HISTORY AND HICKORIES ON SCOTLAND’S GOLF COAST
Scotland is the Home of Golf. With close to 600 golf courses of all shapes and sizes, it is no wonder that golf and golf tourism in Scotland plays such an important part of our day-to-day lives. With 21 courses of our own, Scotland’s Golf Coast embraces golf. How can we not? Annually, we welcome thousands of golfers from far and wide to sample the delights of our Championship links and our 9-hole gems. There is a special experience on Scotland’s Golf Coast where links, history and hickories combine as a ‘must play’. Golfers are increasingly looking to tick courses off their ‘bucket-list’. They want to walk the fairways of the greats, play out of famous bunkers and hole putts like Open champions. Swinging a club is one thing, but treasuring the experience is another. Golf in Scotland is more than just a game, it’s the history, the atmosphere, the personalities, the memories, the iconic moments, and above all, the experience.
It was in 1874 that Mungo Park won the first Open that was held on the Old Golf Course of Musselburgh Links. The Open’s connection with Musselburgh had started back in 1860, when local resident Willie Park Sr won the first ever Open at Prestwick. Musselburgh Links went on to host the Open a total of six times.In 1870, Tom Morris Jr. won the ‘Challenge Belt’ for the third time and with no tournament in 1871, from 1872 to 1892, the Open was played alternatively at St Andrews, Prestwick, and Musselburgh Links. The competition was played over 36 holes, two rounds at St Andrews, three rounds of 12 at Prestwick and four rounds of nine at Musselburgh Links.
The Open’s Claret Jug was subscribed for by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, Prestwick Club and Royal Company of Edinburgh Golfers (who played at Musselburgh) following Morris’ impressive feat.The Old Golf Course started as seven holes, with an eighth added in 1838 and the nine being completed in 1870. The nine holes still exist today, and Musselburgh Links is awash with history. To the right of the first couple of holes is a road. Such was the golfer’s penchant for a slice, a brass plate was added to the sole of their woods to recover from ‘non-grassy’ lies. A ‘brassie’ wooden club was born. Musselburgh can also lay claim to the diameter of a golf hole. A random utensil used to cut the holes was four and a quarter inches in diameter, and so became the golf hole, officially recognised in 1893 by the R&A.The course itself offers a pure links test, with firm fairways and cavernous bunkers. The subtleties of greens laid out centuries ago and moulded by Mother Nature make two putts a glorious luxury. On the 4th, Mrs Forman’s used to have a hatch where golfers would drown their sorrows after another three-putt and after their rounds. There is mention that the idea of the Claret Jug was born in Mrs Forman’s. The quirkiness continues as six of Musselburgh’s greens are located within the Musselburgh racecourse, previously the Edinburgh racecourse. In fact, the racecourse grandstand doubled as the golf clubhouse until 1868.Celebrating its 350 anniversary in 2022, much of Scotland’s Golf Coast is born from Musselburgh Links. The Royal Musselburgh Golf Club resided at Musselburgh Links from 1774 (Musselburgh Golf Club until its Royal Charter in 1876) to 1925. Royal Musselburgh subsequently moved to its own James Braid course at Prestongrange. The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers were resident from 1836 to 1891, before moving to their own golf course at Muirfield, Gullane.
Four of Musselburgh’s Open Champions were local, all except for St Andrews’ golfers Jamie Anderson and Willie Fernie. Musselburgh’s Mungo Park won the first Musselburgh Open in 1774. Jamie Anderson won the first of his three Opens in 1877 and Bob Ferguson won in 1880. Like Anderson, Ferguson went on to complete the consecutive Open hat-trick at Prestwick and St Andrews, one of only four men to win the Open in three consecutive years. David Brown brought the Jug back to Musselburgh in 1886 and Willie Park Jr. completed Musselburgh’s Open Champions in 1889. Willie Park Jr. would play a further part in Scotland’s Golf Coast history by laying out Gullane 2 and Kilspindie.Thanks to Musselburgh Links, East Lothian can be extremely grateful. The beauty of the course is that it can still be played in all its original splendour. From an experiential point of view, it is difficult to find a more authentic and history drenched golf course than walking the links at Musselburgh with a bag of hickories on your back. Plus Fours can be donned, but we’d excuse you. Perhaps try out a brassie instead.
Documentary evidence has proven that golf was played on Musselburgh Links as early as 1672, with Mary, Queen of Scots reputedly playing here in 1567. We are sure you’ll agree that Musselburgh has as compelling a golf story as any in the world and rightly many golfers have added its nine holes to their itinerary. If you crave links, history and hickories, then a visit to Scotland’s Golf Coast should be in order. The Old looks forward to welcoming you.