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 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.
The Links at Dunbar is a hidden gem, over shadowed by its near neighbours it should really get more credit than it does. The opening three holes are a soft start, with two shortish par 5's, away and back to the pro shop. Followed by a neat par 3 from an elevated tee. Once complete I can see many golfers feeling smug with their opening three holes, however, it is from here the course becomes a classic links. You cross through the boundary wall and hit from the 4th tee, which is wonderfully exposed on the edge of the rocky beach. The course then makes it away out, along the coast from the 4th to the back end of the course with the 10th being the last outward hole and the 11th being the first to head back along the coast. The 12 hole is a really great par 4, a difficult drive, with a tight fairway, setting you up for a great second into a green that feels like it is on the edge of the land mass. Indeed the day we played surfers were behind the green coming in on big rollers. I played in March 2019 and the course was in great condition, I would even say the greens were outstanding for any of time of year. If you are ever in the nations capital to play golf, then you can do a lot worse than play here, make the trip!
Dunbar is a proper Scottish links course. Recommend a visit if you’ve not been and like that sort of Golf. The holes go out from the clubhouse and then later they come back in and playing a few along the water on the back nine was my favourite bit. Even had a shot from the beach although cheated to give myself a good lie! Remember thinking it would be better off starting at the 4th hole?!? and am used to wider fairways so was cramped in places if you spray it like I did before I had my lessons. A fairly easy walk though which is what I prefer. Not got many golfing years left but would go back up there if it wasn’t so far away! Actually played there a few years ago now so above memory not perfect but sure it’s pretty much the same. One word of warning : even then it was pretty pricey at about 50 pounds god knows what it is now tried to use my county card but they wouldn’t have any of it! Friendly staff in the clubhouse & proshop though, and the food was nice and good value too. Cyril
As I was in Edinburgh to work at the Festival I managed to have a day off to play Golf. I chose the Dunbar Golf Club because it looked beautiful on the sea and because it's close to a direct train station from Edinburgh! I must say that I have no regrets!!!! the course is a beautiful links just as I was hopping and I had a wonderful time just by my self along the sea... I think Dunbar is a great place to go if you are visiting Scotland and want to have a taste of traditional golf links... I just look forward to being back there !!!!!!
Look out, here comes Dunbar. Always a fun classic links. Dunbar has some of the best conditioning in the UK and is improving dramatically every year. This course is one of the great stories over the past couple years. I enjoy it more every time I play here.
One and two are a plain start, but from there on it is a wonderful and fun links.
As more people play the Dunbar this year the ranking will go up.
Wonderful fun course. I am very fortunate and spend a lot of time in East Lothian. Dunbar is good historic and now very well conditioned. Over the last two years the course has become one of the best conditioned links courses in Scotland.
From the third hole on this is great fun and a good challenge. The wind is almost always a factor but makes this course a solid challenge.
The clubhouse is a step back in time, OLD SCHOOL with good food and service. Be sure not to miss a post round pint, the clubhouse will not be with us much longer.
As previously mentioned the first 3 holes and the 18th are played on the slightly interior land. I say interior but to me not inferior. I thought the massive dune running down the length of the par 5 2nd gave this part of the course great character as does the 3rd tee set in the dune.
The holes on the other side of the wall are a bit of a squabble for the first few. 6/17 more or less share a fairway, especially in windy conditions as does 7/15. Reminded me of RWNGC opening holes.
The course is a beauty. It gets better and better. The 9th hole requires a blind tee shot to the top of the plateau. The marker post is smack in the middle of the fairway but if you want to aim up to 60 yards to the left you are safe as there is that much fairway before you hit the gorse. Even then the gorse runs out so if you give it a long draw chances are you’ll be OK. If you hit to the right of the post you’ll be OK but down the side of the plateau and probably not the ideal shot in.
The entrance to the 13th green is quintessential links golf. The green is set way down and as long as you can avoid the bunkers and get your 2nd shot up on top of the plateau it should run down to the green (or the sneaky green side bunker to the left).
Having the wind at my back in the stretch home shortened a few of the holes to drive, wedge and as the rough was cut to a holiday friendly level you could afford to have a crack.
It may not be a course full of dunes but it has undulations throughout it and some great elevation changes. A remarkable piece of architecture to get 18 interesting holes into this narrow strip of land. Warren from Aust
I've played Dunbar many times over the years during visits to East Lothian and had a chance to play it again last week. The course condition has improved a great deal over the past 18 months (new head greenkeeper apparently). The layout remains unaltered despite talk of a housing development though hearing the moans of some members in the bar afterwards seemed to confirm that this seems unlikely to happen - it seems that the layout will change if this building happens. Until that occurs, it's the same start to the round with the opening two holes as par 5s followed by a challenging short par 3 at the 3rd where nine bunkers surround the green. I always feel happy to make par there. The 5th remains a weak hole as it's squeezed in almost as an after thought as does the 8th although the change in elevation does help. For me things come alive when the 11th is tackled, usually into a westerly wind as it was again two days ago. The 12th remains a favourite out to the point in a northerly direction and then after the 13th with it's wickedly sloping green it's a straight run for home into the westerly with the 14th and 17th being good holes offering distinctly different challenges. A good course for sure. I was going to give it 4 stars but there was a poor welcome offered in the pro shop - over the past few years I've seldom visited Dunbar and been welcomed by the same staff in the shop. There seem to be some issues around the club listening to the moans of members which is a shame and the rapid turnover of assistant pros doesn't help matters. It's a good course and worth playing especially since the course condition has improved markedly but for me it sits a rung down from the great East Lothian courses like Luffness New, Gullane 1 and North Berwick. Oh, one final point; too many visitors made for a very slow round too.
Golf doesn't get any closer to the North Sea than at Dunbar. In fact it's even possible to play from the rocky beach on at least one of the holes... as I found out!
The suspenseful drive down the narrow lane to the clubhouse really whets your appetite for coastal golf.
This narrow strip of links-land takes a few holes to warm-up but once it does you will experience some thrilling and demanding shots.
With so many excellent courses to choose from when visiting East Lothian this is a course that should be close to the top of your list.
It's a unique but exciting layout and is different to many other types of links golf. The back-nine provides thrill-a-minute golf.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Why do we not play Dunbar every time we are in the region? The usual reason is that someone wants to play North Berwick and/or Muirfield. Sounds familiar? I am not going to tell you to drop any of these two icons for Dunbar if you can fit them into both your itinerary and your budget. However, in most cases that is not the case. Here are a couple of points to consider. They may be reasons to pick Dunbar, or to avoid it, depending on your preferences.
First, it has a quiet start, a fact which causes some reviewers to mark it down. To me, it is a virtue. Who wants to start the round by being savaged or ridiculed? As the design nerds among you know, I have Harry Colt on my side of that argument! There are plenty of difficulties later on in the round. My view of the course would be very different if it started with the 7th...
Second, it is a classic out-and-back layout on a narrow strip of land with the sea on one side and a high wall on the other. The stakes are clear, do not miss right... Even if that is not your exact idea of fun, you should still consider Dunbar for variation as Muirfield and Gullane are very different layouts.
Finally, whether you love it or just like it, Dunbar is accessible. They take visitors morning and afternoon, weekdays and week-ends, so you can often play 36 in a day, which I personally appreciate. Together with the tightening of visitor access to Gullane No. 1, this helped Dunbar onto our itinerary last time after we had left it out so many times. We loved the course and it will very likely feature next time as well.