Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that Longniddry’s character is so elusive to pin down. After all, it has been shaped at various times by several of the great names of design. Harry Colt, James Braid, Philip Mackenzie Ross and Donald Steel have all left their mark on this East Lothian club that dates back almost a hundred years. It is in many ways a rarity. There are lots of modern inland courses that claim to play like links – though I have never ever encountered one that actually does – but when you did you last see a course at sea level and on the coast that is for the most part parkland in character.
Only briefly, on the more open back nine, is there a hint of seaside turf and firm greens. For the most part, expect to see plenty of trees and some pretty lush, green rough. It would be easy to bypass Longniddry on a tour of this special golfing area, because there are many courses in the vicinity that shout louder and have a higher profile.
You would not have to go five miles east or west to find the nearest Open Championship venue on a stretch of coast that offers almost uninterrupted golf for miles. Moving due east out of Edinburgh’s handsome city centre, the first course you will encounter is Musselburgh Old Links, the host of six Opens in the late 19th century, then Royal Musselburgh and following that Longniddry.
Continue on towards North Berwick, a drive of no more than 10 miles, and, before you reach a town that is itself home to two 18-hole courses, you will have driven past a sensational run of prime golfing country. First up come Craigielaw and Kilspindie, and then you approach Gullane, with its three fine links courses.
There is still space for Luffness New before you get there and you cannot leave this tiny town without passing the most famous of them all in East Lothian, Muirfield itself, home to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.
Just opened next door to Muirfield is the super-exclusive Renaissance Club, and adjoining that is Archerfield, home to the Fidra and Dirleton courses, both of the highest quality. Given an unlimited budget and (just as importantly) being sufficiently well connected, a golfer could spend weeks in this part of the world playing a different course every day.
Harry Colt, James Braid, Philip Mackenzie Ross and Donald Steel have all left their mark on this East Lothian club that dates back almost a hundred years.
So small wonder that Longniddry only rarely receives its share of attention. With a miserly par of 68, it gives little away, and indeed eight of its array of two-shotters measure over 400 yards. This includes difficult opening and closing stretches – the first three holes measure 396, 413 and 460 yards respectively while the 17th and 18th both weigh in at over 430 yards.
For many, though, the best hole here is the shortest par 4 on the course, the 5th. At little over 300 yards, the longer hitters might be licking their lips but while driving the green is not unheard of, it is quite a feat. Doglegging from right to left, the corner can be cut but the problem comes in the shape of a two-tier green with a large slope separating the lower and upper levels.
This makes for a very awkward chip should you miss the green but be pin-high, so the more sensible strategy may well be to play safe from the tee and leave a full pitch for the approach. This hole marks the beginning of the stretch of that has the most distinctly inland feel, with the fairways lined by tall trees.
Only when you reach the 11th, another excellent short par 4, does the feeling of being close to the sea return. With seven bunkers to avoid and out of bounds on the left, this is another hole where the sagest advice might be to keep the driver in the bag and keep the ball in play.
Reach the green at the 15th, one of Longniddry’s longer par 4s, and you will most likely have a crosswind to contend with at the awkward short 16th before turning into the wind for the last two.
At least you have a couple of generous fairways to aim at as well as, particularly at the last, a large and mainly flat green. Houses on the left are, as you would expect, out of bounds, adding further proof, were it needed, that Longniddry is no place to bring a wild hook.
That apart, it is hard to think of any good reason not to factor it into your itinerary the next time you find yourself in East Lothian.