It had been awhile since I awoke to a knock on my bedroom door. The last time was before a Mid-Am qualifier in Detroit and needless to say, that round didn’t go well. Luckily on this day, the knock came with more than 90 minutes before our tee time at Gullane No. 2 and with far lower stakes. After what would be my last good shower in Scotland, we went to Gullane to meet our host Iain McLean in the clubhouse for a bite. It would be my first of many machine-made espresso drinks. I am not sure what the country of Scotland has against a nice pot of coffee but over the course of the trip, two things became clear: Scots love machine-made espresso and hate coffee.
As with many clubs in Scotland, Gullane Golf Club is the center of the town. The course sits on a massive hill that is the distinct marker of the town. When you drive to Gullane, you proceed through a golf paradise. You start by passing Luffness which sits under the hill and then comes Gullane Golf Club, with three courses playing over and along the hillside. Everywhere you look, there are golf holes and golfers occupying them. Gullane’s three courses work their way from one side of the hill to over the hill and then into wonderful dunes down by the Firth of Forth before coming back over the hill.
From the top of Gullane hill, you can see Edinburgh Castle and across the Firth of Forth and out to Fife. While the hill makes for difficult walks, it’s a really nice centerpiece to the town and the golf courses. The course sits on the southside of town, with the main street through town settled north of it. The town is a charming smattering of shops, restaurants and a hickory golf store that is sometimes open (we will get to that in a later journal). Just north of the town is Muirfield and just North of Muirfield is Renaissance Club. I can’t think of a place in America with 6 courses so close together as the stretch from Luffness to Renaissance Club in Gullane. The town’s heartbeat is golf and it makes a place like Gullane have a special energy. Over the course of the week, we drove past Gullane at least a dozen times and there was something special about seeing dozens of golfers playing on that hill as you arrived into or left town.
Iain was a soft spoken but prideful golfer who you could tell enjoyed the competition of a match. The match culture was huge in Scotland. It felt like a mandatory aspect of the golf. There weren’t newfangled convoluted games, but rather simple matches: whose game would be better on that given day. So the question was rarely what we were playing but rather who was partnering. Based off our remarkable performance the day before, David Jones (UK Golf Guy) and I teamed up again.
When I go on golf trips, I try to read very little about courses before playing them. I knew nothing about Gullane No. 2 except that No. 1 was the more famous course where I watched Rickie Fowler win the 2015 Scottish Open. Amusingly, the clubhouse is a bit of a Rickie shrine but it’s much harder to find anything about Brandon Stone or Ariya Jutanugarn, two other recent winners at the club. Jutanugarn in particular will go down as one of the best in her generation, while Rickie will be remembered for commercials. Anyways, I digress–back to the course.
Some of the Rickie memorabilia that's displayed around Gullane clubhouse. Photo: Brendan Porath
Gullane No. 2 is the perfect example of the benefit of focusing a Scottish golf trip on a more concentrated area such as East Lothian. When you don’t spend a bunch of time driving around, it affords you the opportunity to discover and play wonderful golf courses such as Gullane No. 2 that cost less money and are spectacular in their own right. The famous course at Gullane is No. 1, which has hosted that Scottish Open. So No. 2 is in the vein of other sister courses that aren’t given the love they deserve. I personally found Gullane No. 2 to be every bit as good No. 1.
Gullane No. 2 was the first of many courses with a routing that doesn’t return at nine. This is something that is commonplace in Scotland. It makes your round feel like a departure–you leave town and the clubhouse area that is full of activity and people and you go out on an adventure. With Gullane, the aforementioned hill acts as the marker where you leave the world as you know it. Unlike Gullane 1, on Gullane 2, no earth work was done to help you get over the hill, thus it’s an ordeal.
The third hole is where architect Willie Park Jr. decided to deal with the hill. While not graceful, it is effective and limits the burden and unpleasantness to one straight uphill climb that makes for a somewhat fun little hole. The 237-yard hole plays like a 280-yard par-4 when you factor in the uphill trajectory. The treat after an arduous walk directly up the massive hill is the reveal on the 4th tee, a par-4 that is quite possibly the best hole on the Gullane property. These two holes work as half-par holes: walking away from the 3rd with a 4 feels like a missed opportunity while making 4 on the 4th feels like you stole one.
From the 4th hole on, the course takes you to a new world, which is stunning links land on the Firth of Forth. The course hits its climax in the middle of the round, where in America a routing would likely be efforting a return to and back out from the clubhouse. Instead at Gullane No. 2, you are exploring the farthest point from the clubhouse in some of the most dramatic land. The 9th through 12th holes stand up to just about any in our trip.
A great aspect of Scotland I learned about is the “right to roam” law and policy. Property rights are less strict and with regards to a golf club’s land, the people often have the right to walk about them. This stretch of the 10th to 13th holes borders a hiking trail and on a stunning Saturday, we were playing golf among people hiking to and from beaches, across the hill and linksland. For me, it added to the experience of a departure from the bustling clubhouse scene. Here we were out playing golf and attempting to conquer the dramatic elevation changes of the course while people hiked in the nature of dunes next to the sea. It was a feeling you’d almost never get in America because there would be a fence to keep people away from the course.
As the round comes to a close, the hill again enters as a key player for the closing holes, which go up the hill and, you guessed it, back down the hill into town. You close out with back-to-back drivable par-4s, a thrilling way to end a match.
Back at the top of the hill and ready to finish playing back into town at the 17th. Photo: Andy Johnson
Speaking of the match, this one was much more competitive than Muirfield. As I mentioned in my first journal entry, the erratic driving of one player at Muirfield made for a long day. The good news was Gullane’s rough was more manageable and enjoyable. When a ball found the thicker stuff, it was often found within 20 seconds, a far cry from the lostballapalooza at Muirfield. We headed to the 18th hole, where BP, Iain, and I all drove the green with the match all square. The opposing two three-wiggled and I left myself with a two-foot putt for the win. Greens in Scotland are far slower from America as they mention at the Open every year. The hole was cut on a significant slope and I really didn’t want to play the ball outside the hole but I needed to. Instead, I played it inside and caught the low lip, missing it and the opportunity to go 2-0 in the early part of the trip. It was a reminder that missing a short putt on the 18th is possibly the worst feeling in golf.
Thirsty work at Gullane 2 today. The course was a joy as always. pic.twitter.com/z7vvrD4UqR
— UK Golf Guy (@ukgolfguy) July 10, 2022
After a nice beer to settle the disappointment of the missed shorty, we toured the town, packed our bags and got in a cab for the two-hour drive to The Open and St. Andrews, hoping we could sneak in a walk around the Old Course at the end of a beautiful Scottish summer day…
When we traveled to Scotland, we used Luggage Forward to ship our clubs. They were there when we arrived, which was quite convenient as we watched endless frustrated tweets from airline travelers separated from their checked sticks and images of “suitcase mountains” in European airports. Use the code THEFRIEDEGG for 10 percent off shipping. One more thing straight from their own mouth: When you send your clubs or bags with Luggage Forward, it is guaranteed to arrive on time or they’ll refund double what you paid for to ship the bag to make it right.