Mortonhall Golf Club lies to the south of Edinburgh, beside Braid Hills. The estate – part of the Moor of Pentland – was given to Sir Henry St Clair of Rosslyn by Robert the Bruce in the early 14th century. The Trotter family acquired the land in 1635 and it was Sir Henry Trotter who originally leased the ground to the club when it was formed in 1892.
Three famous golfing figures left their architectural mark on Mortonhall during its formative years, Willie Park, J H Taylor and James Braid. When an additional 30 acres were purchased in 1975, Fred Hawtree, the renowned course designer, was commissioned to layout a number of new holes and upgrade all the others.
Mortonhall starts in a narrow valley called the Kyber Pass which then leads to one of the finest driving holes in all of Scottish golf. The view from the elevated tee of “Moorfoots” is simply stunning, with the Elf Loch below, to the left of the landing area and trees all the way up the right of the fairway.
There’s a touch of old-fashioned golf design at the 6th, which crosses the fairway of the 4th hole then concluding the front nine, “Neuk” looks an easy short par four at 334-yards on the scorecard but in reality, its’s a really tough, uphill hole that doglegs sharply right to a plateau green protected by a ridge that runs at an angle across the fairway.
On the inward half, there’s a fine set of holes between the 12th and the 15th (which were created by Hawtree in the late 1970s) before “Quarry,” the only hole left from the original nine hole course. The 17th is very scenic, played over Elf Loch with the Kyber Pass looming in the back then the round finishes with a tricky, severely doglegged last hole where bogey or worse can easily be carded by golfers who push too hard for a par.
Mortonhall is rightly regarded as one of the best parkland courses in the Lothians with many holes characterised by mature Silver Birch, Pine, Fir, and Sycamore trees that define wide, open fairways, leading to large, beautifully tended greens.
The condition of this course deserves at least one more paragraph. The tees and fairways are so well cut I can only imagine the head green-keeper was a military barber in a previous life. The greens are smoother than my baby’s well talcumed botty. The semi-rough is manageable and the bunkers stand out so crisply they are strangely appealing. The yardage marker posts and fairway markers, the signs directing you to the next tee, the tee boxes, the flag-sticks, the astro-turf pathways (no gravel or chipped-bark here thank you!) i.e. EVERYTHING - looks loved. Call me an anorak but even the immature trees seemed staked and tied more diligently and neatly than I have ever noticed before. I can’t imagine there are many courses in Scotland that can beat here for condition and whatever the green-keepers take home in their pay-packets it is very well earned.
There are lots of good holes, a few crackers and even the weaker ones are quite good. The standout hole for me is the 461yrd second. The tee is elevated about fifty feet from the fairway, there is a pond, large trees and three bunkers down the left and skirting these leaves the shortest and easiest line into the green. There is a fair bit of room out right but like the best risk-reward holes an approach from there is blind and needs to carry a sizeable hummock. Approaching the green the fairway narrows to virtually nothing and there is a gorse-laden slope on the left and grass bunkers surrounding the long green.
The 4th is a genuine three shot par five and the next two holes are short but interesting fours. The 7th is a long and testing par three with a green cut into the slope and bunkers short left and right and long grass, nettles and all manner of wild flora around to catch you out. At the par five 8th the dyke that separates Mortonhall from the Braid Hills courses is a constant companion on your left and trees line the fairway to the right.
The 10th is a classic wee par 3. At only 147 yards this hole demonstrates that you don’t have to be big to be tough. The tee is a good few feet above green level. The green is only eleven paces wide at its fattest point and is guarded by four bunkers at the front and is surrounded by a virtual “moat” of grass bunkering. Tweak it even slightly left and the slope could carry you a good 25yards wide. The next hole is a marvellous par 4 – visually appealing and testing in equal measure with a very long plateau green. The par five 12th is great fun with a fairway that resembles a velodrome – if you can hit a draw here and catch the slope you might add fifty yards on to your average drive. With three large and well placed bunkers just short of the green plotting your way from the fairway requires more careful consideration. The 13th is 429yrds of slightly uphill toughness. 14 and 16 are short-ish par 4’s which are birdie-able (and bogey-able too!).
The seventeenth is a medium-iron par 3 alongside a pond. Don’t worry - you have to hit a horror shot to really disturb the ducks; the bunkering and banking of long grass around the green are much more likely to catch you out. The 18th is a dog-leg right – aim it at the gable of the clubhouse and give it a blast. At the risk of being churlish perhaps this is the one hole that most could do with a bit of muscling-up – perhaps with a bit of judicious fairway bunkering to focus the mind. The clubhouse is very spacious and elegant. However, weather permitting, I suggest you sit on the patio, enjoy a cool beer and raise a toast to the green keeping staff – they deserve all the praise they get. Derek, Edinburgh, June 08.