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Although there is no clear record of when golf was first played at Dunbar, town records show that in the year 1616, two men from the nearby parish of Tyninghame, were censured by the church for playing nine holes of golf on Dunbar Links on the Lord's Day. Golf has been played here for a very long time, a period during which the church has fortunately become far more tolerant of golfers.
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Located a short 30-miles east of the heart of Scotland's capital city, the attractive coastal town of Dunbar sits in the golf-rich county of East Lothian, a place where much of the game's history has been written over the centuries. This is hallowed golf country, to be revered in the same light as St. Andrews. East Lothian may not receive rightful credit for its many contributions to the game, but it is no less deserving and the courses contained within the county borders, include some of Scotland's most historic Open venues, together with some of the most precious hidden links gems to be found anywhere.
Muirfield, home to The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, will be hosting The Open Championship in 2013, marking the 16th occasion since 1892 and its inaugural appearance as an Open host. This is not only one of the world's most prestigious golf clubs, but also one of the best links courses on the globe. The Honourable Company authored the original 13 rules of golf in 1744, the same year this, one of the world's oldest clubs was formed. Nearby is Musselburgh Links, the oldest playing course in the world and the venue for six British Open Championships between 1874 and 1889.
North Berwick's 175 year old, West Course, has garnered its own fame as an outstanding example of nature and designer working in unison to produce a links masterpiece and no course attracts golf architects in such numbers to marvel at the wonder. They come from all over, everyone intent on taking inspiration from one hole in particular, the 15th, The Redan. The result - innumerable copies of North Berwick's prized hole, appearing on more courses around the world, than any other -- impersonation really is the sincerest form of flattery.
Dunbar Golf Club is no less deserving of a position atop East Lothian's main golf attractions. This is one of the most attractive links courses along Scotland's east coast, laid out along a frighteningly narrow tract of land, skirting the rocky shoreline. Totally exposed to the whims and moods of the erratic winds that can literally blast in from the North Sea, Dunbar insists on proving itself one of Scotland's most testing links.
Bounded by an old stonewall that runs the full length of the course, there is an out of bounds on the 3rd thru 9th holes and again on the closing three holes. Complicating a less than straightforward situation is the rocky beach that comes into play on the 4th thru 7th holes and again on the 12th thru 17th. It's not so much that straight hitters are rewarded, as it is the sheer misery confronting any who may be less than absolutely accurate.
Be wary as you step onto the first tee, this is a wily old-timer that delights in setting up the unsuspecting visitor with her seemingly kindly disposition. The modest length of only a shade over 6,400 yards from the tips belies the challenge this old lady has in store. She provides further comfort on the first three holes; more parkland than links, they offer generously wide fairways that appear to be as flat as a pancake, enticing the big hitters to spread the shoulders and let things rip. Enjoy it while you may, by the fourth hole Lady Dunbar's patience is exhausted, she tires of her own niceties and abruptly gets down to business. The gloves come off as she proudly shows that she really is no lady -- she's been around the block more than a few times and has a mind entirely of her own.
It's these testing seaside holes, extending from the 4th to the 17th, where Dunbar's true colors come shining through, 14 holes of serious links examination where even the most experienced will learn how devilishly tricky a real links course can be.
The 7th is a good example -- a par 4 of well under 400 yards with a dogleg right and the famous wall running the entire length to the green, tucked hard against it and in the omnipresent wind, a potential disaster, waiting to happen. The lengthy 9th runs over 500 yards, again with out of bounds a never-ending threat on the right.
The 12th is a difficult par 4, usually playing into the wind and requiring two perfect shots to reach the green and the 16th, a remarkable par-3 that depending on the wind can call for anything from a 9 iron to a 3 wood to cover its brief, 166 yards.
Tempered by the picture-postcard views throughout the course, Dunbar remains a stiff challenge for all and one of those unique layouts that practically demands being played a second time, if not more. Without a doubt it provides an unusually exhilarating links experience, guaranteed to linger in your memory for many years to come.
Another East Lothian gem of a links, too often overlooked by visitors is the nearby, North Berwick East Links, better known as The Glen, home to the Glen Golf Club and as welcoming an institution as you will ever come across. Barely a century old, The Glen may lack the seniority of its more famous neighbor, The West Links, but any comparative youth is more than made up for by buckets full of charm, personality and the genuine Scottish golf experience it bestows on each and every visitor.
No less important is the honest to goodness, old fashioned test the course hands out from start to finish. The never ending succession of remarkable views it provides along the way are just icing on the cake and a bonus. But there's more, this is a layout with a sense of humor that never takes itself too seriously -- The Glen has not forgotten that golf is only a game and games are to be enjoyed. This is a course that manages to deliver fun every step of the way and anyone who fails to enjoy their round here, doesn't really enjoy golf at all.
The original course was laid out at the turn of the century, then tastefully re-vamped by the great MacKenzie Ross, demonstrating his usual consideration for all who might tackle it. Deceivingly short at first glance, be wary, The Glen has surprises in store and this engaging mix of inland turf and traditional links is not above a little trickery.
The opening and closing holes must both negotiate the escarpment, first taking the player up to and then down from, the elevated stage along which much of the course takes its path. Once at the higher level the views of Bass Rock, the Firth of Forth and back to the small town of North Berwick are quite remarkable.
The par-4 5th hole may be the most deceptive on the course, with a steep, concealed drop in front of the green, out of bounds immediately behind and threatening rough to the right. Par here will be an accomplishment. Looking back from the 8th tee, the crumbling outline of historic Tantallon Castle, dating from the 14th century, is hauntingly visible, but for true drama, few holes in Scotland can match the 13th, the Sea Hole. An attention grabbing par-3 which, aided by the incessant though ever changing wind, might call for a pitching wedge one day and a 3 iron the next. The green lies almost surrounded by the sea, among rocks and sand -- shades of the 7th at Pebble Beach.
The best and most thrilling however is held until last and the grand finale of the 18th. Teeing off from a seriously elevated tee, there's a drop of over 100 feet to negotiate as everyone has the glory of finishing this amazing little gem with as much drama and flourish, as they care to muster.
For sheer character and personality, few courses can match The Glen. It may not be a super-star, but it has a gutsiness and sense of pure fun, seldom found even on the most famous layouts Above all it is truly Scottish and at no time is this more evident than during an hour or two spent after your round in the clubhouse, one of Scotland's most welcoming. Here the locals outnumber visitors and visitors are treated as old friends -- and isn't that what golf is all about?
For more ideas and suggestions on how best to include the famous names, together with Dunbar, The Glen and other unsung heroes of East Lothian on your Scottish golf trip, contact the Scotland experts at Golf International by calling toll free, 1 (800) 833-1389, or click here.
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