Dunbar is played on a thin strip of land between the sea and the ancient high and handsome fieldstone wall of what used to be Broxmouth Park and its deer park, the country seat of the Dukes of Roxburghe, who in 1904 permitted part of their land to the Club for four new holes.
Technically, the land would be called a ‘raised beach’ rather than links though the characteristics of the turf are similar except for the lushness to the right of the far holes where perhaps some clay is to be found.
This is an historic track, founded in 1857 with old Tom Morris from St Andrews helping develop the course in the 1890s. All the greatest players including Braid, Vardon, J H Taylor, Ray, Herd, Fernie and Massy gave exhibitions with huge crowds in tow during the Edwardian era.
James Braid and Ben Sayers undertook the most dramatic development of the course in the 1920s with new holes at the far end while consolidating the six fishermen’s cottages into a single building seen today beside the 7th green. This left the course pretty much as it is today. Previous golf play had actually gone through the back gardens of these cottages!
The land ownership changed from the supportive Dukes of Roxburghe up to 1960 to what is now the Lafarge cement company. The Club has benefited from the continuing generous assistance of its landlords, particularly in the creation of sea defences to its fragile shoreline.
Dunbar starts as no other course to my knowledge with two par 5s, the 1st recently having a pond built bordering the green with a burn in front, which puts it out of range in 2 when there is an unusual south-easterly blowing – as when I had an enjoyable round with the Club’s historian, John Harris recently.
He pointed out to me the high down overhanging the town where, at the Battle of Dunbar, Cromwell, heavily outnumbered and without the advantage of the higher ground, routed the Scottish Covenanters in 1650.
That history is well behind us and I enjoyed a tremendous welcome at the Club, as would be expected from a holiday town, which regularly features as having the greatest sunshine hours in Scotland. Indeed, its friendliness to visitors is a characteristic of the Club.
The general flatness of the course might suggest predictability to some and, where there is height at the 3rd tee, the approach to the 7th and the drive at the 9th, extra interest is created, as at the delightful 13th, “the pot”, whose green is made from an indentation in the land, formed previously by sheep sheltering from the winter’s east wind.
Nevertheless, the quality of the turf, the views of the town and The Bass Rock, combined with the opportunity to score well if your bump and run is working across this fair and straightforward 6597 yard Par 71 SSS 72 course with 7 Par 4s under 380 yards, raises the spirits with that joy-to-be-alive feeling as one battles with the ever-present ‘Bar’ breeze.
I am told there is an ongoing battle to remove Poa annua grass and the greens are now 70% fine grasses normally cut at 4mm.
Dunbar was used as a final Open qualifier in 2002 and many renowned golfers have grown up on its wonderful fescue greens. The course record of 62 was set in 2006 including, remarkably, Dean Muir’s tee shot at the 16th finishing O.O.B!
The 16th is called “The Narrows” which accurately describes an area that has always been a controversial and distinctive part of the course. The tightness of fitting an ‘out’ and ‘in’ hole next to each other between the deer park wall and a sea nibbling away aggressively at the course at this point has always posed design challenges. A frisson of fear can be sent down the spine of visiting golfers in nervous anticipation of how they might negotiate this part of the course.
The new back tee at the 17th will add challenge for the expert but sensibly the Club refrains from using the tee for competitions in strong westerlies!
I first played Dunbar on December 27th 1966 and noted in my golf diary that I had been given a new Wilson Staff ball for Christmas. I remember hitting it into the sea on, I think, the 16th and could see it only 10 yards from the shore. Off came my shoes and socks but the pain from the frozen waters and my southern half-English blood unfortunately won the battle with my half-Scottish blood and its desire not to waste my expensive ball!
There are many generous members at Dunbar and the surrounding area who recognise the importance played by the modern head greenkeeper. As proof, the funds raised recently during a specially organised Pro-Am and auction for Graham Wood, who had been forced to retire through ill health after 30 years’ service on the course, are practical evidence of the high esteem in which Graham has been held.
“Dunbar Golf, the story of the links at Hedderwick and Broxmouth” by John Harris, published in 2007, is an unusually in-depth, well researched history and pictorial gallery of the Club. A recommended, enjoyable read.
Review by Lorne Smith 2008. Leave us a comment or review below
I was pleased to see Dunbar GC mentioned on your web-site. It brought back happy memories of the summer of 1953 when I had the unusual experience of playing against two boys who later became Walker Cup internationals. Firstly, RDBM Shade (5 times Scottish Amateur Champion) in the Dunbar Boys Open and then AE Shepperson in the quarter final of the British Boys Championship.
In one or other (I forget which!) I drove into the sea at the 16th as described by you. I played from there (from an inch or two of water) into the burn in front of the green (also an inch or so deep) from there onto the green and then holed the putt for a four!!! How many “bits” is that?? (a double watery par)
Incidentally, for the record:- RGAitken 1, Walker Cup Hopefuls 1
Thank you so much for your lovely story.
You may have lost a little length since 1953 but it is still wonderful to see your silky swing!
Warm regards from Lorne
May I please have permission to use photos of the Dunbar golf course, giving credit, of course?
I am writing a book and would like to use at least one.
Thanks for your consideration.
Thank you for asking and I am pleased that you think they are worth using and please be my guest.
Best wishes with the book