“Gullane Hill, with the sun shining and the wind blowing, the black clouds banked beyond the Forth, and just a glimpse in the distance of the mighty tracery of the Forth Bridge, is one of the most beautiful spots in the world,” wrote Bernard Darwin in an article for Country Life called, On Gullane Hill, which was reprinted in his book, Playing The Like.
Gullane is a small town that lives and breathes golf: there are five superb golf courses in this locality, including the mighty Muirfield. The Gullane No.1 course was laid down in 1884 and is the most senior of a triumvirate of courses at Gullane Golf Club. Records dating back to 1650 show golf being played over these links, though it is unclear who originally designed the No.1 course. Therefore, until we can establish otherwise, we must put it down to Mother Nature.
Gullane is blessed with the most exquisite turf – winter rules are not needed here. If you hit the fairways, a perfect lie awaits, even in the depths of winter. The opening hole, cunningly called “First”, is a relatively gentle short par four. The 2nd hole, called “Windygate”, begins the march up Gullane Hill. The 3rd hole is called “Racecourse”, a short par five which plays along what was once an old 18th century racecourse and it continues to take you onwards and upwards, now at a canter, until you reach the 7th tee and the 200-foot summit of Gullane Hill.
The 360-degree views from the vantage point of the 7th tee are simply breathtaking. In the foreground, all around, are the fluttering flags of Gullane, Muirfield and Luffness New. The Lammermuir Hills lie to the south, while the Firth of Forth wraps up the panorama to the north, west and east. And now, it’s time for the 7th hole and its inviting downhill drive and the scurry home down Gullane Hill.
If you have read up to here and you haven’t yet played Gullane No.1, it will come as no surprise to you that there is the requirement for varied uphill and downhill shot-making. This in itself is quite unusual for a links course and makes Gullane all the more fascinating.
Don’t be misled into thinking that Gullane is a quirky old-fashioned affair; this is a high class golf course, host to many important competitions, including Open Championship Final Qualifying and the 2015 Scottish Open, which Rickie Fowler won by one shot courtesy of a 72nd hole birdie. The 2015 and 2018 Scottish Open (which South Africa's Brandon Stone won after posting a 10 under par final round) utilised a composite course taking sixteen holes from No.1 and two holes from No.2.
To complete the Gullane experience, visit the club’s fascinating museum, put together by past Gullane captain, Archie Baird. Archie is a golf historian and collector who wrote Golf on Gullane Hill.
From Clubhouse to Clubhouse this smacks of class. The course itself was immaculate today. The first may be a soft opening but after that, superb hole after superb hole. The par 3s were all exceptional. Loved this place.
The residents of East Lothian are spoilt rotten! So many world class courses on their doorstep, with Gullane #1 certainly being one of them.
After a straightforward opening par 4, the climb up the second hole lined with high rough is visually quiet daunting, but so impressive. The second is uphill all the way through a narrow enough fairway to a long narrow green. Scorecards are already under siege! With a prevailing wind coming off the nearby Firth, the opening 4 holes are painfully into the wind which adds to the championship test, especially the long par 5 3rd hole which is relentless. The par 3 4th hole plays parallel to the water, and the crosswind doesn’t make it any easier to hold the perched green. The routing up and over Gullane Hill is truly spectacular, and we were blessed beyond words to have a sunny (but windy) day. Holes 5 and 6 bring you up to the summit before the gorgeous downhill 7th brings you back towards the firth with jaw-dropping beauty.
Throughout the back nine, I focused a lot on the placement of the bunkers given how windy it was. As with all classic Links courses, you often wonder why on earth a bunker is located where it is. With a change in wind direction, this golf course and its bunkers take on a whole new personality fraught with danger as is evident on the closing stretch. Without doubt, being up high playing over the hills will make you fall in love with Gullane, and certainly a great venue for any Scottish Open. From a given vantage point you can see glimpses of Muirfield and Renaissance in one direction and Kilspindie and Gullane #2 courses in another direction – just to name but a few. The architecture of Gullane #1 is as impressive as the views, and truly an underrated delight to play.
I don't have much to add but I will say this – the atmosphere when you come to Gullane is clearly a golfer's oasis. In many ways the complex of courses at Gullane reminds me of the totality of the golf experience one gets when at Bethpage on Long Island. Since the facility is open to the public you find a range of people partaking in the myriad of elements provided.
The terrain is what makes #1 so much fun – it's always changing. Predictability is not something one can rely upon when playing the course. The wind can be especially fierce at times but the links does allow for a ground game option so smart players can use the slopes of the land to their benefit if the skills are evident.
The gentle opened belies what you get with the imposing 2nd hole. The fairway tapers down noticeably and the putting surface is a fine one too. The long narrow green requires a deft touch to get one's approach somewhere near the hole.
