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.
In 1894, Old Tom Morris was called in to alter and to further extend the course. Extra land, part of the ancient deer park of Broxmouth estate was acquired at the turn of the 20th century and four new holes were built. Finally, in 1923, Ben Sayers and James Braid were called in to advise on bunkers, resulting in the installation of sixty-one new sand traps.
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.
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In 1835, aged fourteen, Old Tom Morris worked in Allan Robertson's St Andrews workshop making golf balls and clubs. It’s said they were never beaten in a challenge match when paired together.