For the true golfer there can be few more uplifting sights than arriving in the tiny town of Gullane on a clear summer’s evening. Its modest population of around 1,800 has the pick of no fewer than five links courses, one of which hosts The Open and a further two of which have recently provided final qualifying venues. While Muirfield is commonly regarded as Scotland’s finest course, Luffness is always impeccably presented. And there are the three courses of Gullane itself: Nos 1, 2 and 3.
These are the courses of the people, who have been enjoying its pleasures since the 1650s, and the locals who love the game because they have been immersed in it since they were old enough to lift a club. Gullane No 1 dates back to 1885, and in the absence of any record of its designer, Mother Nature can take much of the credit.
Approach Gullane from the direction of Edinburgh, which is approximately a half-hour drive away, and you will naturally break out into a smile when the trees end and an expanse of pure golf opens out before you, on either side of the A198.
This part of East Lothian contains thousands of holes. The road bisects two of the three courses of Gullane, and Luffness, and a glance to the left will reveal miles and miles of unspoilt coast, the land interspersed with flags. It is a sight you could never grow tired of and quite simply a paradise to those who love the game in its most traditional form.
All three courses at Gullane are well worth playing but it is No 1 that is rightly regarded as the outstanding of the trio. Beginning and ending like so many of the great Scottish links in the town, it rises to the crest of Gullane Hill, from where, according to the game’s most celebrated chronicler Bernard Darwin, can be gained the ‘finest view in golf’.
To the east is Muirfield, to the west Kilspindie and Longniddry and to the north the Firth of Forth and beyond it Fife. Then the holes tumble downhill for a little while back to the very cliff tops before rising gently again for the final drop from the 17th tee.
The road in bisects two of the three courses of Gullane, and Luffness, and a glance to the left will reveal miles and miles of unspoilt coast, the land interspersed with flags.
Few, if any, other links feature such dramatic changes in elevation, and Gullane does so in great style. It is also impeccably presented with the greens and fairways a joy to experience in themselves. Though the opening hole is modest in terms of length and provides a gentle opening, by the time the 2nd tee is reached the challenge starts in earnest.
Holes that travel significantly uphill are rarely enjoyable but this is truly an exception. Measuring 379 yards, it is played up a chute that gets progressively narrower to a green that is as long as it is narrow. Namely, very.
Length is not important but accuracy most certainly is if a round is not to be ruined almost before it has begun. Pass this test and you will be rewarded with a view across the links in all its glory from the 3rd tee, a wonderful downhill par five played towards a distant green.
The first of the short holes comes next, played to a raised green, and then the longest par four on a front nine that is significantly shorter than the inward half. Curving to the left and then rising to a green well protected by bunkers, at 450 yards it is a substantial proposition and most would be delighted to escape with a five.
The tee shot at the 7th, from the crest of the aforementioned Gullane Hill is one to remember. The fairway and green are apparently miles below and it is almost impossible not to hit that little bit harder to send your ball soaring away into the distance.
A gorgeous par three, squeezed into the very furthest extremities of the course, is a classic way to end the front nine and begin a run of long holes that lasts almost all the way back to the town itself. At 466, 471, 480, 170, 435, 537 and 186 yards respectively, this is genuine championship golf.
The pick of this stretch is the 12th, a par five with a tee on the cliff edge that curves gently to the right, and the two short holes, both of which require shots of genuine quality to find the green.
The last two holes are shorter and less difficult, even though the 17th can catch out anyone who thinks they are home already. Walking towards the 18th green, and into the town itself, it is impossible not to be seduced by the experience and immediately start planning your next visit.