Archerfield is a rather upmarket golf club, formed in 2004. It offers a first class golfing experience for debenture holding members who play over the Fidra and Dirleton courses which are located within the massive Archerfield Estate. Today, green fee paying visitors are welcome, subject to tee time availability. Situated between the long established East Lothian links of North Berwick and Muirfield, these two new courses have much to live up to if they are to bear favourable comparison with their illustrious near neighbours – and they are doing rather well.
Golf has been played on the Archerfield estate for a number of centuries and the original 6-hole course was increased to 13 holes in the middle of the 19th century. North Berwick professional Ben Sayers then extended this layout to a full 18-hole track just before the First World War.
The Ministry of Defence used the grounds during the Second World War then the whole estate seemed to go into hibernation for over fifty years before local businessman Kevin Doyle bought 500 acres through his company Caledonian Estates. He enlisted senior tour professional David “D.J” Russell to create two courses as the centre piece of a multi million “gated community” development which involved the complete refurbishment of Archerfield House and the building of over one hundred luxury houses.
The Dirleton course measures from between 5,503 and 6,946 yards, depending on which of the four sets of tees is selected for play. There are over sixty sand traps on the course, many of them old-fashioned pot bunkers with revetted faces and wooden stairs at the rear. Like the Fidra course, many of the large, links quality greens have run-up areas in front, enabling the execution of traditional bump-and-run approaches along the ground – putting on such green baize surfaces, incidentally, is an absolute joy.
After a fairly quiet start to the round on the opening holes playing away from the clubhouse, the 5th and 6th holes at the most easterly corner of the course are very strong and worthy of the low stroke index attached to each. The round really goes up a gear or two from the 9th, heading back to the clubhouse at the end of the outward first loop of nine – the swale in front of the green here, with minimal bunkering, is so simple but so effective.
The holes continue to get even better on the back nine with great use of cross bunkers and ditches on several fairways plus swales before some greens with subtle contouring – apart from the wickedly undulating par three 13th hole. Many of the fairways are bounded by low, gorse covered mounding – resembling the esker ridges to be found on the King's course at Gleneagles – so a feeling of semi seclusion from other golfers is created on these holes.
The signature hole may well be the 463-yard, right dog-legged 16th which has four bunkers lined up one behind the other on the bend with a dry ditch further up the fairway to catch errant second shots – a par four on the scorecard will be well earned at this hole.
Many little touches and attention to detail help to create a premium golfing product on the Dirleton – whether it be the yardages to the hole marked on all of the fairway sprinkler heads, the use of white sea shells on many of the walkways or the low sleepered bridges over drainage ditches – they all combine to give the Dirleton a lovely feel.
An enormous clubhouse was finished in 2007, two years after the Fidra course opened. Constructed in a colonial style, the new building complements on course activities perfectly. Like Loch Lomond, the Archerfield courses were difficult to get on because of their member and guest playing policy, but things have changed, visitors are now welcome subject to tee time availability.
Amongst other outlooks, the course offers scenic views of Dirleton Castle and the Isle of May…
The par 3, 7th may be rated the easiest on the course but you need to exercise care here. The green falls away at the back and on the right. The left is heavily bunkered and if you pull your tee shot too far left, there is then a ditch and out of bounds. At 191 yards from the back tee or 167 from the blue, this is no pushover…
The short par 5, 10th is one of the best. There is a slight dogleg right where a number of bunkers occupy just right of the perfect line. The third shot area is downhill with two bunkers set into the side of mounds at the fairway’s edge. A ditch that is difficult to see runs across the front of the green…
The Dirleton was not long open for play when I was first there in 2006. It was looking even better when I revisited in 2009 and the grasses and native plantations had matured a little. Unfortunately both visits (in mid summer) were on a very damp and misty day. In late spring with the gorse and all the wild flowers in bloom the Dirleton would be quite a picture.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.
Once I turned on to the short driveway up towards the Archerfield clubhouse I was greeted by pyramids of Titleists at the practice green and driving range on either side of the road - it was just like beng a player at one of the Tour events on TV. One word of advice for anyone visiting Archerfield - make sure you get there in plenty time for your round as the facilities, including short game areas, putting greens and a two-way driving range, are as good as any I've seen and it would be a shame not to make the most of them prior to heading out for your round.
Anyway, I think we've already established that the off course experience at Archerfield is exceptional but what about the most important thing - the course. I was playing the Dirleton course on this particular day and due to my tee off time being right in the middle of a busy period my group started off at the 10th - which had positive and negative aspects as I didn't get to play the course in the proper layout but we also didn't have any other golfers on the holes either side of us for our entire round which made the day all the more leisurely.
