[See here the third in a six-part travel log. Be sure to check back in a couple days for a new posted installment, along with other new content.]
WHILE GOLF REMAINS the primary draw, the nuts and bolts of a golf-by-rail experience are what make the exercise so very unique and satisfying: the requisite planning and schedule-making ahead of time, the anticipation of disembarkation, the checking of superfluous luggage with a station porter, and the jaunty half-mile walk through town to the first tee at, say, North Berwick GC, home to the original Redan and more rock walls in the line of play than one ever thought possible.
North Berwick is indeed perfectly accessible from the station, while Gullane, Muirfield and the relatively new Archerfield (36 holes recently built on the site of an ancient links) are all situated but a short cab ride from Drem Station, making them convenient day-trips from hotels in Edinburgh. More handy still are the smaller hotels nearer the courses — Dirleton’s Open Arms, for example, Greywalls and The Golf Inn Hotel in Gullane town, or North Berwick’s grand Marine Hotel. Aberlady’s Kilspindie House in particular prides itself in catering to traveling golfers, providing proximate lodging, quite superb dining and transportation to and from various clubhouses.
One should immerse oneself in this sort of planning before setting out to golf Scotland by rail. Tickets, maps and schedules are available at www.firstscotrail.co.uk. Reservations can be made up to three months in advance but sold-out trains are rare in Scotland. It’s enough to know the train you need is scheduled; tickets can be purchased at the station or on board.
A sound option: The Freedom of Scotland Pass, or its various cousins which offer similarly affordable, flexible packages — four days travel within eight days, or eight days travel within 15 days, etc. Be sure to map out a general golf itinerary and secure tee times first, then match departures and arrivals accordingly.
A word here about Scottish taxis: Unlike trains and tee time ledgers, they don’t run on a schedule, but they do queue at larger stations and are easily hired in the most remote locales. Go online and snag the names/numbers of local cab companies in your various destinations. A quick ring from the train some 15 minutes from your destination and, as the Scots like to say, you’re laughing.
Do call your cell phone provider and arrange for British service, something advisable even if you were to rent a car — but don’t do that! When it comes to economy, cab fare/train tickets beat car rental every time, and you can’t put a price tag on the luxury of lingering in the wonderful bar at North Berwick well past the point of automotive responsibility.
Trevor and I planned our East Lothian itinerary around a game at revered Muirfield (where a letter to the Club Secretary requesting tee times, made available in small numbers on Tuesdays or Thursdays, is required) but don’t be surprised or disappointed if the club can’t accommodate you. The No. 1 and No. 2 courses at Gullane are spectacular (perhaps the hilliest links tracks in Britain), North Berwick is sheer delight, and do try to wedge in a round at The Glen GC, also in North Berwick — it’s one of the region’s best kept secrets.