The East Lothian coastline is blessed with a fine stretch of top ranked links courses from Musselburgh right along the coast to Dunbar, with the heaviest concentration in the few miles from Aberlady to Gullane. Before 2001, there were no fewer than six courses between the two villages – Kilspindie, Luffness New, Gullane (Nos. 1, 2 and 3) and Muirfield – so the opening of Craigielaw Golf Club in that year may have surprised some who felt there already was a more than adequate provision of golf courses in the area.
Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, in a country where golf is a national passion and Craigielaw – owned and run by Wemyss & March Estates on whose land the nearby Longniddry course is laid out – has been a very welcome modern addition to the historic links in the locality. In fact, the course at Craigielaw has blended so well into the landscape, you would be hard pressed to know that it was anything less than a century old.
The rough, though light and wispy in places, can be tough and strategically placed bunkers, both fairway and greenside, provide a formidable set of obstacles on many holes. The greens are firm, hard to hold and often wickedly undulating but always fast and true. Incorporate some meandering burns and some ancient stone dykes into the design and you have a layout to find favour with the most hard-to-please golf purist; full of character, true to links traditions and presenting as strong an examination as any in the area.
Measuring 6,601 yards with a par of 71, the inward half is nearly four hundred yards longer than the front nine with a very strong string of holes starting from the downhill, 540-yard, par five, 11th named “Quarry Park” and ending at the 467-yard, long par four, 16th entitled “Kirk Park.” If anything near the combined par of 25 for these six holes is scored then a very good round must have ensued!
Situated less than half a mile west of Aberlady, Craigielaw is routed over gently undulating land to the south of the Kilspindie course which lies on the banks of the Firth of Forth. It boasts an ultra modern clubhouse with panoramic views across the water to the Fife coast – don’t be surprised to find a large number of non-golfers in the lounge or courtyard as the clubhouse now plays a large part in the social fabric of the nearby village.
Craigielaw is somewhat of the New Kid on the Block when it comes to easily accessible links golf courses in East Lothian.
Established just before the turn of the millennium there is much to praise this course for. It is certainly a challenging links with deep bunkers and upturned greens the main obstacles to a good score.
You must not only drive the ball well here but also be pin-point accurate with your approach shots. Anything just slightly offline from the tee could find a bunker where the main goal quickly becomes extraction rather than advancement. Meanwhile, should your iron shot to the green not be true and straight it is likely to find one of the many run-offs, or worse still, the bottom of one of the many steep faced bunkers. Either way you will be struggling to save par.
At several points in the round the course touches the border of neighbouring Kilspindie. Craigielaw is on the slightly higher ground and has superb views across Aberlady Bay and towards Gullane Hill but the lack of coastline deprives it of a certain charm and lovingness. It makes up for this in the challenge it presents and to a large part succeeds.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
There is one very simple reason for the poor ranking I have given Craigielaw - the greens. Once you are finally safely on the putting surface they are good, the ball runs true and they are a decent pace. However, the job of actually getting the ball there is unlike any other course I have played. The best way I can describe them is that it is like hitting the ball onto a concrete surface where the chances of holding the green are nigh on impossible on quite a number of holes.
Speaking as a 5-handicap golfer who plays 90% links golf I feel I have an idea of what a good links test should be. Unfortunately Craigielaw fails in that regard. Well over half of the greens are an "upturned saucer" design, invariably guarded by deep bunkers, meaning that you have little option but to carry your approach shots the whole way to the green. The aforementioned rock solid greens then ensure that you have absolutely no chance of stopping the ball and you are left with devillish "up-and-downs" on a number of occasions. The point here is that good shots are not rewarded at all and that is surely a failing of the greenkeeping staff and the course designer's failure to consider the nuances of links golf.
It is a shame as the general layout of the course is good and in decent condition (I am even willing to grudgingly accept the holes at the start of the back 9 encircled by houses) but you certainly cannot help but look across to Gullane and the like and wish that you were playing there instead. I'm afraid I doubt I would return anytime soon.
I agree with most of your comments, especially on the greens being upturned saucer design and well-guarded with bunkers making the greens difficult to play on and get too, and it isn't classic links that's for sure, but it wasn't meant to be as I'd imagine if it was trying to be a links then the first thing that would be done would be to put flat greens, so it’s clearly a hybrid trying to separate itself from the surrounding courses. One of Craigielaw's biggest problems is where it is situated, being in amongst links courses of the tradition and quality of courses such as Muirfield and the Gullane’s among many other amazing courses in the area. But to say the greens are hard is definitely not true, if you speak to anyone who plays/ is a member at this course then you will know that its most common complaint is the greens are too slow and soft, so for you to say basically the polar opposite shows you just had a bad round and possibly not playing the course as it was meant to be played.