My first, the 10th hole, was a tough opener. A near 500 yard par 5, the green couldn't be seen from the tee and an accurate tee shot was needed to find the left hand side of the fairway to have a look at the green with the second shot, and with a burn guarding the front side of the green this was one of the best holes on the back nine. The 11th and 12th were both solid par 4s with the dry ditch protecting the 12th green one of the most prominant features on these two holes. I enjoyed the next two holes, the first being a 155 yard par three with a heavily sloping green followed by the dogleg par five 14th where again there is no sight of the green from the tee box. The 16th was the best in my opinion on the back 9 and contained great bunker positioning, as I found to my cost off the tee, as well as a burn skirting the entire length of the hole to the right and OB to the left. Any approach going through the green will leave an extremely difficult up and down.......if only I had known this prior to hitting my approach shot! All in all it wasn't the longest par 4 ever but there is plenty of danger throughout that could lead to a large score being racked up if the golfer is not careful. The final two holes (and last two on my first nine) were played directly into the wind and this made them particularly tough to negotiate. I have to say that I wouldn't have found the 18th to be a great finishing hole if it was my last on the Dirleton and I would consider the 9th, which coincidently was my final hole, to be a much better way to end the round.
We passed the halfway house but didn't venture in on this occasion as we were keen to get on to our second nine. I would have liked the first as an opening hole and at 399 yards it would have been an ideal chance to open the arms to begn the round although the raised green and congregation of bunkers around where drives are likely to land. The tight par five 2nd and compact par three 3rd with it's lightning fast green cranked up the difficulty at the start of my back nine before we arrived at my favourite hole on the course, the driveable (for some) par four 4th which is a great strategic hole where the options are to try to cut the corner and drive the green or to take an iron from the tee to leave a favourable angle from which to hit the approach. Although the green can be seen from the tee the burn/ditch that sweeps round the right hand side of the hole cannot and the golfer must beware when launching the tee shot towards the green. I unfortunately ended up in the gorse to the right of the green with my overly ambitious first attempt before playing the hole more conservatively second time round - had I done this to begin with a par or even birdie would have been perfectly within reason. The next is another fine hole - an uphill par 5 which plays longer than its 510 yards off the blue tees due to the rise in elevation between tee and green and bunkers around the lay up distance and several large mounds add to the challenge on the hole. The 6th is an exposed straightish par 4 perched on the side of the hill before moving on to the 7th, a mid-range par 3 with the wonderful Archerfield House in the backdrop. A snaking fairway and three tier green were features to note on the 8th before playing my last hole of the day - the 9th. As the number 2 S.I. hole and at over 425 yards and no help whatsoever from the blustering wind this was a pretty good hole to finish off, even if my attempt to win our match faltered on the last green when my putt slid past the hole!
Then it was back into the bar for a drink and to talk about the goings on of the previous few hours play in the comfort of the luxurious clubhouse. It has a traditional feel to it with it's wooden decor yet at the same time is quite state of the art and spending time in there was a fantastic way to end a great day of golf. Ultimately whilst the day as a whole was a six-ball experience, I tend to score my reviews based primarily on the course and I would say that the Dirleton is a very good course that I had an enjoyable time playing but due to there being a collection of good holes rather than any which truly stand out I will have to award it five balls as opposed to the full six. Nevertheless, if you get the chance to play here, make sure that you take up the offer. DM
The opening holes were a lot more challenging than I had remembered first time around (indeed, my opponent was quickly two up after five holes) and I’d forgotten what a strategic hole the downhill short par four 4th really was. Holes 5 and 6 are both beautifully bunkered from tee to green whilst the penal swale in front of the green on the 9th must surely be the reason why the hole is ranked stroke index 2.
After a mandatory 10-minute pit stop at the cosy wee halfway house, it was on to the back nine (match play all square) and, to my mind, the toughest set of holes on the estate. Fairways are still relatively generous but if you do stray too far from the short cut grass then you are almost certainly in deep trouble (two lost balls right off the tee at 15 contributing to my ignominious 4 & 2 defeat). I still think the 16th is easily the best of all 36 holes at Archerfield – the four bunkers in a line at the kink in the fairway, followed by a ditch running diagonally across in front of an elevated green make it a very memorable hole. It’s such a shame that an access road has to be crossed several times during the round and that housing now sits beside the fairways at holes 13 to 16 (though natural growth of gorse on the bund walls should soften the intrusion of real estate over time) as it just seems the privacy of such a private place should remain intact for the full round. The Dirleton may be more a manicured than a wild links experience for some purists but, nonetheless, it delivers a surprisingly enjoyable game of golf. Jim McCann