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0.5 mile E of Dunbar
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The North Sea coastal town of Dunbar is steeped in history, its ancient ruined castle stands guard over the town’s twin harbours. Golf has been played in and around Dunbar since the early part of the 17th century, but the Dunbar Golf Club wasn’t formed until 1856 when a rudimentary fifteen-hole course was laid out and the course was later extended to eighteen holes.
The course is laid out on a narrow strip of land with the best holes hugging the rocky coastline affording resplendent views across the North Sea to Bass Rock, a huge volcanic lump rising up out of the water.
The first two holes at Dunbar play up and down the old deer park and they are flat, ordinary and park-like. The 2nd green was once a shelter where the deer were fed. The 3rd has an interesting story to tell, a par three called “Jackson’s Pennies”. Mr Jackson was a retired local businessman and in the 1920s he used to sit behind the green and award a penny, a king’s ransom in those days, to those who played the hole well. At the 4th, a lovely par four called “Shore”, Dunbar begins to play like a classic links course, the views open up and the wind becomes a more prominent factor. The next thirteen holes are wedged between the coastline and a fine-looking old stonewall where out-of-bounds threatens beyond. The finishing hole, aptly called “Hame”, plays back to the clubhouse across the old deer park.
Dunbar East Links is a relatively short course, measuring 6,597 yards from the medal tees, but the wind generally makes the round thoroughly challenging and immensely entertaining. There is so much history to be absorbed in the East Lothian and a visit to Dunbar will help to complete the lesson.
Dunbar runs out and back along a narrow strip of links land alongside the coast, bordered by a deer park. In places, the distance between the coast and the deer park wall is not much more than the width of a green. It really is squeezed into a space where you could not imagine fitting an 18 hole championship course.
The opening 3 holes and the 18th are set in a field on the inland side of the wall. They are fairly uninspiring. But then you sneak through a gap in the wall on to the coastal side and a stunning links awaits you. You head out along the coast, and play parallel to the sea and the wall. That wall is a little too close for comfort on holes 6-10, an ever present OOB to catch the slightest miss right, easy with the wind off the left. Some of the holes are pretty narrow, especially 7, so you have no choice but to flirt with the wall.
Turning for home, and into the breeze, it's the rocky beach which now poses a constant threat down the right hand side. It's a real test of your nerve if you're fighting a slice. Overall, this is a proper challenging course, but it is a bit too narrow, given the potential effect of the wind. OOB in play on almost every hole reduces the fun.
I'll score it 5 balls for the links holes, but minus half a ball for the 4 holes in a field near the clubhouse.
Don’t ever agree to meet up with a girlfriend from your past. This rather aptly sums up Dunbar. On my first time playing the old links for around three years, on a trip taking in North Berwick, Luffness, Gullane 1 and Archerfield I’m sorry to report that all wasn’t well with the old girl; she’d certainly seen better days and most definitely needed to take herself in hand.
The course layout hadn’t changed; that wasn’t necessarily the issue but the condition was exceptionally poor. The green fee for a round was pushing £100 and was at least 100% overpriced. The fairways were patchy, the rough was chocked full of weeds and the greens running 7, at best, were woolly, slow and appeared not to have been cut in days. Most of the teeing grounds were surrounded by tatty, neglected walkways with weeds and neglect clear for all to see.
It’s a course that I’d enjoyed a number of times before but there’s clearly something badly amiss with the management and greens team. I felt sorry for my friends with whom I’d travelled and briefed on our journey across from Ayrshire. Thankfully we moved on, over the subsequent days of the trip, to find North Berwick and Luffness both in stunning condition.
I doubt I’ll be back to meet up with the old girl at Dunbar: best to keep happy memories from the past than to try and rekindle a faded and lost love.
The opening 2 holes at Dunbar are like queuing on the street waiting to get into a favourite pub. Not that much to see from outside, yet you stand in line. Hole 3 sees the queue reach the doorway and you get a glimpse of what’s inside. You catch a girl’s eye. No wait, she was looking at someone else. Are you starting to get cold? Then hole 4 finally sees you inside.
You now have a fine old time drinking it all in for the following 2.5 hours (albeit wondering when a round at your local became so expensive). Your old elemental mates Earth, Air, & Water are here. Fire seems to be running late. There’s decent beer, and even an old Jukebox. Work is a faded memory. Choosing this bar is like many others you could have dun, but it has what you need. Time flies and you have some nice stories to tell/secrets to keep. You then reach the back 9 of the evening and things really get going. The pulse quickens as Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys starts up.
But just when you think you’re playing your cards right with that girl who in fact was looking at you after all, the tee box of the 18th hole signals closing time and this bouncer unceremoniously tosses you out onto the street. Not the way you wanted the night to end, but you’ve had worse evenings and you’ll do it all again. Off to the 19th hole then to find a kebab. If you’re ever near Dunbar, you should definitely pop into for a pint or two
The competition for quality golf is quite high in the East Lothian section. Dunbar is a worthy course for the broader masses to play. The layout is a links but the overall challenge is more akin to "links lite." It is not overdone with rough and therefore getting around is not severely impacted with the constant search and find time spent looking for errant shots in the high grass or gorse infested locations.
