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.
I played in the Craigielaw Gents Open in both 2004 and 2005 (my mate Martin came second in the 2005 handicap competition) and have very fond memories of this course. Located between the main road to Longniddry and the Kilspindie Golf Club which occupies a sliver of links land beside Aberlady Bay, it is a course that embraces very modern links design, offering many risk/reward opportunities.
Greens are relatively small, undulating, firm and fast – all the attributes to satisfy the most ardent links golf purist! My favourite hole was the downhill, par five 11th which plays towards the Firth of Forth, with the coast of Fife in the distance. A meandering, reed filled ditch winds its way across the fairway in front of the putting surface which appears to be located on its own little island.
There are five very strong par four holes – four of them over 400 yards long – from the 12th to the 16th holes and these could make or break your round. Off the course , there is a large driving range to sharpen up your game before playing and the pro shop is a very modern building in front of a chic clubhouse that appears to have been built within the shell of former, refurbished farm buildings, complete with an open courtyard used by golfers and non golfing locals alike.
Craigielaw has the feeling of a very progressive club where golf is to be enjoyed in relaxing surroundings and it's a very worthy addition to the quality courses located along the East Lothian coastline.