Craigielaw Golf Club: East Lothian, Scotland's new kid gets a little local hazing

EAST LOTHIAN, Scotland - Spend a week gabbin' golf around pubs in East Lothian and you'll hear a remark, several probably, like this about Craigielaw Golf Club.

"Too hard," someone will mutter.

"Unfair around the greens," another will say. "You'll be pitching over and back all day."

If you've got Craigielaw on your itinerary - or you're looking to add a golf course between North Berwick, Muirfield or one of the region's 20-plus other courses - don't get scared off. That's just the local Scots giving the new kid on the block a hard time.

It's true, Craigielaw is a championship links opened in 2001 designed to challenge the modern golfer. That it's unfair is false.

Take this golf writer's word for it. A 10-handicap, I shot about an 80 out here, in two-club wind, my first time around and with the assistance of a member (though said member won the match on the 18th).

The course was built by Donald Steele, a familiar name to anyone who has played either a new links in the British Isles or one that was recently refurbished.

It is true, however, that Craigielaw doesn't feel much like a historic links thanks to the green complexes and steep sod bunkers. It's located right next to historic, short and charming Kilspindie Golf Club in Aberlady, at one point separated only by an old stone wall. Kilspindie has the views and, as they'll argue, sandier links soil, but Craigielaw is the relevant test for today's player.

In fact, Craigielaw's member role proudly boasts two of Scotland's top young talents: Lloyd Saltman, top amateur in the 2005 Open Championship in St. Andrews and now a pro, and his brother Elliot, both of whom qualified for the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry.

Playing just over 6,600 yards from the white tees, Craigielaw's main defense is the greens. Many are crowned - over hit a pitch shot and risk running off the back - and unusually sloping. But hit some wedge pitches instead of 8 or 9-iron chips, and you'll manage.

Four holes front Kilspindie Golf Club, but some of the more remarkable holes come inland. No. 9, a short, uphill par 4, is reachable in the right wind; though as with any links around here, it can turn into a brute in the other direction. There are four par 5s, including the finishing 18th, a long 543-yard snaking hole that plays along the Aberlady village on the left. In fact, the Aberlady Church spire makes for a pleasant aiming line on the partially-blind, par-5 second tee shot.

Craigielaw Golf Club: The verdict

Though Craigielaw is a members club, it's very welcoming to visitors, and the new, stone clubhouse is an excellent place for lunch.

The course is part of a new residential development, but houses only come into play on the par-3 10th green. Otherwise, you're playing along old rock walls and overlooking Kilspindie and the Firth of Forth.

Being a modern club, the facilities here are better than your traditional links clubs, featuring a full driving range and a six-hole practice course. Peak season green fees are GBP 55-75 for visitors, with all-day tickets available on weekdays.

Stay and play

If you want to stay near Gullane, check out the Kilspindie House Hotel in Aberlady. It's a cozy inn with a small and friendly pub and a restaurant that's a favorite in East Lothian.

For a more luxurious option, stay in North Berwick at the MacDonald Marine Hotel, which overlooks the West Links. The hotel is fresh off a multi-million pound restoration and features a spa, fitness center and pool, as well as numerous bar and dining options in the heart of the historic golf town.

Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.
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Craigielaw Golf Club: East Lothian, Scotland's new kid gets a little local hazing