Any new golf course bounded on two sides by world-class golfing venues must be good if it is to stand comparison with its illustrious, long established neighbours. The Archerfield Fidra course lies between the 8th hole at Muirfield and 9th hole at North Berwick and, although it only opened for play in 2004, the Fidra blends very well into the group of premium golfing destinations in this corner of East Lothian.
Archerfield Links started out in life as a private members club, vying with Loch Lomond on the other side of the country for the title of most exclusive golf location north of the border. Today, Archerfield welcomes visitors subject to tee time availability.
Golf has been played on the Archerfield estate for a number of centuries and the original 6-hole course was extended to 13 holes in 1869. James Law, former owner of the Scotsman newspaper, enlisted Ben Sayers, the North Berwick professional, to expand the course to a full 18-hole layout around 1910 before the grounds were taken over by the Ministry of Defence during the Second World War.
The Archerfield estate subsequently fell into more than fifty years of decline before Caledonian Estates, Edinburgh businessman Kevin Doyle’s company, finally purchased 500 acres of land and commissioned senior tour professional David “D.J.” Russell to design two courses as part of a reputed ₤55 million development which included the restoration of Archerfield House and the construction of 100 luxury homes.
The Fidra course measures almost 7,000 yards though there are four sets of tees at every hole to allow for varying abilities. Greens are large and receptive, with subtle borrows to test the best of putters. Many putting surfaces have run-up areas in front, enabling golfers to play a traditional bump-and-run shot along the ground.
Pine trees are the defining feature over the early holes, offering seclusion from the outside world as the course picks its way through the woodland routing. The links aspect of the course comes into play from the 12th hole onward when the Bass Rock, Firth of Forth and coast of Fife come into view when these holes wind their way out to the beach at Yellowcraig then return back to the clubhouse.
In the summer of 2006 the Fidra course at Archerfield Links was joined by the new Dirleton course in offering members and their guests a very special Scottish links golf experience. The Ladies Scottish Open was hosted at Archerfield on five consecutive occasions between 2010 and 2014, and in 2015 the Fidra staged the Scottish Senior Open, which England’s Paul Broadhurst won on his European Senior Tour debut, beating Austrian Gordon Manson in a play-off.
In 2016 the Scottish Senior Open returned to Archerfield (won by England's Paul Eales), but ahead of that event, the club hosted the 2016 Paul Lawrie Matchplay, won by another Englishman, Anthony Wall. There’s no doubt that Archerfield Links has genuinely come of age.
I had visited this courses (Dirleton too and also next door Renaissance) with my good friend Andy back in 2012 but we were not able to play due to a busy schedule which included Gullane No.1, Muirfield and North Berwick but it was time to play here and it was sort of funny how it happened.
Back from the Masters in April at Atlanta Airport I met a Member called Kenny and when I told him about my trip he offered to invite me to play there so on May 26th after a long flight from Buenos Aires I went directly to the Club and as like many times in my last trips arrived to the course just 20mins before the tee time! A quick shower and to the tee to play a nice match with Kenny, His brother and good friend John in a very friendly Scotland-Argentina atmosphere.
The day couldn't have been better, 25C sun and almost no wind, which was called to be the hotest day of the year in Scotland! I really enjoyed the course and the walk, a very nice mix of links concept (fast hard fairways and greens), Rivet edge bunkers and the smell of the ocean always there though you see water only from far away in a couple of holes. Some tough tree lined tee shots appear to be the bigest challenge, as well as holding the approach shots to very creative greens.
There were many very nice holes, specially par 4 3rd, very nice par 3 8th with spectacle false bunker before the green, par 4 10th and the 3 finishing holes.
As a private course with not as much play as the famous ones, shape was perfect and pace of play like a ready golf round.
After the game a nice pint at the elevated club house ended a fantastic golf afternoon with scottish friends, to a place that I will for sure visit again.
Lovely mixture of tree lined (first 3 holes) and links golf. Course opens up with the lovely par 3, 4th hole. Holes 5 and 6 have a more links feel before holes 7 to 11 are back to tree lined. The best stretch for me is 12 and home where apart from a line of trees to the right of 17 and 18, it is great links terrain. Holes 14 and 15 are outstanding holes, the best on the course. I notice that Fidra is on the cusp of Top 100 GB&I. That is a fair assessment
Played in the afternoon following my morning hit around the Dirleton. Great course. Sneaks into rare 6 ball territory. Similar but slightly better than Formby.
