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Issue 7 - First Tee, then Dinner

Scotland Magazine Issue 7
March 2003

 

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First Tee, then Dinner

FOR THE GOLF ENTHUSIAST, THERE'S NOTHING LIKE A FEW HOLES AND THEN A DINNER TO RELIVE THE BEST MOMENTS. IAIN CRAWFORD EXAMINES THE HISTORY OF GOLF AND GASTRONOMY, AND LOOKS AT THE COURSES AND RESTAURANTS IN EAST LOTHIAN

Spectators at a major golf championship such as the Open, played over the Muirfield course in East Lothian last July, are the most knowing in the world. Not only are they players themselves, bristling with shrewd judgements of the perils and potentials for triumph of each shot, but they have bags of clubs in the boots of their cars and spend part of their tournament days honing their skills on neighbouring golf courses.

Part of the fun is showing your companions on local links just how Tiger Woods should have played that chip at the 17th and why Ernie Els totally misread his right to left putt at the fifth. All these reflections and dissections are, of course, best challenged and unravelled over a good dinner, a tradition almost as old as golf itself.

Food and drink have been there from the start. The minutes of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers of 1753 records this of Dave Lyon:

An eminent golfer, after subscribing and engaging himself to play for the Silver Club has not only not started for the Club, but contrary to the Duty of his Allegiance has withdrawn himself from the Captain and his Company and dined in another house, after having bespoke a particular dish for himself in Luckie Clephan’s.

For not eating his dinner, Mr Lyon was forced to resign.

‘Luckie Clephan’s’ was the inn at Leith where members of the Honourable Company met for sustenance and refreshment before and after matches, and the Company owns Muirfield, whence it repaired in 1891 after finding the public links at Leith and Musselburgh overcrowded. The gastronomic pleasures of old are maintained in the Muirfield clubhouse.

Nor is that all. The Silver Club, referred to in Mr Lyon’s indictment, was the world’s first golf trophy. It led to the writing of rules for the game of golf and provided the first recorded evidence of a golf club.

The game had been played on Leith Links and elsewhere since at least the 15th century, but in 1744, the Gentlemen Golfers of Edinburgh (as the Honourable Company was first called) had presented to them a Silver Club by the City of Edinburgh to be played for annually. The winner was declared ‘Captain of the Golf’ for a year.

The winner in the first year was John Rattray, a surgeon in Edinburgh. He won again in 1745, but in September of that year he was roused from his bed to be Surgeon-General to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army at the Battle of Prestonpans, where the Stuart prince’s forces routed Sir John Cope and his Hanoverians.

From that victory, Rattray followed the Jacobite army south to Derby and back to final defeat at Culloden in 1746.

Taken prisoner, he was in danger of being executed, and only the intervention of fellow Edinburgh golfer, Scotland’s senior judge Duncan Forbes, saved his life. This was probably the first instance of the advantage of belonging to a good club.

He resumed office as Captain of the Golf in 1747 but had the tact not to win the Silver Club again until 1751.

Before the Silver Club, matches had been played for wagers – occasionally money, but more often legs of mutton, gallons of claret, firkins of port or whisky, or dinners for which the loser had to pay the bill. This helped establish the gastronomic connection.

Dinner matches still go on today, and golfers still look to the pleasures of the table to enhance the joys and sorrows of the links.

Although Rattray’s victories inaugurated the tradition of playing for trophies rather than dinners, thus beginning the era of championship golf of which the Open is the supreme and oldest tournament, those of us who do not win trophies can still sample the other delights associated with the game, playing it and then telling embroidered tales about linkmanship. East Lothian is a splendid area for that.

The coastline south and east of Edinburgh is one of the finest golfing coasts in the world, with courses of every kind and conformation beneath the huge skies and long vistas of sea. They offer every kind of golfing experience, from fierce links, naked to the winds off the North Sea, to hillside courses with sweeping views over the Forth estuary and the Lammermuir hills.

COURSES

Gullane: In the village of Gullane, where the championship course Muirfield is situated, there are four other courses, all links in character and graded in testing ability. North Berwick: there are two courses here: The West Course, which is the 13th oldest golf club in the world and was founded in 1832. One of its original members fought at the Battle of Waterloo. It has a demanding layout with lots of eccentric and ingenious holes and constant views of the sea.

The Glen is the other, and it climbs to the headland above the firth of Forth and looks across to the Bass Rock, Tantallon Castle and the green hills of Fife.

Dunbar: This is a narrow strip of seashore on the fringe of the town, and is a fine test of straight driving and of keeping the ball in play. It is the oldest course in the region, founded in 1794.

Close to Edinburgh: There are several courses near Edinburgh worthy of mention. There is Aberlady and the brand-new Craigielaw, the tree-lined Royal Musselburgh at Prestonpans, and an excellent moorland layout at Monktonhall.

Longniddry: An intriguing mixture of links and woodland. Somewhere near here, Mary Queen of Scots got her name in the record books as the first woman golfer, when she was accused at her trial of playing golf at Seton too soon after the death of her husband, Darnley. From the hilly fairways of Whitekirk you overlook the firth of Forth, west to Edinburgh, the North Sea and the Lammermuirs.

DINING

To dine at the nicer restaurants in East Lothian, you need to book early in the year. Greywalls, the elegant house designed by Luytens, now a hotel just a snap-hook off the ninth fairway at Muirfield, is beautiful. It is probably guarded by the CIA and is about as accessible as George Bush while the championship is on. But it’s worth a visit, so bear it in mind for another time of the year. The food is good, the service kindly and efficient, and the wine list is a thing of splendour.

The Open Arms at Dirleton, a village to the east of the course, is usually heavily booked as well, but is also a popular golfing haunt and if you can get in, do. It has two AA stars and can be found opposite the castle ruins.

There are more options in North Berwick. There is a good Chinese restaurant called the Lucky House in the High Street, and there is an
Indian and a modest Thai nearby.

Farther east, The Grange offers a good menu in Scottish/French style, and there are some cheerful and well-run pubs. The pick of these is the Auld Hoose in Forth Street, if you want good, amiably served drink and conversation, rather than loud music and indistinguishable variations on the lager theme.

Farther afield it is wise to go inland. Haddington has some very agreeable restaurants. There is the Waterside on the south bank of the local Tyne, known for its generous helpings, as well as Maitlandfield House, on the road out towards Bolton.

The Drovers Inn at East Linton is tucked away just off the A1 on the road to Dunbar, but serves food of the highest quality. Its lunches are well worth visiting for. And at Dunbar itself is the excellent Creel at the Old Harbour.

Nearer the championship are Green Craigs, Aberlady, which is set in the most beautiful surrounds; and the Rosebery.

East Lothian is rich agricultural country with excellent access to fresh vegetables and blessed with excellent butchers such as Andersons in North Berwick, Dunbar and Gullane.

The lamb, beef and other meats are locally sourced, as is the fish from the fishing ports at Eyemouth and Port Seton, so post mortems on the day’s play – yours and the contenders at Muirfield – are most amiably examined with a fine bottle or two in this sumptuously endowed and attractive centre of the old game. Gourmet golf in the best sense.