Royal Musselburgh Golf Club dates back to 1774 and their Old Club Cup is one of the oldest golf trophies still being competed for annually. If you think you may have seen the trophy before (pictured here) then maybe you have as it now sits in the Golf Museum near the 18th green of the Old Course at St Andrews.
The club played over the Old Course in Musselburgh for 150 years, sharing it for a long spell at the end of the 19th century with The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society and Edinburgh Burgess Golfing Society. These three clubs, along with the R&A and Royal Blackheath, are the only ones to predate the club, making it the 6th oldest golf society in the world.
One by one, the other clubs moved away to other venues and so too did Royal Musselburgh in 1925 when they moved a couple of miles east to Prestongrange House at Prestonpans, on a twenty five year lease from the Grant Suttie family. The club still leases their land on the same site (and have done so since 1958) from the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation. King William perhaps gave Prestongrange House to Robert de Quincy in 1165 and there's no doubt this magnificent building is one of the most impressive clubhouses in Scotland.
The new Royal Musselburgh course was designed by the great James Braid with F.G. Hawtree and they laid out the 18 holes over beautiful parkland situated on elevated ground overlooking the Firth of Forth near Prestonpans, the site of the 1745 victory of Bonnie Prince Charlie against the Hanoverian army of Sir John Cope. When additional land became available within the estate, Mungo Park was invited to construct some new holes and the remodelled course reopened for play in 1938.
Only four of the fourteen par four holes on the 6,237-yard (par 70) course are longer than 400 yards so golfers are able to reach the green in regulation at most holes – even the solitary par five on the card, the 477-yard 9th hole, named “Jimmy Braid” is well within reach in three shots from the tee. Distance is not the main consideration at Royal Musselburgh; precision off the tee and accuracy of the approach are what matter most.
We played Royal Musselburgh last year during our trip visiting the Lothians. I picked the course because of all the stories about the history of the golf club, and of course the trophy (of which a copy is on display in the clubhouse), being one of the oldest trophies in the world still being competed for.
Royal Musselburgh moved to the current venue around 1925, so the current venue has less historic value than the golf club itself. Although the old Prestongrange House must be one of the most impressive clubhouses to be found (with the most peculiar pro-shop attached to it....).
On our day of play it was pretty busy, and the starter asked if we had any trouble teaming up with another two ball. It was the start of a long, long walk that took away most of the fun. Taking more than 5 hours to finish this course is no fun.
I remember the course as and old fashioned parkland course (relatively short, narrow and straight with simple greens) with very fast greens. It must have been much more fun if we could have walked it at our own pace.
If you rate the history of the club, it will be an easy 5 star rating, if you rate the golf venue as such, it scores average.
After a couple of straightish holes the course begins to get more interesting with the third and fourth holes, both par 4s. The third is played along the length of the clubhouse to a well bunkered green, followed by the dogleg fourth. I found to my peril on this hole that a tee shot pushed too far right will result in trees blocking the approach shot to the green, stressing the importance of accuracy off the tee on this tactical hole. The 6th hole is the first of the three excellent par 3s at Royal Musselburgh. Trees line both sides of the hole, except for an old wall to the right but this should not interfere with play from the tee, and once again excellent bunkering is in evidence to protect the green and collect any wayward approaches to the putting surface. I found the remainder of the front nine to be fairly similar, with the 7th, 8th and 9th zig-zagging the golfer away, towards and away again from the clubhouse.
The back nine starts off in good fashion with the 10th, a 343 yard par 4, where the green cannot be seen from the tee. An accurate downhill approach must be played to avoid the ball rolling off the green which falls away on both sides and at the back. Two considerably solid strokes must be made to first get decent position on the fairway and then to attack the 12th green which sits on top of a small slope. Trees again provide a defence on this hole with my drive landing too close to the large overhanging tree and my subsequent shot ending up short due to clipping the branches of the tree on the way past. In my opinion the closing holes include some of the best holes at Royal Musselburgh, beggining with the par 3 14th hole. As has been commented upon by prior reviewers "The Gully" looks to be a short par three at a mere 127 yards however anything short will be gobbled up by the large valley from which the hole gets it's name, leaving a 50 yard almost vertical and blind uphill pitch should the golfer be unfortunate enough to land there. The drive on the 15th requires a carry of 100 yards or so to clear another gully (not quite as deep as the one on the 14th thankfully!!) and land safely on the bumpy fairway. The likelihood of an uneven lie makes the longish second shot a difficult one into the green which is longer than it is wide. The 16th is yet another excellent par three from an elevated tee and surrounded by several bunkers. The final two holes, going away from then back towards the clubhouse, seemed to me to play longer than their yardages of 334 and 377 yards as suggested on the scorecard on what was not a particularly windy day and are difficult finishing holes.
The three par 3s at Royal Musselburgh are without doubt the stars of the show as far as the course goes and each of them are great holes in their own right. However whilst there are a few very good par 4s I did feel that too many of them were often straight, and quite similar, holes, - particularly on the front nine, which meant that I wasn't overly excited by the course and this is reflected in my overall score. DM
It was a pity that on the day I finally got to play here, it rained for most of the front nine. Not that the weather really detracted from my enjoyment as it is a lovely course to play come rain or shine. I’d popped in here a couple of times before on my way to or from playing links golf along the coast and had promised myself I’d return for a slice of parkland action sometime as the place looked as good as I’d been told.
And so it proved to be when I fronted up this afternoon, despite the inclement conditions. It’s a compact course, with several fairways running parallel to each other at various points but never intrusively so. At just under 6,000 yards off the regular tees, it is not a slog to get round and your game will be generally flattered as you should get up around the green in regulation at most holes.
Green complexes were a joy to behold with exceptional mounding and bunkering throughout – the bunkers were as good as I’ve come across in many a day, actually. Putting surfaces were exceptional too and, as nearly half the strokes taken during a round are with the putter, their condition obviously goes a long way to determining how good or bad your score will be.
The inward half – nearer the coast – is more undulating than the front nine, but pleasingly so and the ancient clubhouse is a real treasure, well worth a look around. And if the pro is not too busy in the shop, he just might dig out his old book on the history of Prestongrange House for you if you ask nicely!