The first three holes are rather formulaic -- things do get interesting with the par-4 3rd as it s hugs the Firth of Forth coastline. It would have been a better hole if the bunkers down the right side were angled closer to the fairway's center in conjunction with a more tapered landing zone keeping better players honest before opting to launch with abandon from the tee.
The remaining holes on the outward side are decent -- with the par-4 6th and 7th a cut above.
The strength of the course comes when you make the turn. Holes 10-14 clearly accelerates the interest meter. The trio of par-4s starting at the 11th is quite rigorous and when the wind is whipping up -- which is a likely daily encounter -- you will have your hands full to keep all in working order with one's swing and game.
The strip of land that serves as an alleyway connector is quite narrow, but it works well in terms of keeping the intersection of land and water a constant visual presence.
The ending par-4 is rather lengthy but occupies land that's hardly noteworthy. A repositioning of bunkers -- both in the drive zone and greenside would add a good bit more in closing out the round.
There's no question much of the golf experience centers around the velocity of the wind encountered. With little wind, the course, like many links layouts, is susceptible to lower scores. With 3-4 club wind -- or even more -- the nature of the holes clearly intensifies. Overall, Dunbar reminded me of Northern Ireland's Ardglass. An appropriate challenge but one that the broader masses of golfers can secure a good deal of fun when playing without being overwhelmed. For architectural connoisseurs the time spent here will be one wishing how the experience could have been a good deal more intoxicating. The East Lothian area certainly provides an elastic mixture of course offerings and Dunbar certainly merits a visit with clear understandings on what the golf experience will entail.
Unrelated to the architecture -- the staff and overall hospitality provided is certainly top shelf. And to be clear -- I do not see my terminology of "links lite" as a perjorative. I believe Dunbar provides sufficient challenge for the broader base of players. Those who are deep dive architectural blood mounds need to apply their scent elsewhere.
M. James Ward
Part of ‘Scotlands Golf Coast’ just south of North Berwick, Dunbar is in general an out then in links layout, but 1-3 and the closing hole is played in a separate paddock. Opening with back to back par 5s, it ensures the player has to make decisions from the start of their round. A short par 3 follows, hitting towards the sea, and is very photogenic. The player is then treated to holes right on the sea, that bare similarity to some of the holes at Kingsbarns across the Firth of Forth. These holes are bordered on the other side of the land by an old estate wall- the 7th being a good example of a hole that’s played adjacent to this. The 12th and 15th are on the other side, right next to the water. This was an introduction to links golf for the author, something it does a fair job at, but in this particular corner of the world, there is a lot of competition!
I first played Dunbar in September, 1995 and thought it was just okay. A summary of my notes at that time follows:
"Goes way out and back. Closest you will play to the water. Very flat. A wonderful experience. Weak hazards and greens. This could be made into an outstanding golf course with better greens and some more yardage. Beginning holes are dull as is the 18th."
I had heard Dunbar got a new superintendent so I went back in August, 2019. The only real change to the golf course is the greens have much improved and are on par with the courses surrounding it. The course added 120 yards since 1995, but obviously technology has improved more than the 120 yards so I felt the course felt the same.
The starting back-to-back par fives are still relatively boring with chances at birdie on both holes unless the wind is really howling.
The third hole is a delightful, hitting downhill back at the clubhouse and well bunkered. Then you cross through the wall and play another delightful hole, a short par four.
The next four holes are not the strength of the course even though the par three is cute and beginning at six you play along the wall for the next five holes. I wish one could play along the wall at least one more hole because it is unique. The holes are relatively simple, just don't hit one's tee shot right out of bounds.
Then comes four very good golf holes, a longer par five, a longer par 3 and back to back long par 4's alongside the water. These four are terrific golf holes with good bunkering throughout and lovely greens.
As much as I liked those four holes, I liked 13 even more due to the sunken green. I just wish this hole was on the water as it would be superb: but then maybe one wouldn't be able to build that type of green so close to the water.
14 has a great view and is a longer par four. Again, this is a very good golf hole. It is well bunkered again.
15 is another strong hole, again well bunkered on the right off the tee and playing alongside the water again. This is one of the holes, however, that I wish was another 30 yards longer.
16 and 17 are again playing alongside the water as a par 3 and and par 4. I liked how 16 feels a bit pinched in for your tee shot and how one has to consider the burn and bunkers on 17.
So, in essence it is an excellent stretch of holes between 9 and 17.
