to be missed, we recommend you start with the mussels, which come in five flavors of broth. Try the Moroccan, made with chillies, garlic, ginger, coriander and cumin. Mmmmm, mussels.
On to the Golf
The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, as its membership is known, has been the steward of Muirfield since 1891, and in the years since, the course has hosted 16 Open Championships with a list of winners that reads like a who’s-who of golf from the last 150 years—Ray, Vardon, Cotton, Player, Nicklaus, Faldo, Els, and Mickelson. The course is a stunner from the first tee to home hole. While the sea view and pastoral setting can take your breath away, don’t let the beauty grab your attention—you’ll need it for your golf fame, or else you’ll find yourself quickly acquainted with one of the course’s many bunkers. Muirfield’s two nines rotate in opposite directions, the back inside the front, so the challenge of the wind is constantly shifting. If this is your first experience with links golf, a tip: Don’t fight the wind; embrace it.
Note: Muirfield only accepts visitors on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you plan on eating at the club after your round, a jacket and tie are required.
A short 10 minutes down the road, you’ll find North Berwick, where they have been playing golf since 1832. Home to the original Redan hole (the 15th), one of the most copied in golf, the west links features six holes that play along the beach, and the Firth of Forth serves as a massive water hazard. The 13th hole at North Berwick is called Pit. A medium-length par-4, a drive right of center will leave you a better angle for your approach shot played over an ancient stone wall. After you’ve holed your putt, take a moment to admire the view back toward the tee. But don’t linger too long, there are still five fantastic holes to play.
Golfers have flocked to Kingsbarns since the 1790s, but the current course is a modern masterpiece. The Kyle Phillips design opened in 2000 to much acclaim and is now an annual European tour stop. One of the three courses played at the Alfred Dunhill Championship, Kingsbarns also played host to the 2017 Women’s British Open. Stunning views of the sea from nearly every spot on the golf course and six holes that play right up to waters’ edge make Kingsbarns a true gem. The sixth hole is a drivable par 4 with a fair amount of risk. Better to hit a nice layup for an approach with your favorite wedge and get your birdie the old-fashioned way. Also remember to beware the wind on the par-3 15th hole. The tee is sheltered by trees, and even if you can’t feel it, the breeze will likely be a serious factor as you try to land your ball on the peninsula green.
The Crail Golfing Society is the seventh-oldest club in the world and features two courses at Crail, one old and one new. While the contemporary Craighead was designed by Gil Hanse, the Balcomie Links was designed and built by Old Tom Morris himself. The Balcomie is a thriller from the start. Players hit their first tee shot down the hill toward the sea and on to a blind approach. Later in the round, back-to-back par-3s at the 13th and 14th holes will test players’ mettle as well as their ability to judge elevation. First a long, uphill shot to a wild sloping surface, then a downhill approach to a green surrounded by bunkers and out of bounds lurking to the right. Good luck!
St. Andrews Old Course
The Old Course at St. Andrews will almost certainly be one of the most magical rounds of golf you’ll ever play and worth the hassle of winning a tee time. The history is so rich you can feel its weight hanging in the thick sea air. Golf fans from every corner of the globe can name all 18 holes and know where every shot is meant to be hit, but you’re going to want to take a caddy anyway. You’ll need a touch of help reading the greens, and an experienced hand can guide you around some of those challenging links bounces. There are no bad holes at St. Andrews, and you’ll want to enjoy every one. Remember to keep your tee shots to the left, stay out of the gorse, avoid the bunkers and you’ll do fine.
Note: The bacon, egg, and cheese at the Old Course Pavilion is sublime.
If you’re not too worn out from your lap around the Old Course—you won’t be—it’s an easy walk. Play a second round at one of the St. Andrews Trust’s six other courses. The Castle Course might be considered a controversial choice; many of the locals think the rollercoaster greens have far too much movement to be considered actual golf, but it makes an excellent contrast to the Old Course. Scenic views from the cliffs look back toward the town of St. Andrews and a great deal of elevation change makes for a challenging stroll. But all is rewarded when you get to the 17th tee. A majestic par 3, players hit a long tee shot over the spectacular cliffs along the sea to an undulating green.
The most challenging course on the Open Championship rotation, Carnoustie is often described as a brute, a beast, or just plain nasty. But it’s not—it’s a fair golf course that will challenge you with every (and we mean every) shot, which is why we play golf. The caddies at Carnoustie will tell you the easy holes start when you get to St. Andrews, but you’ve already played there. So, the best advice for playing Carnoustie is do everything you can to find the fairway and stay out of the sand. Still it’s a good idea to start practicing those fairway bunker shots now. The finishing three holes at Carnoustie are among the most difficult in the world, but they are also some of the best. The 16th is a 260 yard par 3 that often plays directly into the wind. Finding the green in regulation is nothing short of a miracle for most amateurs. The 17th requires a layup off the tee short of the burn and a mid to long iron to the green (depending on how big a hitter you are.) Like everywhere else on the golf course, par is a good score. The burn we mentioned earlier is in play both off the tee and into the green on the 18th—just ask Jean van de Velde, whose three-shot lead in the 1999 Open Championship drowned in its icy waters. But the good news is that with two well struck shots, birdie is in play as well, and that’s the note you want to head home on.