Circumstantial evidence of Burgess golfers playing over the 6-hole Bruntsfield Links near Edinburgh Castle dates back to 1735, strongly supporting their claim to be the world’s oldest recognised golf club with a continuous history.
Because of the short playing season at the old Bruntsfield course, the society moved to Musselburgh in 1874 where they could play all year round on the 9-hole Old Course with members of The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society and Royal Musselburgh Golf Club.
Not surprisingly, this arrangement did not last long due to the congestion on the course and one by one, they all moved on to pastures new – HCEG to Muirfield in 1891, Burgess and Bruntsfield to Barnton in 1895 and 1897, Royal Musselburgh to Prestonpans in 1925.
Old Tom Morris gave his approval for the site selected to the north west of Edinburgh, offering his opinion that “the turf was so good that there would be no need to lay greens.” Willie Park Junior is credited with early architectural influence then James Braid extended the layout in 1923, when an additional 7.5 acres of land were acquired. Philip Mackenzie Ross is attributed with the restoration of the course after World War II, bringing fairways that had been turned over to agricultural use during hostilities back into play.
Barnton is one of the premier parkland courses in Scotland, maintained to a very high standard. The club takes great pride in the presentation of the course and visitors can always expect an enjoyable round of golf played on lush and manicured fairways so close to Scotland’s capital city centre.
Many consider the signature hole to be the longest par four on the course, the 465-yard 4th hole. The tee shot must avoid bunkers down the left and out of bounds down the right. The approach to the hole has the protection of tall trees on either side of a fairway that narrows as it reaches the green – not many golfers will have the luxury of two putts for par on this hole!
Known as the Royal Burgess Golfing Society of Edinburgh since 1929, the club proudly takes its role in the history and tradition of golf very seriously and displays of golfing memorabilia in their grand old clubhouse are well worth a view after a round on the course.
In the not too distant future The Royal Burgess Golfing Society at Barnton on the outskirts of Edinburgh will celebrate its tercentenary.
Just let that sink in for a moment. In 2035 this historically consequential golf club will become the first in the world to turn 300-years old!
As you might expect, days-of-yore exude from every nook and crevasse in the clubhouse which is an outstanding example of ‘Arts and Crafts’ architecture from the late Victorian period combining glorious period detail with contemporary comfort. Inside it is adorned with golfing memorabilia and an abundance of priceless silverware. However, this is also a club moving with the times and a recent £1m refurbishment has made it the envy of many a golf club in the area and beyond. It’s a building the membership must be extremely proud of.
As previously mentioned the society was instituted in 1735 with evidence of golf played at Bruntsfield Links before moving to the links at Musselburgh in the 1870s – sharing it then with the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society and Royal Musselburgh Golf Club. Inevitably overcrowding ensued and each organisation went their separate ways with Burgess purchasing their present site in 1895.
Old Tom Morris surveyed the proposed site but it was Willie Park Jnr who is credited with designing the actual course before James Braid made significant revisions in 1925. Only minor tweaks have been made since.
The view from the upstairs balcony, with an inviting view down the first and third fairways, whets the appetite for the current-day course which is a gently rolling parkland layout played over fine turf. It’s a much uncluttered affair with minimal rough and clean bunkering throughout. The Club are currently in the process of renovating their sand traps; the ones they have done thus far have increased their visibility and added to the options that the course presents.
There is plenty of strategy throughout with some really well-placed fairway bunkers and sloping greens. The par-71 layout (from the back ‘red’ tees) is a fair test and rarely will a good shot be punished.
The unmanned ‘honesty’ halfway house is also a wonderful experience; a steaming pot of soup and an oven with a selection of warm pies are just two of the highlights here where you simply help yourself and pay for what you’ve had in the bar after the round.
The regular rumble of planes arriving at and departing from Edinburgh airport reminds you of the proximity to the city centre. For any overseas visitor heading to East Lothian for a links-fest this location would make it a convenient course to play on the first or last day of a golf trip and will offer something slightly different.
Scotland is not well known for high quality parkland golf but here at Royal Burgess we have an exception to that rule. Of course it would be difficult to recommend it above the plethora of top-notch links courses in this part of the country but for somebody who loves his golf by the sea it made a pleasing and refreshing change of pace.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Lovely area and family have a house in crammond area so played here and ok golf course nothing spectaculor, greens and tees were decent nic. But my word was it slow and very stuffy unfriendly club, will not go back and will only play friendly clubs likes archerfield in future. Royal burgess club is stuck in 17th century and it holds itself back due to this.