For the 18th, you cross back through the wall. It is a longer par 4 that has good fairway bunkers and out of bounds right due to the wall. While normally one might think this is a good hole, because you have played the 14 holes with water views, sometimes with the water next to you, this hole seems a bit of a let down.
I know there is a category of "hidden gems." I could certainly consider this golf course to be one of them. While I doubt I play it every time I go to Scotland as there are other better courses to play nearby it is one that I recommend people do play at least once and hopefully twice.
The members can be dully proud of this golf course. Obviously a better clubhouse would enhance the experience but all one needs is a chair anyway to have a pint.
Situated on a tight piece of land beginning in town and running along the ocean, Dunbar is a classic links. The card is quirky, beginning with back to back par fives and a third to finish the front nine. The back has no par fives. I found the back nine played harder and the fairways were more narrow. The course is sort-of an out and back layout although the first five holes cluster around the clubhouse and you play holes 6-10 out toward the end of the property and return back in the opposite wind direction for 11, 12, 14, 15, and 17 with a couple of relief holes going perpendicular to the water (thankfully, because playing too many consecutive holes in the wind stresses the golf swing). The flags were bending on the day I played so the 6,400 yards were more than long enough to provide a real challenge. In shades of North Berwick, there are walls running along several holes on the course, although mostly along the perimeter and they are taller than those at North Berwick. I liked the 6th hole, the number one handicap, named “Broxburn” after the wall which runs down the entire right hand side of the hole. High slices result in balls sailing over the wall never to be seen again. The 377 yard par 4 13th hole, named “Pot” was my favorite with a sunken bathtub style green. Dunbar is a classic links course with a lot of character.
I played Dunbar on my way back from playing St Andrews Old and Castle courses and so I had been spoiled somewhat ahead of arriving at this course which is sandwiched between the sea and land on a thin parcel of links. An old fashioned club house (a new one is in plan to be built) and limited nearby chipping and putting area meant you were under whelmed on arrival. The course is a nice course. The 1st 3 holes and 18th are played on a piece of land sat behind a high red wall and I found all those holes rather dull and un interesting. When you go through the wall onto the 4th, then you get the views as you play out to the 9th before turning and heading home. With sea in full view this is a pleasant set of holes. I agree with other reviewers in that some holes are tightly fitted into the land available but overall an enjoyable round. The power station in the distance as you head to the turn does spoil the view (bit like Seascale in Cumbria). Rather pricey I felt but an enjoyable game to have as part of a golf trip in Scotland.
I visited Dunbar for an Open competition. Having played the majority of the courses in East Lothian, I thought I had played the best around in Muirfield, North Berwick and Gullane. I would happily place Dunbar in the same category as these courses. A wonderfully fun course with some great stretches of golf as close to the beach as you will ever get. There are some tight fairways and deep bunkers to negotiate. However, hitting some long irons into perfect greens with the water lurking all around will provide a stern test for all levels of golfer. Very much worth the effort and I will be looking forwards to next years competitions.
Dunbar is one of the less fashionable clubs along East Lothian’s “Golf Coast” with the likes of Muirfield and Gullane receiving the bulk of the attention. But the rocky coastline along which Dunbar is laid out makes excellent ground for a links course where an array of holes are played right along the coast, hence the self-proclaimed title, “The Pebble Beach of Scotland”. Despite that boast, the club itself is modest with a scruffy clubhouse interior where an update would do no harm, so visitors shouldn’t go expecting the Muirfield or Kingsbarns treatment as this is a real members’ club.
There’s a homely feel to an arrival at Dunbar and a warm reception from the team within the pro-shop instantly made us feel welcome. My feelings about the course are mixed however, it’s a lovely setting to play golf and worth a visit if you’re in the region but the opening two holes and the closing 18th, set on the other side of the wall that lines the course are a little non-descript. Outside of this inland patch however, there are some excellent holes once you pass through the long red-brick wall. The blind par five 9th is a delightful surprise to the senses as the views open up after you’ve climbed to the summit of the hill to then be greeted with a panoramic view towards the lighthouse in the distance on one side and the more industrial outlook of the nuclear power station on the other. The 12th is another wonderfully picturesque hole that curves along the shape of the rocky coast featuring a green that juts out into the sea. The green complex at the following par four 13th with a partially hidden but magnificent punchbowl green is also a standout highlight of the course.
Whilst there’s much to enjoy, my main issue with Dunbar is that parts of the course just have the feeling of being shoe-horned in. Sometimes potential greatness is lost from courses for the need for this to be an eighteen-hole game. Dunbar could have been an all-world twelve or thirteen holer, but it’s a course that’s been limited by its boundaries. There are three or four holes, the 6th and 17th immediately springing to mind where the course is at its narrowest, where the holes feel jammed in amongst its narrowing perimeter.
All in all, a nice addition to an East Lothian itinerary, but due to it being a mixed bag, I think Dunbar is fortunate to rank as highly as it does amongst Scotland’s Top 100.