When I told a friend I was turning 50 next year, he asked me what I was going to do golf-wise? I did not entirely understand what he meant, so he said: "where are you going to play golf to celebrate?" That planted a little seed in my mind and when I met 2 golfers from Scotland on a golfing trip, my choice was made.
One of the regions that I hadn’t played yet was East Lothian - about half an hour east of Edinburgh airport by car. The courses I wanted to play there are very highly ranked (all 5 courses that I played were rated 9,0 or higher on Leading Courses). Also, the reservations for visitors are pretty full, not to mention that some of the green fees are well over £200 per round.
On my wish list were the following courses North Berwick, Muirfield, Renaissance, Carnoustie and one last-minute course to be determined. To make this possible I asked my contact - a member of two clubs in East Lothian - about 3 months in advance if he could help me find friends who are members of the before mentioned clubs and that wanted to take two Dutch golfers out on their course.
This approach has several advantages,
There are several tips to keep in mind to make this member-guest thing work. For starters, always bring a small gift from your home country. Everybody likes gifts, especially from abroad. Always try to reciprocate by offering a round at your home course. If that’s not of a similar quality then invite them to a high-ranked course in your own country. Always pay for lunch, dinner, snacks or coffee for the member on the day that you are playing. It is very important to be on time, not too early, definitely not late but just exactly on time. To illustrate this, at Muirfield the parking is outside the grounds, so you need the member to get through the gate. Also, you cannot go to the caddie master without the member or enter the clubhouse without the member.
Always adhere to the local rules/etiquette. Again, on Muirfield, it is not allowed to take photos (or even have your phone out of your pocket) inside the clubhouse. At some clubs you are not allowed to pay as a guest, so you just ask the member what the costs were and pay him back. The dress code is also important at some courses. You are only allowed in the clubhouse with golf attire before a certain time, like 10:30. After finishing our round at Muirfield we had to change into a jacket and tie to be allowed inside the clubhouse.
At our last-minute course - we ended up at The Golf House Club Elie - the clubhouse is divided into three sections; one for ladies, one for men and a mixed zone - where the bar was 😉. Some clubs also have different locker rooms for guests and members.
North Berwick is a course that is more famous in the golf industry (e.g. golf course designers) than with the general public. It is not really known who designed the course in 1832 but one shaper by the name of Andrean David Strath did a lot of work on it. The course starts (and ends) in the little fishing village of North Berwick and has one of the most famous residents in women’s golf, Catriona Matthew. She originates from North Berwick and while we were having our pre-round coffee we saw her walking her dog. The course is routed as the figure eight and has some really cool holes that are copied in many courses around the world. Read my full review of North Berwick Golf Club.
Established in 1744, Muirfield is probably one of the most traditional clubs in the world. The original design was made by Old Tom Morris and later Harry Colt made it even better. When you enter the clubhouse there are paintings of club captains with wigs like the lords in parliament (some were probably both). They were also one of the last clubs that admitted female members. This resulted in a quite costly renovation of the clubhouse because during the construction of the ladies' locker rooms they found out that the entire west wing was supported by one meagre 1 stone wall…This is an example of some of the stories you hear when introduced by a member. Read my full review of Muirfield Golf Club.
The Renaissance Club is a relatively young golf club founded in 2008 and designed by one of the most famous modern architects of this time, Tom Doak. The club is literally next door to Muirfield and they even swapped land recently to make some holes closer to the water at Renaissance. The clubhouse feels quite American as the majority of the owners and members are from the States. The maintenance is amazing and the views from the different holes are breathtaking. It is a great course to play but probably the toughest of the five we played. Read my full review of The Renaissance Club.
Carnoustie is not located in East Lothian but in Fife about 1,5 hours from Edinburgh airport and 45 minutes from St. Andrews. The golf course was designed by Allan Robertson and Old Tom Morris in the 1850s and has been on The Open rota for quite some time. Maybe the most famous ending of The Open was the meltdown of Jean van de Velde in 1999 when he was thinking of hitting his third shot from the water in the Barry Burn. I had a super round until the 16th. I doubled both 16 & 17 and tripled 18 and still walked off with 37 Stableford points….This is probably the reason why everybody thinks Carnoustie is one of the hardest courses they have played, the finish is brutal. Try to hit your drive on the par 5 sixth on the left side through Hogan’s alley, but mind the OB on the left and bunkers on the right. Read my full review of Carnoustie Golf Links.
On the last day of our trip, we choose to play The Golf House Club Elie. Like North Berwick and the Old Course, the course starts and ends in the town. The course was designed by James Braid, also responsible for Brora and the King’s and Queen’s at Gleneagles. It’s not super long (it doesn’t have a single par 5) but there is quite some undulation and also some blind shots. The first hole starts with a shot over a ridge and they have to use an 8-meter high periscope to check if the hole is safe for the next flight to start. The holes close to the water are really nice, the 12th hole a 466 yards par 4 could have been a par 5 in my opinion. Read my full review of The Golf House Club Elie.
So to sum up, golfing with the help of local members is great fun, you learn a lot more about the course, there are more tee times available and usually, the green fee is a lot cheaper. But you will need to spend some time expanding your network in order to arrange an invite. It also helps if you are a member of a nice golf club in your country so that you can return the favour. And lastly, don’t forget to treat your host correctly so that this way of visiting golf clubs will continue for years to come.
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