A number of holes at the beginning of both nines played amongst the trees on firm links quality fairways. A taste of the dune laden links holes is offered during the front nine and then the last 7 or 8 holes are played through excellent dunes.
All holes are played in isolation of others and a combination of both back nines would be one of the best courses in the world.
It’s hard to lose your ball on the tree lined holes as there is no undergrowth and the trees have been thinned to the point you will find your ball but not necessarily hit it in the direction you want. I found sandy conditions a couple of times in the trees that made good contact difficult.
Unsure if the greenkeeper would be 100% happy with greens. I’m no expert but there seemed to be a mix of grasses throughout most of them. The 8th green was the exception as it was one grass and one beautiful green. The others played well though and I’m sure as summer approaches they will play faster.
The whole day was excellent. Pricey yes, but two superb courses, well priced menus, great practice facilities and I’m glad they have opened up the course to the public as it deserves to be acknowledged as a great course.
Luckily I saved the best till last as the Fidra heads up the 12 courses I played over late April/early May.
It’s easy to understand why so many people love to visit and play at the semi-exclusive Archerfield Links when the opportunity arises.
The very fact it is set in the heart of established real estate for golf, on Scotland’s Golf Coast in East Lothian, and has proven to be so popular, since it was created in its modern day form just after the turn of the millennium, is testament to the quality of the venue.
The Fidra course plays through mature pine trees for the first two thirds of the round before venturing out onto linksier land for the remainder. The woodland holes have a lovely enclosed feel to them whilst the “links” section of the course enjoys a more open vista, particularly compared to the gorse-riddled Dirleton course, but more on that later.
I put the word links in quotation marks above because I’m not 100% convinced it is true links golf although the course is particularly fast running and the ground game can be utilised around the greens. It’s certainly not classic links golf in its purest form; an almost faux-links style would perhaps be the best way to describe it. And although you are close to the coast you don’t ever really get the feeling that you are playing seaside golf.
A stray drive on the first 11 holes of the Fidra is likely to find Augusta-esque pine straw where you will easily find your ball and be able to advance it but not always in the direction you would like to. Hit an errant tee-shot on the closing seven holes and you will be playing from well below or above your feet on the side of a dune ridge!
I enjoyed playing into a number of the green complexes which are generous but not easy to hold as many are domed and fall away at the sides; the 11th and 16th were particularly memorable.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
We played yesterday in very strong winds, but fortunately the holes were either into or with the wind so we only lost a few balls between four of us.
Quality setup with good warm up areas and nice lunch afterwards.
Note, check the tee markers since we played 10 and 11 as 1 and 2 in the absence of a starter or clear instructions ! We corrected it on the back nine to the slight confusion of the following group who didn't observe the mandatory ten minute stop at the halfway house. More full them, the tasty leek and potato soup was buckshee !
Pretty tree lined front nine with predominantly Ross style raised greens rejecting all but the truest approaches.
Back nine more linksy, still tough but fun.
Greens were true and in good condition for the time of year, and with the course being quiet we got round in good time.
Will definitely return for the Dirleton.
The first hole gives you a good idea what to expect, for the next 10 holes at least. The fairways are excellent, fast running, and are lined with magnificent stands of trees. The fact that this has been a forest for so long meant that man’s agricultural habits have not spoilt the sandy nature of the soil. Bunkers on this course are more of the pot bunker style and, if anything, are understated.
The course emerges from the trees after the 11th, a lovely par 5 which also features a number of revetted bunkers along the fairway.
The standout hole is probably the 12th, a par 4 of 384 yards that flows beautifully through mounds and grass plantations an dthe dog-legs right about 50 yards before the slightly raised green.
This is a well presented course with two distinct feels as you go from treed to more open fairways. In parts of the back nine you are actually only a few hundred yards from the sea… A partly tree linked links is not a unique phenomenon or a contradiction in terms as anyone who has played Formby will know.
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.