Edinburgh - where to stay and play golf during the Ryder Cup
Where better to stay during the Ryder Cup than in Scotland’s capital? But as Mark Alexander finds out, setting up camp in Auld Reekie might not be as straightforward as you might think...
You can’t help falling in love with Edinburgh. Arriving by air, sea, road or rail, Scotland’s capital goes all out to make an impression. From the moment you set eyes on the grandeur of its Georgian buildings to your first glimpse of the iconic castle looming down from its craggy outcrop, the city demands your attention.
My wife and I have been casting admiring glances towards Edinburgh for many years, with the city becoming the backdrop for some of our happiest and most romantic times.In days gone by, we embraced the bustling pubs at Hogmanay and revelled in the buzz surrounding the Edinburgh festivals (there are 12 throughout the year including the world-famous Festival Fringe and Military Tattoo). This year, Edinburgh will be one of the places to stay during the Ryder Cup, and it’s unlikely we’ll even get a look in.
Just over an hour by car will take you from the capital’s bustling streets to the natural theatre of Perthshire’s glens. Special Ryder Cup rail services will make the journey even easier, meaning you can watch the best golfers in the world do battle and then return to a city lit up by a constant stream of cultural events and places to eat and drink.
WORLD HERITAGE. Much of the city centre has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and with good reason – Edinburgh has over 4,500 listed buildings. At its centre is the luxurious Scotsman Hotel which was once home to the printers and journalists who crafted The Scotsman newspaper. This grand building put its last issue to bed in 2001 when the building was transformed into a 69-room boutique hotel, and it has never looked back.
During its transformation, careful attention was paid to preserving the Italian marble staircase, oak panelling and marble pillars that dominate the centre of the hotel. While the pain-staking work created an impressive lobby, it pales in significance against the jaw-dropping view offered by the curved bay window in our Editors Room. On arrival and without saying a word, my wife and I pulled up a couple of chairs, poured two cups of tea and drank in the view over the North Bridge which connects the city’s Old and New towns. It was worth the ticket price alone. Although we consider ourselves comfortably acquainted with Auld Reekie (a nickname given to the city when the smoke of countless coal fires polluted the air during the 18th century), we had never seen the city from such a vantage point. With the setting sun casting a warm glow over the rooftops, the scene simply stopped us in our tracks.
THE CALEY. With its close proximity to Waverley Station, you would think The Scotsman Hotel would be the obvious choice to set up camp during the Ryder Cup, but it isn’t as easy as that. You see, Edinburgh is blessed with a number of hotels conveniently placed next to the city’s transport hubs with many sporting equally impressive views. Take The Caledonian, or the Caley as it is affectionately known. This imposing red-brick building provides the perfect bookend to Princes Street and was once the façade for a busy railway station which handled more than 250 trains a day at its peak. Opened in December 1903 as part of Princes Street Railway Station, The Caley was the height of sophistication, attracting film stars, entertainers and royalty from around the world. The nationalisation of the UK’s railways forced its closure in 1965 and marked the start of the hotel’s long and painful decline, culminating in an overnight stay arranged by my wife for my birthday six years ago. A cramped room, squeaky floorboards and the stale odour of a hotel in free-fall left a lasting impression.
FULLY RESTORED. It was with great pleasure and genuine surprise that on our latest visit we found the glitz and glamour of the Caley fully restored in a multi-million pound makeover that wouldn’t be out of place on daytime TV. Walking through the hotel’s lobby with its marble floor, huge chandelier, aubergine-coloured walls and decorative friezes, you would swear you were in a different hotel entirely. The sweeping grand staircase now ushers you towards the “grand social promenade”, or Peacock Alley as it is better known, where Edinburgh’s finest once again congregate for afternoon tea and clamour to be seen. Gone is the musty aroma and tired decorations, and in its place is a city centre hotel with pizazz. “We spent £24 million during the refurbishments in 2008 and 2012,” explains Christina Keuter, front of house manager at The Caley. “Out of 32 rooms on the fifth floor, we created 20 and all of the food and beverage outlets have been changed. It’s totally different. Everyone is really amazed and very excited about it, even the team members.”
SCOTTISH TWIST. The food is something to get excited about as well. We ate in the Galvin Brasserie De Luxe, which serves up staples like roast Peterhead cod with cockles and watercress, and pork cutlets accompanied by pruneaux d’Agen and pommes mousseline. All very appetising and all very delicious. Like all good brasseries, the Galvin De Luxe does the basics very well, often with a Scottish twist. “Someone here knows how to cook,” said my missus earnestly. As always, she was right. Upstairs the dining experience ratchets up a level at the exquisite Pompadour. This fine diner has played a central role in Edinburgh’s folklore with the original incarnation being cited as the finest dining room in the city. Like the brasserie, it is now run by the Galvin brothers and orchestrated by executive chef Craig Sandle, who has successfully updated the heritage of the place with a culinary nip and tuck. With views out to the castle, where better to mull over the unravelling drama at Gleneagles? There are plenty of hotels that use their views of Edinburgh Castle as selling points, and the Hilton’s DoubleTree is no exception. The listed building boasts a stunning domed roof with modern artwork and a city centre location near the Traverse and Lyceum theatres and the Usher Hall, but it is the deluxe rooms and suites with their outlooks to the iconic castle that really add to the experience – that and the freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies you get on arrival. It is also one of the newest hotels in the capital and certainly one to consider.
