The financial community of Edinburgh established the first club at Duddingston, called the Insurance & Banking Golf Club, in 1895. The estate on which they played was owned by the Duke of Abercorn and situated beneath the backdrop of Arthur’s Seat - the 800-foot high extinct volcano that dominates the eastern flank of the city – and this remains the location of the modern course played by members of Duddingston Golf Club.
Designed by Willie Park Junior, Duddingston was altered in the 1960s by John Shade and Bill Biggar and now measures 6,525 yards, following the extension of several holes. This gently undulating, tree-lined course – Duddingston in Gaelic translates as “sunny side of the hill” – is a fine test of golf with the Braid burn presenting itself as a hazard to golfers on a number of holes as it winds its way through the estate.
The course is built on land that was part of a deer estate with many links to Scotland’s history. For instance, in 1745, before the Battle of Prestonpans, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s men were said to have camped on adjacent land known nowadays as Cavalry Park.
Duddingston is well respected in the Lothians as one of the best in the county with a run of demanding par fours from the 11th to the 13th holes. The most difficult hole on the card is “Woodlands” the 443- yard 11th where two fine shots are needed to reach a green that is at least one club further than it seems.
The signature hole is the 426-yard 13th called “Temple” – named after the monument built by the Duke of Abercorn that stands beside the hole – where the tee shot must be well positioned to allow an accurate second shot any chance of reaching a green where the ground drops toward three bunkers on the left of the putting surface.
Former club professional John Shade's son, Ronnie, has the last hole at Duddingston named after his initials - RDBM (colloquially translated as “right down the bloody middle”) – and it is fitting that the most famous of Duddingston's members is remembered for posterity. Ronnie was one of Scotland’s finest ever amateur golfers, competing for Scotland from 1957 to 1968, playing in four Walker Cups between 1961 and 1967 and winning the Scottish Amateur title five years in a row from 1963 to 1967.
Holes three and four run parallel to each other with the former being a straightish par four of just under 400 yards and the latter being a 464 yard par five where a decision must be made whether to try to carry the burn or to lay up in order to reach the raised green which falls off every side. The 5th is a a short par 5 which should leave a short iron into the green which is just as well due to the severely sloping putting surface and any approach must be to the right side to avoid a slippery downhill putt. Hole six is the toughest one shotter on the course with a large bunker directly in front of the green and the winding burn up the whole right hand side of the hole. The next hole is pretty straight and is flanked by trees on both sides; the green is relatively large and flat and is protected by a two bunkers on either side. The hole is usually played into the wind which only adds to its 370 yards however the green is offered some shelter by the large trees behind it. A blind tee shot must be fired over the hill on the 8th hole and should come to rest before the burn which is around 270 yards from the tee area. The second part of the hole veers to the right and the back to front sloping green is surrounded by bunkers from 100 yards and in.
My favourite hole on the front nine is the ninth - at only 303 yards it isn't the longest but it helps to have played here before when teeing off as a blind dip before the green runs towards the dreaded burn. The green falls away on the right hand side and anything through the back leaves a tough up and down so an accurate flick with a short iron is needed here. The back nine starts with a 172 yard par three from an elevated tee and the green is protected by six deep bunkers so it's best to be either just short or straight through the back of the green here to avoid the trouble. The next three holes are Duddington's version of Amen Corner and are, in my opinion, by far the toughest holes on the course. The 11th, stroke index one, is listed as being 421 yards but plays a lot longer when out on the course. The tee shot must be long and straight over the burn to have any chance of hitting the green in regulation. Even with a good drive the elevation change from fairway to green makes the approach shot very tough. Next up is a near 500 yard par four which is all uphill from the middle of the fairway and again the drive must be launched straight to have a chance of posting a good score here due to the cluster of bunkers on the left and trees on the right. All in all, a very imposing hole offering scenic views of the famous Arthur's Seat in the backdrop - terrific hole. Thirteen is another monster of a hole, shaping left to right it is vitally important to keep to the left to avoid being blocked out by the trees. The slope to the left of the green falls steeply so any approach should be aimed towards the Temple which sits to the right of the green. Anyone scoring even a couple over par on these holes can count themselves a pretty capable player in my book.
If holes 11 to 13 are tough, then 14 and 15 give the golfer a chance to claw back a couple of shots and are enjoyable holes. Another elevated tee awaits at the 140 yard 14th but any tee shot must cut through the wind, if there is any, and safely float over the burn and onto the putting surface. The wind is definitely a factor here and I've seen myself hit anything between a 6 iron and a wedge on this hole. The 15th is a short par four and takes a 45 degree turn to the right from the middle of the fairway to the green and is a good birdie chance as long as the approach doesn't fly through the green, which again slopes down and away from the pin. The 16th is another difficult hole; straight for the most part, the fairway drops down to a slight valley meaning that the green cannot be seen when threading the approach between two large trees that frame the green. Another hole that plays longer than it looks. As the golfer heads for home the sub 500 yard par five 17th swings to the left and a couple of solid strikes should put the golfer in a decent position to make par at least as other than the three greenside bunkers there isn't too much danger on this hole.
The home hole brings the golfer towards the clubhouse and the further the blind drive is knocked over the brow of the hill the shorter club will be required into the green, only after one last encounter with the burn, of course, which lies across the front of the green. The green is large on the final hole but bunkers surround the putting surface to catch any wayward second shots.
Duddingston is a very good course and the modern clubhouse and practice facilities only add to the experience of the playing at this club. Other than at the back of the ninth tee, the course has a secluded feel to it and you wouldn't think that you were just 5-10 minutes away from the centre of Edinburgh when playing here. Duddingston lays claim to being the finest parkland course in the Lothians and I have to say that it certainly is the best that I have played in the region. I think the course is well balanced although the front nine is defintely the place to make a score due to the difficulty of the back side. Overall, a fine parkland course and, despite being a member, the fact that I never tire of playing here is a true testament to the quality of the track at Duddingston. DM