“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.
I played the course in early 2003 (having previously played the no.2 course some time before and since played the no.3 course). I could not get my head round the idea of a top 20 Scottish links course rising and falling so high up Gullane hill – aren't links meant to be relatively flat beside the shore?
For all that, it was a very enjoyable experience with the expected high quality of (true links quality) fast greens and an abundance of newly riveted bunkers throughout. No, I did not go into the members clubhouse as we already knew the virtues of the visitors clubhouse and yes, I too am one of those who feel that the no.1 course is overpriced and not as good as no.2. No inverted snobbery here, just my honest opinion at the time and I am glad to since find out that others feel the same.