PLAYING GOLF. The city, with all its buzz and excitement, is all well and good, but what happens if you get the urge to pick up a set of clubs and actually play a round of golf? What then? Well, Edinburgh has that covered with golf clubs such as Swanston, Dalmahoy, Prestonfield, Braid Hills and Royal Burgess, to name just a few. All are within easy reach of the city centre and all have the city as a backdrop. If you want to take it a stage further and combine a luxurious stay with championship golf courses on your doorstep, you should look no further than the seclusion of Archerfield Links. Situated in a 550-acre estate, Archerfield has two 18-hole golf courses, a 15-bedroom, Grade-1 listed country house, nine lodges, self-contained pavilion suites and a sprawling clubhouse. There is also a wellness spa and world-class practice facilities to quench your golfing thirst. And all this is within 40 minutes of Edinburgh Castle.
LINK HOLES. To get there, you first have to drive through some of the richest golfing countryside to be found anywhere. Craigielaw, Kilspindie and Luffness may not be instantly recognisable names but each one is home to a fine collection of links holes. Then there is the golfing hub of Gullane with all its history, numerous courses and foundations in the game of golf. If you continue, you arrive at the charming seaside town of North Berwick five miles away. In between Gullane and North Berwick, an innocuous country road does its best to distract you from what lies beyond the trees and hedges. It would be easy, for instance, to miss the turn off for the mighty Muirfield. A slight distraction might also lead you to disregard the signpost for Archerfield and its neighbour the Renaissance Club. If such an oversight were to happen, you would miss the long driveway that passes the imperial Archerfield House and stately lodges. You would miss the entrance to the club that sweeps past a double-ended driving range and pristine chipping areas. You would miss the warm reception and the spacious and subtly exotic clubhouse. Most of all, you would miss the Fidra and Dirleton courses, which form an important link in Scotland’s Golf Coast.
RENOWNED WORLDWIDW. “The Muirfields, Gullanes and North Berwicks of this world are phenomenal courses. They are renowned worldwide and we are privileged to be in their back garden,” says Stuart Bayne, director of golf at Archerfield. “Saying that, the Fidra Links is quite unique in this area. Twelve holes wander through Scottish pine trees on links turf. A lot of our members gravitate towards the Fidra Links because you can feel secluded out there; you could be anywhere in the world but still playing on links turf. By the time you reach holes four and five, you start hearing the crashing of the waves. It’s a special place to play golf.” Bayne has been at the private members club for eight of its ten year history and has witnessed membership numbers grow to over 800. The car park is certainly full of gleaming BMWs, Audis and Jaguars belonging to Edinburgh’s elite. And while booking a lodge or a room can be tricky due to demand, it does give you access to this rarefied environment where somehow the sophistication of a high-end country club mixes freely with a warm, homely glow.
COMFORTABLE LODGES. If you are able to book a lodge, you’ll quickly see why people are queueing up to stay in one. These spacious properties are reminiscent of expansive hunting lodges with high ceilings and open-plan kitchens that meander into lavish lounges. Sumptuous yet informal, this is where you can kick back in comfort. But if you prefer your pampering accompanied by a robe and a scented candle, pop next door to the Fletcher’s Cottage Spa, which Mrs A described as “the top end of the luxurious scale.” Like Archerfield, Edinburgh is coveted (hotel occupancy rates in the city reach 93.8% during the summer months). With the greatest golf show on earth pitching up in September, it seems likely that finding a place to stay could be as challenging as the tournament itself.
Central Edinburgh has two distinct parts divided by Princes Street which runs east to west. The character of the Old Town remains medieval with narrow alleys and tightly packed closes. It contains the majority of the city’s most noted tourist sights including the Castle and the Royal Mile.
North of Princes Street is the New Town, although it is now over 200 years old. Here, the layout is symmetrical with long, straight and broad streets. The New Town is the hub of the city’s professional, commercial and business life with a concentration of shops, banks and hotels.
For more information visit http://www.visitscotland.com/
WHERE TO STAY
The Scotsman Hotel
20 North Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1TR, UK
T: +44 (0)131 556 5565
The Caledonian, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel
Princes Street, Edinburgh EH1 2AB
T: +44 (0)131 222 8888
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel
34 Bread Street, Edinburgh EH3 9AF
T: +44 (0) 131 221 5555
Golf Club House, Golf Green
Dirleton, North Berwick, East Lothian
T: +44 (0) 1620 897 050