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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.
The third is a delightful par three from a high tee heading straight out to the sea. This is not a good place for a bad shot as the green has the old clubhouse on the left and professional shop on the right. The 4th runs along the seashore but from then onwards you play the inland side of the course until the 11th.
Seven has a quaint feel as you dogleg right to the green with a stone wall on the right and the old boat house to the left. Whilst essentially flat, the par five 9th provides for a blind tee shot up a hill from where the views are superb. The drive is made a little more intimidating by the stone wall along the right. Dunbar would not be a happy place for a chronic slicer.
The sea is very much in play for the second shot on the 14th and both shots on the par four 15th. The two finishing holes are each good par fours. Seventeen is not long at 338 yards, but you must hit over a burn with both your drive and approach and the sea runs close by along the right. The 18th runs parallel with the 4th but the two fairways are separated by an internal stone wall which becomes out of bounds if you stray from the 18th to the 4th.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.
Eskimos would hardly venture out to face the sort of snowy scene I found first thing today in Glasgow but intrepid Scottish golfers are made of sterner stuff so two a half hours later and 85 miles away on the east coast, I bowled into Dunbar to find the course bathed in glorious winter sunshine, even if it was a little frosty in places.
Since I last played here, a snaking burn has been introduced on the first hole which I really like but I’m not so sure about the parkland pond to the left of the green - maybe it has always been there? Anyway, it looks totally out of place on what’s meant to be a links course.
I played the first three holes in no time at all then it was time to take on the real seaside challenge on the other side of the big estate wall that runs along the coast. Holes 4 to 8 and 14 to 17 are somehow squeezed into a sliver of land between the wall and the shore and it’s on this compact tract of real estate that you can only marvel at how somebody like Old Tom was able to make the very best use of the limited terrain available to lay out holes that dovetail so well.
The ground at the far end of the course between holes 8 and 13 is more contoured, offering very interesting green sites, the best of which for me is at the 13th, where a couple of new bunkers to the right of the punchbowl green will catch many an approach shot this summer.
A word too about the clubhouse as it’s one of the most homely you could imagine – there’s more than a whiff of Royal West Norfolk or Royal North Devon about here (one of the four ball ahead had a dog on a lead too) so you know it’s an unpretentious place where golfers relax in very informal surroundings.
I just loved being back here today to have the values of traditional Scottish links golf reaffirmed to me once again. And was that the name of fearless golf correspondent John Huggan that I saw on the Past Captain and Club Champion honours boards in the clubhouse?
The first three holes and the last, as have been mentioned, are situated on the inland side of the course with holes 4-17 being perched on a narrow strip of land by the sea no more than a couple of fairways wide. The first couple of holes are understated compared to what lies in store later in the round but are decent enough holes to stand up in their own right. As they lie parallel to each other, with the 18th to the left there is a chance to open with the driver right from the off at Dunbar without fear of losing a ball. A small pond to the left of the 1st green has recently been built (to eradicate drainage problems I understand) and a burn runs infront of the putting surface and adds an extra element of difficulty to the opener. The 2nd is a pretty straight par 5 of just under 500 yards which takes the golfer back towards the pro shop and on to the challenging par three 3rd. The tee on the third, "Jackson's Pennies", is built into the hill and lies 152 yards from the well protected, undulating green, with the lovely backdrop of the Firth of Forth in the distance over the other side of the wall separating the opening and closing holes from the rest of the course.
Once the golfer steps through the wall to the 4th tee the course really comes alive and the views of the rocky coastline are a sight to behold. The 4th slightly bends to the left towards the sea and is a good hole to get the juices flowing on the seaside section of the course. A shortish par three follows before care must be taken on the 6th not to push the ball over the wall on the right which is a constant companion throughout the front nine. That wall (again!) blocks the view of the green on the tee shot of the 7th hole where the corner can be cut slightly to offer an easier approach to the sloping green. The 8th is another good hole with an uphill elevation change from tee to green before a blind tee shot to a rumpled fairway on the par 5 9th is followed by a second from well above the green making the chance of getting near to the green in regulation a real possibility.
The back nine begins with a long par three and although the quarry to the right is a bit of an eyesore it is easy enough to overlook this by taking a turn to the left and once again enjoying the great views of the choppy sea. The golfer is brought ever closer to the water on the next two tee shots with the tee boxes at the 11th and 12th being right next to the craggy rocks at the shore. The 12th was without a doubt my favourite hole on the course, a 445 yard slightly left to right par 4, with nothing but the Firth of Forth visible beyond the flag from the fairway. The hole is made doubly diffucult by the fact that anything right will end up wet - challenging indeed. The 13th, a shortish par 4 with a bathtub green, was a fun hole and incidently was the only one I had with the wind at my back coming home. 14 was another good hole, doglegging to the the left towards the stone shed adjacent to the 7th green. 15 and 16 are compact holes and fit in well with the rest of the course - the par 3 16th was particularly tough with a cross-wind to negotiate although my mishit shot somehow managed to trickle onto the green. Two streams from the sea disect the 17th hole, in what is the last of the scenic holes on the sea side of the wall, and the front of the green is protected by two well positioned bunkers. The wall comes into play one last time on the 18th, with anything sliced going OB over the wall. At 421 yards and heading back towards where the round began "Hame" is a difficult closing hole and par is well earned here before enjoying a beverage in the charming old clubhouse.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my round at Dunbar even in the miserable weather however none of that mattered given the quality of the course and the fantastic views during the round. Dunbar is a magnificent example of links golf as it was meant to be played and definitely should be on any golfers' itinerary when visiting East Lothian. DM