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Dunbar: A Hidden Gem on the Scottish Coast

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Dunbar Golf Club has over 400 years of documented golf history, making it one of the oldest courses in Scotland. The Dunbar Golfing Society played on the west side of Dunbar as early as 1794. Lesser known than its neighbors at Muirfield and North Berwick, the current Dunbar Golf Club was established in 1856, playing on what became known as Broxmouth Links.

Dunbar is laid out on a narrow strip of coastal land, providing spectacular vistas of the North Sea. The old red sandstone wall of Broxmouth Estate runs parallel to the shoreline, squeezing the holes into a unique ribbon-like routing, which makes inventive use of the limited space afforded by its narrow strip of linksland. Dunbar’s seaside scenery is among the best in Scottish golf, and on a clear day, the capital city of Edinburgh is visible across the Firth of Forth.

In this post, we will visit East Lothian to tour the unheralded Dunbar Golf Club. We’ll learn the origins and history and some notable and obscure facts. We’ll do a thorough walkthrough of the course and its unique characteristics and finish with further reading and videos to bring the course to life. As always, the adjacent images are simulated to set the scene and provide context.

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Royal Dornoch Golf Club - The Greenside Gallery

Origins and History

There are records of golf being played in the Dunbar area as early as 1617, with prosecutions by the church for playing on Sundays. The Dunbar Golfing Society has documentation of its members and regulations dating back to 1794 when they played on the West Barns Links. The current Dunbar Golf Club site was established in 1856 after land on the east links was cleared to create an initial 15 holes. Legends like Old Tom Morris, James Braid, and Ben Sayers all contributed to designing and expanding the course over the years to create the historic layout played today.

Dunbar has hosted numerous prestigious amateur and professional events over its long history. Most notably, the first-ever European Tour PGA Championship in 1968, won by Ireland’s John Panton, which would become the Tour’s flagship event held annually at Wentworth. The course also hosts final qualifying for The Open Championship when it’s held at Muirfield. Other prominent events held at Dunbar include the Scottish Amateur Championship, Scottish Boys Championship, British Boys Championship, and Ladies British Championship.

dunbar history

Did You Know?

  • The course occupies a very narrow strip of land, at some points only ten paces wide from the boundary wall to the sea. This creates a unique and scenic links course squeezed between the wall and the ocean. It has been called “The Pebble Beach of Scotland,” referencing its coastal proximity and inspiring vistas.
  • The stone wall that runs through parts of the course was built with Napoleonic war prisoners during the early 19th century to separate the golf course from the deer park.
  • Many all-time great players have tested the links at Dunbar, including Old Tom Morris, James Braid, Harry Vardon, Ben Hogan, and four-time Open champion Bobby Locke. More recently, Ryder Cup stalwarts Colin Montgomerie and Luke Donald, major winner Vijay Singh, and former US Amateur champion Matt Kuchar.
  • Dunbar gets the nickname “Sunny Dunny” because it receives more sunshine than anywhere else along the Scottish coast despite still being windy from the North Sea.
dunbar coastline

The Course

At just under 6,600 yards from the tips, the par 71 layout is not overly long by modern standards. However, it presents plenty of challenges to test the best players. The ever-present wind whipping off the North Sea demands supreme ball-striking and shotmaking ability. The lack of rough means balls can bound over the wall and be lost at sea. Undulating fairways and raised greens reject inaccurate approaches.

Surprisingly, the round starts with back-to-back par-5s, with the first three holes playing inland. Golfers walk through an opening in the iconic wall at the 4th hole as the course shifts seaside the rest of the way. The ocean dictates the lines of play on one side and the estate wall on the other, leading to straightaway holes down the coastline. Greens are raised and exposed to the wind, many with impressive undulations. The views open up to rocky beaches, sandy dunes, and the famous Bass Rock island.

The short par-4 6th hole is a standout, drivable for long hitters but protected by the wall looming along the right side. A stretch of tough holes begins at the par-5 9th, a long three-shottter with a blind tee shot to an undulating fairway, which is very pronounced on the left. After plotting your way through the wind, a large, undulating green awaits. The 14th hole provides a stunning backdrop for golf, with a ruined castle and the harbor completing the postcard-perfect scene. The unique 14th green is sunk 15 feet below ground level, adding another dimension.

Long par-4s like the signature 7th and closing 18th require tee shots that avoid fairway bunkers pinching in from both sides. The short par-4s also demand precision, with tricky doglegs and well-guarded greens. Though there is plenty of room off the tee, wayward shots will find trouble at Dunbar. It strikes a perfect balance between fun and difficulty.

Visit Dunbar Golf Club online at https://www.dunbargolfclub.com.

dunbar course

Further Reading

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Classic Golf Links
by Donald Steel

Summary: Classic Golf Links of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland by Donald Steele is a guidebook featuring 75 spectacular links golf courses in the British Isles, covering their history, design, and challenges. The book includes scorecards, hole maps, photos, and playing tips for each course, providing key information for golf travelers while celebrating these revered seaside tests.  With writing by Donald Steel and photos by Brian Morgan, Classic Golf Links is considered an essential reference for experiencing the best of links golf.

This book is a must for anyone with an affinity for links golf. I bought this book years ago and still return to it often. The pictures are amazing and they alone will make you fall in love with these courses.

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Sand and Golf
by George Waters

Summary: “Sand and Golf” explores how sandy terrain uniquely suits golf, studying similarities and differences between courses worldwide with sandy features. It examines all aspects of the relationship between sand and golf, from the sport’s origins in Scottish coastal dunes to its global spread onto sandy sites. Written by golf architect George Waters with a preface by renowned designer Tom Doak, it details through examples and illustrations why firm, rugged, windy sandy terrain makes creative shot-making integral to the game. The book appeals to knowledgeable golfers interested in course design and architecture, analyzing the art and science behind why golf belongs on sand.

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True Links
by  Malcolm Campbell & George Peper

Summary: True Links by Malcolm Campbell and George Peper profiles over 240 of the world’s top links golf courses across the British Isles and beyond, examining their history, design features, and status as an authentic “true links.” Organized geographically, the book offers photos, maps, scorecards and playing tips for renowned seaside tests like Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Cabot Links, Barnbougle Dunes and others that meet the authors’ criteria.  For links golf aficionados, True Links serves as an illustrated guidebook for experiencing the unique joys and challenges of the game’s most revered coastal courses.

Videos

Dunbar – Random Golf Club
Dunbar Overview
Dunbar Course Overview

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