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 in association with David Williams 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 came across an old Forestry Commission booklet (No.25 of how many I don’t know) titled: Forests of Central and Southern Scotland by Herbert L. Edlin published in 1969… “Following the road along the coast, we pass the marshy bird sanctuary of Aberlady Bay, and beyond Gullane go past the Archerfield estate, which lies down towards the sea. Here there is an expanse of sand dunes which the Commission is now afforesting with pines, to check the inland drift of the sand. The three rocky islets of Fidra, Craigleith, and the Bass Rock, where the gannets nest each spring, rise sheer from the mouth of the Forth, while North Berwick Law stands like a sentinel over the flat coastal plain.”
The debate over Archerfield’s links credentials is moot point, largely due to the pines that frame half the holes. However, there’s no doubt the ground on which the courses are routed is sandy. As Mr. Edlin states, this is dune land that was “afforested” fifty years ago.
Anyway, it doesn’t really matter because the Fidra (played the week before last) is a very good course. The pines that remain have been thoughtfully used – they do not stifle the fairways (which have fair width without being runways) and attractively frame a number of green complexes. I really enjoyed the Fidra – it more than exceeded my expectations and I liked the routing.
We arrived at the 5th tee box next to the beach only moments after teeing off at the opener – so it seemed. We might have been in a time warp because the entire round whizzed by way too quickly. It was as though we were in a trance, maybe under the Fidra’s spell. Regardless it was a surreal experience.
I won’t detail any of the holes but will mention that the only poor hole was the 16th which played as a par three to a temporary green while the new green complex (which looked great) was settling in. I didn’t note any standout “signature” holes, just one solid hole after another.
I’ve yet to play the Dirleton, but if it’s nearly as good at the Fidra then that explains why Archerfield is such a popular venue which was positively buzzing with Edinburgh’s great and good.
Thanks to Brian for the pictures… I was so absorbed by the Archerfield experience I forgot to get my camera out.
Having already heard good things, this is a fine course in beautiful setting. It starts with a welcoming clubhouse and a fantastic practice facility to warm up. The front 9 tree lined fairways frame each hole perfectly and open links style on return keeps you thinking all the way round. Off the black tees is a great test off the tee, especially the par 5's. The new green at the 4th overlooking the lighthouse is a gem, as is the second shot into the par 5 6th. Strong finishing hole with a drive over the bunkers for the chance to go for it in two. A great golf location and can only hope to play it again soon.
Played Archerfields for the second year running, from our group of 15 their was prity much a 50/50 split on which was the best course. The conditioning on both courses were fantastic, with superb greens and run off areas. Both courses fairly tight suiting the straight hitter.
This was my favourite of the two courses at Archerfield - but only just. The whole setup is brilliant and the clubhouse amenities are fantastic.
Holes 1-2 and 7-11 are in the pine trees and have a very different feel to the rest of the course (which is more open and links-like amongst the dunes.
I actually loved both parts of the course and enjoyed the variety.
The wind was blowing a gale when I played so it was tough. The greens were quick though and conditioning was great generally, meaning this was a wonderful experience.
Favourite two holes on the front 9 were the 3rd and 5th which are strong par 4s closer to the sea. The back 9 holes are all cracking. 12 was a particular favourite with a fun approach playing across a lot of sand to an undulating green. 14, 15 and 16 were all great par 4s amongst the dunes - 16 in particular needing a well struck approach to an elevated green. If you’re short here, it will roll back down another 20 yards. 18 is a cracking finishing par 5 with a lot of options.
Overall, a great course that is good fun and worth the visit. Savour your pint in the bar afterwards once this course has inevitably beaten you up.
Occupying some premium real estate in East Lothian right between Muirfield & North Berwick, this is a combination of prime links land, and parkland holes that play between pine trees. There is a good variety of holes, and it is also hard to lose a ball in the pines, but on the last 7 holes that are tree-less, a combination of long rough and tight fairways made for this course to have a slightly split personality. Memorable holes on the front include the 1st, with its centreline bunker that gets you thinking straight away, the par 3 4th, with deep bunkers and elevated green, followed by the 6th with its two-tiered green, a nice feature on a relatively short par 5 that normally plays downwind. On the back, I did enjoy the more ‘true links’ style holes, including the strong par 3 17th and par 5 18th that brings you back to the outstanding clubhouse. All the facilities here are top notch, but to charge more for a green fee than next door North Berwick seems sacrilegious to me!
Played in June 2019. The Club house, Driving range and all the facilities are absolutely great. The greens, fairways and Tee boxes are splendid and the Fidra offers a bit of everything you can wait from a golf course... Links type holes as well as parkland atmosphere. Some long Par 4 suceeds to easy Par 5 you can reach in 2...
The only matter is the Green Fee rate. Placed between courses like Gullane n°1 & North Berwick, this is difficult to imagine that you have to pay a cheaper rate for these two world class course.
Special mention to the Rooms absolutely stunning !
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.