GULLANE, Scotland -- Declaring one's self "Scotland's golf coast" has all the subtly of a sledgehammer in a putting contest.
From a purely clinical point of view, the East Lothian coast has all the key elements for such a boast, including miles of idyllic links land, arguably two of Scotland's best layouts (Muirfield and North Berwick) and the key component to any successful business model -- location, location, location.
According to the "sat nav" in our rental car, Gullane is a 30-minute drive from Edinburgh Airport, although we can't imagine who could drive it that quickly without a dent or two. It features a compelling collection of golf courses within a surprisingly short drive. But "Scotland's golf coast?" Wouldn't St. Andrews, which is just across the North Sea from Gullane, have a seat at that table? And what of Troon in the east or Dornoch up north?
It's no secret that Scotland enjoys an embarrassment of golf riches, and before this becomes a turf war know that picking a favorite course, or coast, in Scotland is like trying to choose your favorite child. But it was the marketing boast that this shore stood above all others that set the dubious stage as we raced from Edinburgh to Gullane Golf Club for our East Lothian lid lifter.
Gullane Golf Club
Whether it was dumb luck or providence, it's hard to imagine a better introduction to golf along this coast.
Located next door to Muirfield, Gullane is a homey slice of links heaven compared with its highbrow neighbor. Other than those of the waterproof variety, there are no formal jacket requirements at Gullane like there are at the Home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, and from the moment you arrive at Gullane's No. 1 Course there is an unmistakable sense of hospitality.
Opened in 1884, the No. 1 Course proved to be just as relevant today when it hosted the 2015 Scottish Open, which was won by Rickie Fowler. Affable Head Professional Alasdair Good laughed as he recalled how far Fowler was hitting his drives that week, but as is normally the case in Scotland, "a bit of wind" on Sunday made things interesting.
It was a similar wind that greeted our group on the first tee, a steady breeze out of the south as foreboding clouds marched by on the horizon.
"It's the second shot at the second hole that will really get your attention," smiled Good, before adding, "there are 121 bunkers on property, use as many as you would like."
The par-4 second climbs a massive hill, which is a central theme at Gullane, to a narrow green nestled low in a valley. It's the same hill you play back down at the 18th hole, which is a drivable par 4 (385 yards from blue tees) to a large and inviting green that is protected by a sprawling bunker.
The Renaissance Club
Next up on the agenda was The Renaissance Club, which is the newest edition to the East Lothian coast. Although the Tom Doak design doesn't have the links heritage of Gullane or North Berwick it's worth adding to the rotation for a number of reasons.
Renaissance puts a modern spin on many of the classic links design concepts and while the layout can seem overly penal at times, particularly during a wet summer when the rough is long and healthy, holes like the par-3 11th help keep your interest.
"It's the shortest par 5 ever," announced our caddie, Callum McNeill, as we stepped to the 11th tee. Your scribe made a double bogey-7, our opponent made an albatross-2 just to prove McNeill's point. A new loop of holes along the coast also add to the layout's appeal with Instagram-ready views of Fidra lighthouse, which was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island." (Read Jay Coffin's Golf Advisor review of The Renaissance Club)
Golf at North Berwick
And finally, with apologies to Muirfield, which may or may not remain in the rotation to host The Open depending on its ongoing bout with the 21st century and the club's refusal to allow females members, the best of the East Lothian coast is North Berwick Golf Club. Opened in 1832, North Berwick has all of the quirky elements that make St. Andrews a must play for so many travelers, but without the sense that you're trespassing on hallowed ground. If the outward nine is less than inspiring, the inward loop makes up for it with holes like the par-4 13th, which includes an ancient wall that must be navigated short of the green. The Redan 14th hole is a true masterpiece and the par-4 16th features what many consider the most unique green in golf that runs some 50 yards long and is dissected by a gully.
North Berwick isn't for everyone, if quirky isn't your thing there are plenty of other options in Scotland, but there may not be another course in the world that is as unique. (Read Ryan Lavner's Golf Advisor review of North Berwick.)
All three of these layouts are accessible, relatively affordable and within a 15-minute drive from the Lodge at Craigielaw, a comfortable place with a welcoming bar that is billed as the perfect base to explore Scotland's golf coast.
Just because someone created a marketing campaign doesn't make it false. Whether the East Lothian shore qualifies as your Scottish golf coast depends on tastes and how much time you have, but for convenience the Gullane area makes a compelling argument to live up to its lofty billing.
For those with a little more time, however, you may want to consider an a la carte deviation, and stretch Scotland's golf coast around the Firth of Forth to play the Old Course at St. Andrews. Marketing campaigns are great, but making the most of your time in Scotland is what matters.