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Historic Dunbar Golf Club in East Lothian, Scotland, features 14 holes that play alongside the sea, in view of the Bass Rock offshore.
Historic Dunbar Golf Club in East Lothian, Scotland, features 14 holes that play alongside the sea, in view of the Bass Rock offshore. (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)

Dunbar Golf Club: Historic links course still one of Scotland's prettiest

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor

DUNBAR, Scotland -- Playing one of Scotland's most historic links golf courses is always going to be a special day.

When it's also shockingly pretty and a great blend of difficulty and playability, especially the first time around, that's a bonus.

Such is the case with Dunbar Golf Club in Scotland's East Lothian region just east of Edinburgh. In this historic neighborhood of links near the towns and links of Gullane, Muirfield, Musselburgh Golf Club and North Berwick Golf Club, Dunbar is "just another 19th century links."

But its separated from these other links for a variety of reasons.

The golf club was established in 1856, and the course was laid out a year later along the Firth of Forth, but the course underwent many changes over the next few decades as the golf ball started flying farther and more land was needed.

Dunbar Golf Club: Stay away from the deer wall

When playing Dunbar in its current state, imagine an 18-hole golf course squeezed entirely onto the coastal side of the deer wall that runs right of the fourth hole and through the eighth, which separated the golfing land from the deer park. That was the original layout of the course, and looking at historic maps, many of the holes actually criss-crossed over one another.

"It was a terrifying place for golf," noted club historian John Harris. "It wasn't until 1905 that the land beyond the deer wall became available so the club could finally add new holes."

On No. 4 and 18, this wall comes into play as in-course out of bounds. In fact, when Steve Elkington played here during an Open Qualifier in 2002, he put his tee shot right over the wall and needed to score a three with his second ball off the tee in order to qualify (where he later lost in a four-way playoff to Ernie Els).

The four holes on the other side of the wall, while not on the edge of the sea, are still good holes, including opening back-to-back par 5s. But of the four holes on the inland side, the finest is the par-3 third hole, which plays from a hill, back downhill towards the sea to a green with some small, penal bunkering on each side.

It's named "Jackson's pennies" because a former member used to spend all afternoon betting pennies with others on whether players would hit the green.

You'll notice as you play close to the sea -- especially down the back nine on holes like No. 11, 12, 15 and 17 (all most closely hugging the coast) -- that the golf course appears to be surrendering land to the beach. That's true, and the club is very, very conscious of it.

But they have help. What appears to be an eyesore in the backdrop of the ninth hole, a large cement factory, has in fact been instrumental to the golf club keeping so many of their tee boxes so close to the sea.

Every so often, the factory donates large amounts of stone to the club's shores to help fight against coastal erosion. So give the factory a nice tip of the cap when you tee off on the shoreside 11th tee box.

That said, the club has acquired a good deal of property next to the course further inland, in the event it eventually loses the battle to coastal erosion, but the course is planning well ahead here.

So get a good look when you play Dunbar, because should you return years later, it might be a bit different.

Dunbar Golf Club in Scotland: The verdict

For the visitor, Dunbar is just about everything you can ask for. Its seaside scenery is unparalleled, the course is challenging but very fair to first-time players here and the history oozes around every corner.

Even if you're not a history buff and just here for the golf course as it stands today, you'll still be plenty invigorated. Rather than tucked behind dunes like many links like St. Andrews Links Trust or Prestwick Golf Club, at Dunbar, you're on top of the sea at every turn and just two miles from the Bass Rock off shore. That's because there aren't a great deal of dunes here; rather, it's on the flatter side in most spots.

It's also a fraction of the cost compared to Muirfield and a little less expensive than nearby Gullane No. 1 and North Berwick Golf Club. Visitor fees are £55 for a round and £70 for the day. The club has a nice pitching ground for practice and a fine clubhouse restaurant and bar that is open to visitors who play the golf course.

Stay and play in Scotland's East Lothian

For a more luxurious option, stay in MacDonald Marine Hotel in North Berwick. This 19th century Victorian building overlooks the golf course and Bass Rock, providing for some beautiful -- and entertaining -- scenery as you watch golfers navigate the bizarre 16th green.

The hotel is fresh off a multi-million pound renovation and restoration, and its been host to many tour players when they're competing in the Open Championship at Muirfield. On site is a spa, pool and fitness center as well, in case you didn't get enough of a workout on the links.

If you're out for something a little smaller, less expensive and traditionally Scottish, check out the Kilspindie House Hotel in Aberlady.

The house is a 17th century building where no two rooms are similar. The pub and restaurant is busy on most nights with a mix of locals and passer-bys, and bedrooms are all very comfortable.

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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