For all the time I have spent in this blessed part of the world, and indeed in Musselburgh itself, I had never been to this course before. By the time I was approaching the 2nd green, I knew I should have come here years ago. Just to get things clear, the small city of Musselburgh is some six miles west of Edinburgh. It has a population of 22,000 and, true to form in East Lothian, boasts three golf courses. Musselburgh Old is a nine-holer inside Musselburgh Racecourse that hosted the Open Championship in 1874, 1877, 1880, 1883, 1886 and 1889.
For the record, the Open champions in those years were Mungo Park, Jamie Anderson, Bob Ferguson, Willie Fernie, David Brown and Willie Park Jr. Royal Musselburgh on the other hand is a parkland with the stylish Prestongrange House as its clubhouse, while Musselburgh is a James Braid design that dates back to 1938 in the suburb of Monktonhall. All three courses are well worth playing.
I knew Musselburgh would be well-presented and orderly. I must admit, though, to being fooled by the gentle opener, a mid-length par 4 played invitingly downhill. At 451 yards from the back tees, the very next hole soon set me straight. It also features a green at an angle that rejects the approach just running out of steam, which is a little mean on a hole of this length.
It turns out that Musselburgh is a muscular parkland, with very few flat holes and always just enough going on around the greens to create that extra degree of interest that separates a good course from a very good one, which Musselburgh assuredly is for my money.
Musselburgh also has tournament-hosting pedigree: the Scottish Professional Championship has twice been held here, as have Regional Qualifying events for the Open on a regular basis. Most famously, the likes of Tony Jacklin, Bob Charles and Christy O’Connor played here on their way to the 1972 Open Championship at nearby Muirfield.
I don’t think there are many better holes than the 2nd, but I will take the 14th as the best, which doglegs from right to left before rising slightly to a large, attractively sited green. Like many holes here, it isn’t intimidatingly difficult but poses more than enough of a challenge to get your attention. I think it’s a course that can test the stronger players without being unduly punishing to the higher handicapper.
I really enjoyed playing into the greens here, where there always seems to be an advantageous angle to be found. Satisfyingly, I was able to pitch close on the par-5 4th for a morale-boosting early birdie, which cancelled out the bogey that I did well to escape from the 2nd with.
There is a real sting in the tail in the shape of the last hole here: a par 4 that plays uphill all the way and is in excess of 450 yards. Do not stand on the tee needing a four for anything important. Get your work done by the time you leave the 17th green.