I’ll never forget Kilspindie for the simple reason it was my first round of golf in Scotland. Off the plane, afoot in the home of golf, Kilspindie is a short, easy drive from Edinburgh International Airport. We had an early afternoon tee-time meaning we would be cutting it a bit close. There would be no time to casually change clothes in the men’s locker room, enjoy a needed coffee at the bar, or stroke a few practice putts. Instead we all hurriedly, haphazardly put on the requisite golf gear in the car, changed shoes seated on the car bumper, and had our tee balls in the air not 10 minutes after pulling into the parking lot. After years and years of anticipation, imagining what golf would be like here in Scotland, it was a surreal experience as those first few swings, and holes, zipped past in flurry of sights, sounds, and emotion.
Not every round of golf needs to be an exercise in self-flagellation, an act of sacrificing one’s score at the altar of ‘proper’ yardage, long-iron quotas or slope rating minimums. The Scots are clued in to one of golf’s essential secrets–the game is more fun when it’s about creativity, resourcefulness, and shot-making instead of trying to repeat a technically grooved swing over and over with static, dialed-in yardages.
Playing a hair over 5500 yards from the member tees, the Ben Sayers/Willie Park Jr. design is a par 69 laid out across a relatively flat expanse of land on Aberlady Bay and the Firth of Forth. What it lacks in dramatic terrain movement it makes up for in subtlety, quirk and fun. And of course the omnipresent elephant in the room here (and anywhere in Scotland) is the wind, nature’s x-factor which can transform these 5500 yards into all the length and slog with which one could hope to punish oneself. On the day we went around, however, the wind was relatively calm, which is to say it still possessed enough oomph to influence a great number of decisions and shot-shapes.
The true beauty of the wind, at least in regards to Scottish golf, is it renders calculated yardages more or less cosmetic in nature. The end result for a golfer is liberation, freedom to hit any club in your bag from just about anywhere on the course, sometimes in pursuit of creativity and other times out of sheer necessity. The meaninglessness of yardage is a bit of a mental hurdle to grapple with, but once you break through, and you will, there awaits a blank canvas on the other side upon which to paint (and hopefully execute) a beautiful array of shots.
The charm of Kilspindie is in its wonderful little quirks. Both nines start with fun par 3’s. There’s an observation deck on the third hole golfers can utilize to get a sense of the routing. The green complex at number four is sublime in its natural simplicity. The uphill, semi-blind tee shot on the ninth invites an aggressive line out over a big property boundary fence. An old stone wall is prominently in play on several holes coming down the stretch, and the eighteenth is a par 3.5 which plays directly to the clubhouse and damn near onto the adjacent patio. Collectively, these quirks are precisely what I most longed for coming across the Atlantic.
Kilspindie packs a lot of character into a relatively modest space. The walk is extremely manageable, an enjoyable jaunt along the bay with sight lines aplenty and the seaside breeze a constant companion. It’s an ideal round to play straight off the plane or as a second (or third!) round of the day, but I also believe it’s more than capable of standing on its own. It’s impossible to go around Kilspindie and not feel, deeply, on a molecular level, you are in Scotland, the game’s spiritual homeland. So relax, smile, and bask in the emotions.
#1: A 167 yard par 3. How cool is that?
#2: The only par 5 at Kilspindie. Into the wind can play closer to a par 6.
#3: Blind teeshot. There’s an observation deck off the teeing area one can climb to both see the routing of the hole as well as keep an eye on the tee shots of their playing partners.
#4: A signature hole. It’s just 365 yards but the #1 handicap because the green is just a dollop of land sitting precariously on a little sliver of land jutting into Aberlady Bay. An extremely fun approach shot!
#5 & #6: Back to back short fours, each measuring under 300 yards. Will usually play into differing winds.
#8: Another signature hole. 162 yard par 3 sits at the far corner of the property and invites players to hit out over the beach in order to get close to right-hand pin locations. Wind makes this shot very challenging. Probably the most picturesque hole on the property.
#9: The tee shot is a lot of fun. It’s feels like a scaled-down version of the tee shot one must hit at the Road Hole in St. Andrews.
#10: The second nine begins like the first with a fun 155 yard par 3.
#11 & #12: Another set of back-to-back short fours.
#13: My favorite par 3 at Kilspindie. The greensite is tough to hit but easy to play into on your second shot. Anything left of the green will have to navigate an old stone wall bordering the green.
#17: First of two back to back short fours to end the round. O.B. in the form of a neighboring course is in play too far left, while the stone wall is again in play framing the fairway and green to one side.
#18: The finishing par 4 is really a 3.5, especially if the wind is at your back. At 253 yards it’s a bit of an awkward distance playing into a green with just the tiniest of rough off the back before O.B. in the form of the clubhouse patio begins. Shots out to the right have to navigate the stone wall for their second. It’s an intimate green setting, a fun finisher to play and then sit and watch other people play.
THIS COURSE IN ONE WORD: Charming
WEIRD COURSE TRIVIA: According to its website, Kilspindie was originally part of the Luffness Golf Club which formed in 1867, at the time making it the 35th registered golf club in the world. Some two decades later Luffness split into two clubs, one of which became known shortly thereafter as Kilspindie.
WHAT SHOULD I DO BEFORE PLAYING THIS COURSE?: Absolutely nothing, and I say that in the best way possible.
CLUBHOUSE/FOOD: The clubhouse is a quaint structure which sits in tight proximity to both the first tee and eighteenth green. There is a fun little bar inside, as well as more formal dining options. Perhaps the best feature of the clubhouse, though, is the patio which sits just outside the bar and runs up against the eighteenth green. It’s a fabulous place to sit and enjoy a bite of food and drink on a nice day while watching people play in.
Tee Times: Open to the public and can be booked through the club’s WEBSITE
Greens Fees: 55 to 69 pounds depending on week/weekend (also full day rates available).
Facilities: Bar and dining areas open to the public (dress code enforced).
Lodging: We stayed at the Ducks Inn at Aberlady in East Lothian.