I am not a pro by any means, but I have a 9 handicap and was born and raised playing the courses in the area and have my fair share of knowledge on them as a result. There has been plenty of times when I have loathed courses I loved playing the previous week or month, including Craigielaw, as a result of the way I played, the weather that day, even the condition of certain parts being different etc. There are many courses that have holes or greens that need a certain approach that if not done can cause problems to your round. However, saying it is the "failing" as you put it, of the green keeping staff and course designer's for all of that, clearly shows the ignorance that you have as a golfer, good round or not, if the course is not to your taste you cannot say that it is a failing when it is something you have no idea about, considering the course was designed by Donald Steele, a world renowned golf course architect, I reckon he would know more than you about the matter and have a good idea what the original intentions of the designs were. Same in regards to what work is put into the care of the course by the greenkeepers. There could be plenty people that love it and plenty people that hate it, nothing wrong with even despising the course, but saying a “failing” is total ignorance and takes away the credibility of your review.
Thanks for your response Liam. I cannot understand your assertion that saying the greens are hard is "definitely not true" - this was a 100% fact the day I played and I can't imagine this was just a one-off given it was late summer when I played. Many of the greens were simply impossible to hold when hitting anything above a 7-iron into them and having to carry the whole way. I also like your assumption that I just had a bad round when in actual fact I played 1 over my handicap which on the day felt like shooting under par!
Of course it is true to say that opinions can vary depending on conditions, weather etc but I do try to treat each course I play objectively. In general, even if I dislike a course I can normally think of a reason that I might go back, however, in this case there are just so many better alternatives in the surrounding area that I am struggling to think of a reason to return.
I also thank you for your assertion that it is "something I know nothing about" - I do not claim to be a golf pro or course architect but it is my opinion (as a decent-standard golfer who plays a lot of links golf) that the golf course fails in the regard that good shots are simply not rewarded at many of the holes. That is my opinion and I am entitled to it as you are yours. It is and to say it takes away the credibility of my review is utter nonsense.
The 1st hole plays tougher than its modest length of 327 yards would suggest. There are two fairway bunkers just left of centre of the fairway and to the right is fairly thick rough. The green is crowned and gives you almost no option (because of the greenside bunkers) other than the aerial route.
The 4th, a par five of 583 yards, is rated the most difficult. Several fairway bunkers are waiting and there is an angled stone wall as you get closer to the raised inverted saucer green. The par three 6th definitely favours exponents of the draw. You hit over a stone wall to a green with deep bunkers at left front.
The 10th is a good par three of 174 yards with some stately houses in the background. It is very difficult to get up and down if you miss the green on the left. Whilst the 11th is a reasonably long par five of 540 yards, it is downhill and, in summer especially, may be reachable in two. However, due to a small burn in front of the green, you may be best to lay up with your second.
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.
As I played the back nine first I will ensure that my review is in keeping with my round and begin from the 10th. The 10th is a challenging downhill par three with scenery that you wouldn't necessarily expect to see on a links course - a small housing scheme. The next, the par 5 11th was one of my favourite holes on the course and into a strong wind required two strong blows before laying up to avoid the burn snaking in front of the tricky green complex. Five par 4s follow the 12th incorporating a blind drive, a pond, an old (looking) wall and plenty of well-positioned bunkers and undulating greens which fall away at the sides. The 17th is a short 149 yard par 3 hole with a two tiered green before the usual closing hole, my ninth, the par 5 18th requires accuracy from the tee in order to have a chance of getting to the green in regulation.
The 1st tee box is elevated high above the fairway and at under 300 yards would make a good opening hole to ease the golfer into their round. The undulating green is guaded by deep bunkers making this far from an easy birdie chance however. The second is a long par five that may require the wind at your back to reach the putting surface in two but the real trouble starts when arriving at the green with more bunkers and the green steeply rolling off to all sides, making it difficult to hold - as is the case with the majority of the putting surfaces at Craigielaw. The 393 yard 5th hole is another fine hole with a craggy wall running up the right hand side of the hole. Again the danger lies in the approach shot with several slopes and hollows protecting the green. The next hole is a lovely little par three over the aforementioned wall with OB on the right and another wickedly contouring green lying in wait. This was probably my favourite on the course. The 7th and 8th run parallel to the adjacent Kilspindie Golf Club and are both demanding holes before the 9th brings the golfer back round towards the clubhouse.
All in all I found Craigielaw to be a difficult course, mainly due to the sloping greens, which resulted in approach shots rolling through or falling short and rolling back from the putting surfaces - you definitely need your short game to be sound if a good score is to be achieved at Craigielaw, which, on the day, mine wasn't. I played the second nine with a couple of members and did have an enjoyable time in their company on the course and in the clubhouse following our round where I got to experience the facilities first hand. The beautiful scenery on many of the holes is a bonus and when coupled with a few excellent holes and several good ones, Craigielaw gets my recommendation. DM