This review brings to mind my visit 3-4 years ago. Upon walking up the path towards the clubhouse, our path was blocked by a very old male member who addressed our group of 14 strapping Dutchmen and me with a relatively unfriendly “What are you doing here”?
After confirming we were there to, er, play Golf, he stopped and paused, before proclaiming “well then welcome to civilization”, before walking off without another word. It was pure Fast Show/Little Britain/ PG Wodehouse, and we loved our visit all the more for it
I can’t believe it’s just over nine years since I last played at Royal Burgess, having returned today to compete in the club’s Gents Open. If parkland golf is your game of choice then this 18-hole layout should be right up your street, with course conditioning of a very high standard and every hole immaculately maintained from tee to green.
There are no really outstanding holes on the course, just a solid series of good holes that keep you engaged all the way round. Fairways are beautifully routed around the property, with the only awkward walk from the 14th green to the 15th tee, when you have to walk a hundred yards back to play the next hole.
The long par four 4th was my favourite hole on the front nine, the fairway narrowing as it bends right and up towards a raised green that slopes sharply from back to front. On the back nine, the 11th is another terrific par four hole, dipping right and down to the green, followed by the heavily sand-protected short par four 12th.
Three of the four par three holes on the card (at 6, 8 and 13) are excellent short holes but I’m not a fan of the long par three closing hole on 18 (244 yards off the back tees) which is 100 yards longer than a “proper” one shot hole ever should be, in my book.
Overall, the greens were in wonderful shape, making putting a real pleasure, but it was the quality of the fairway and greenside bunkering that really caught my eye – each and every one looked as if it has just been newly edged and raked, such was the level of maintenance that obviously keeps them in fabulous order.
Bruntsfield Links, located adjacent to Royal Burgess, is currently being upgraded and it’s only natural that a club of its historical importance should want to keep its house in order. I can also understand why, if keeping up with the neighbours is deemed to be important, it should be trying hard to match the quality of the golfing product that’s on display next door…
After numerous abortive attempts to play this course we were granted an opportunity to play in June 08 My expectation of the place was that it would be fairly stuffy and you would have to watch your p’s and q’s. However, nothing could have been further from the truth. On going to pay the greenfees, I tried to buy a strokesaver for the course. I was charmingly told that Burgess didn’t do such a thing, as the members felt that it would make the course too easy !! This set the tone for the day, whimsical charm which shattered all my preconceptions to smithereens. If any of you have read any PG Wodehouse you will now where I am coming from.
So with all this build up I am most relieved to say that the course didn’t disappoint, and, I have to agree with Chris who nominated the course in the first place as I too, think that it is the best course that I have played in Edinburgh, although the people of The Braids and Mortonhall may disagree. I thought that it was marvelous. By God, they like their dog legs here as there is not really what you would call a straight hole until the 7th and, to be honest, the 8th is what you would call the first hole you can see from tee to green.
Favourite hole? Well, in truth there are lots of them. 3,4,10 15 and 17 are outstanding. The 18th is a very pretty hole with the clubhouse as a backdrop but if I can be allowed to use some Glaswegian parlance here. 200+ yard par 3’s do my box in!!!!!!! Glad I got that off my chest. Belle of the ball however has to be the 11th. A left to right dog leg which eventually sweeps down to a green but not before you negotiate a burn which a superb stone bridge. Not for the first time I will disagree with Jim. This is not nearly a 5 ball course, it is a 5 ball course and remember not to disturb The Oldest Member as you leave. MPPJ
I was very pleasantly surprised by the test of golf that Burgess provides. The overall length from the standard (white) gents tees is 6126 yards, as opposed to 6511 yards from the longer (red) tees – yes, I know, the accepted golfing norm is yellow tees for standard club play and red for ladies tees but Burgess do things their own way!
The tees, fairways and greens were pristine – only the bunkers could have been criticized for not having been recently raked. Presentation was of a very high standard but so too was the layout and the holes just flowed one after another with lovely gentle changes in elevation to add interest along the way.
Special mention to a most informative and helpful Mike Cowan in the pro shop – Burgess is terrific value too with a weekday green fee allowing two rounds of golf to be played. This is definitely one of the top parkland courses in Scotland and Burgess should be better known for its course than merely as a gentleman’s club and historic golf society.