Unlike other links courses that have gone bonkers with rough that has become insanely high – there's enough wiggle room at #1 so that misses are not eternally banished. Fun golf – not the slog variety – is the storyline. The views of the region are clearly front and center and when blessed with fine weather and a healthy breeze at work the joy of being alive and on the grounds is no less than what Bernard Darwin penned.
Many who venture to East Lothian will be making a pilgrimage to such places as Muirfield, North Berwick and for others Renaissance. But, Gullane #1 is no less an important visit to be savored. Be sure to spend a bit of time at the exquisite golf museum put together by Archie Baird – a real capper to one's time here.
by M. James Ward
I have played a few of the top courses here in the UK and it is not very often you can say 'the course had 18 great holes'. Sunningdale Old and New has a few 'weak' holes as does Swinley and the Old Course has more than it's fair share etc etc yet they are none at Gullane No1. From the moment you venture out of the delightfully old, yet beautifully refurbished, Clubhouse on to the 1st till you walk back in again after sinking that final putt you will not be disappointed. The course has a fantastic mix of short and long holes for the par 3s, 4s and 5s and each one has its challenge. The course starts on the edge of town with a gentle par 4 of some 300 yds that has a kick just like every hole in that the bunkering is just fantastic; all in the right place at the right distance for all levels of player. You then play up through a valley to the top of the hill before playing on the plateau above the sea, before rising up again for great views across Gullane and then down again before the dramatic 17th back down the hill into Gullane and the final hole; another short but extremely well designed 300 yrd hole. Pick of the holes for me were the par 5 12th, par 4 7th and par 3 13th but as I said there was not a weak hole on the course; theses were just my favorites. £120 a round is not bad for the round but add another £25 and you get to play the No2 Course as well which makes for 36 holes of excellent golf and much better VFM. PS the burger in the Clubhouse is to die for.
The No.1 course is relentlessly persistent in producing quality golf holes, one after another. It winds its way up, over and around Gullane Hill creating, as you would expect from the rise and fall in terrain, a variety of holes in the process. The views are truly spectacular, none-more-so than the vista from the 7th tee where taking in the panorama from here will add at least ten minutes to your round!
However, before you get to that point you will have tackled six very different holes. The first is a gentle opener with bunkers rather than length the main defence. You then snake up the second with an angled fairway requiring a draw shot to put you in the perfect spot to find the long, narrow and leaning green. If the well-placed bunkers are avoided at the downhill par-five third you may have the chance to pick up a shot. And that stroke is likely to be required because the short fourth, with a slightly raised green, and the 450 yard uphill par four fifth offers little hope of birdies. The sixth is perhaps the best chance of improving your score at this delightful short par-four perfectly etched across and up the hillside.
From the highest point on the course the descent is rather more sudden than the march to the top.
The course has some truly fantastic views but don't be fooled by the amazing aspect that acts as a backdrop to almost every hole because, as good as it is, the scenery is most definitely a supporting act to the superb golf on offer.
The course doesn't possess the quirks and idiosyncrasies that some links courses muster but that isn't to its detriment. This is true championship links golf.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Excellent course. Wasn’t what I was expecting. Thought it was going to be a slog up and down the hill but this was not the case. Obvious elevation changes but routed beautifully and very few average holes. Maybe the first and the 10th (which is being revamped) are the only mediocre holes. The 2nd is a beautiful hole as are a number of the holes down the other side.
It was a round I didn’t want to end. Played it with some nice West Coast folk. Expect to see a couple of putters on the road to Largs over the next day or two.
Greens were huge and smooth with subtle contours, nothing outrageous. The rough was manageable, penal but likely to find your ball on most holes.
Bunkering is superb, tough and hard to avoid. The little one right in the middle of the fairway collected my nailed drive down the hill (maybe the 8th?) and what I thought may have been a possible eagle putt turned into double bogey. When your ball goes in at speed they tend to sit within an inch or two of the face and that is savage.
Great course that caters for fun and a challenge. Getting close to 6 ball territory but not quite. I may have jumped the gun when I recently ranked Craigielaw 5 balls as well – let’s just say Gullane is a strong one. Warren from Aust
Holes 3-6 are a slow climb to the peak at ‘Queen’s Head’, the spectacular par four 7th. From the tee, you have magnificent views down to Aberlady Bay. To your right is Muirfield. Straight ahead are the rippling fairways of Gullane No. 1 and No.2 courses. Slightly left and further away lies Gullane No.3, Luffness New, Kilspindie and Craigielaw.
Three long holes await you at the turn with 10 and 11 being very tough par fours at 466 yards and 471 yards respectively. The back nine presents a more difficult set of holes and the two par threes, the 13th and 16th, are no exception given their length and bunkering.
Gullane No. 1 is hillier than most Scottish links courses but the holes are not too demanding. The course is beautifully maintained and it is quite a stiff test, especially in the wind. If you can’t get a game at Muirfield, then be assured, this is the next best thing.
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.