It’s easy to understand why so many people love to visit and play at the semi-exclusive Archerfield Links when the opportunity arises.
The very fact it is set in the heart of established real estate for golf, on Scotland’s Golf Coast in East Lothian, and has proven to be so popular, since it was created in its modern day form just after the turn of the millennium, is testament to the quality of the venue.
The entire set-up is undeniably exceptional; two contrasting golf courses, a luxury clubhouse and world-class practice facilities all make this an enviable place to spend time. I experienced a high and attentive level of service over my two days here yet there is still a beautifully relaxed feel and atmosphere around the establishment.
The Fidra course plays through mature pine trees for the first two thirds of the round before venturing out onto linksier land for the remainder. The woodland holes have a lovely enclosed feel to them whilst the “links” section of the course enjoys a more open vista, particularly compared to the gorse-riddled Dirleton course, but more on that later.
I put the word links in quotation marks above because I’m not 100% convinced it is true links golf although the course is particularly fast running and the ground game can be utilised around the greens. It’s certainly not classic links golf in its purest form; an almost faux-links style would perhaps be the best way to describe it. And although you are close to the coast you don’t ever really get the feeling that you are playing seaside golf.
A stray drive on the first 11 holes of the Fidra is likely to find Augusta-esque pine straw where you will easily find your ball and be able to advance it but not always in the direction you would like to. Hit an errant tee-shot on the closing seven holes and you will be playing from well below or above your feet on the side of a dune ridge!
I thought one of the best holes on the Fidra was the twisting par-five second, with a crafty central(ish) bunker just shy of the green. This is something we see regularly throughout both courses and a feature I quite liked; a number of the greenside bunkers eat into the entrance of many greens and pose a real conundrum. Several fairway bunkers also encroach well into the fairways, again something I thought added to the challenge and made a refreshing change to many other modern courses where the bunkering simply lines the fairways.
Other holes that impressed me on the Fidra were the tough seventh (don’t run out of room on the right), the 166-yard eighth, where a bunker short of the green really messes with your depth perception, and the 12th which has a surprising green setting after rounding the sand dunes. The tough closing stretch also makes you earn your score.
I also enjoyed playing into a number of the green complexes which are generous but not easy to hold as many are domed and fall away at the sides; the 11th and 16th were particularly memorable.
The Dirleton on the other hand is a much more consistent course and billed as a traditional Scottish Links. The ground is certainly very firm and fast running but it may take several decades of settling down and good agronomy before you could class it as a pure links experience. One thing that you will find here though, as you would on any true links, is an exposure to the wind!
Nearly every hole is flanked by impenetrable gorse and although the runway flat fairways are generous you don’t have to stray too far offline on some holes for your ball to never be seen again. It’s not dissimilar to having a lateral water hazard running down the side of each hole, with the exception that you cannot drop at the side under penalty. I think I only fell victim to it once but had plenty of close calls!
You are continually asked to drive the ball straight, rather than favour one side or the other, and this is my main criticism of the course because I felt this became a little monotonous as the round progressed.
That’s not to say there aren’t some good holes. I liked the opening hole and loved the green complex at the short third where you are asked to work the ball in from the right. Indeed the entire collection of one-shotters is impressive with a wonderfully fluid green at the short 13th a notable highlight. The 420-yard ninth is also a superb hole as it wanders through some of the low dunes.
If the course doesn’t ask too many differing questions from the tee the greens and their surrounds do their best to make up for any lack of variety. Several of the aprons feature steeply graded slopes that will sweep a ball away from the interestingly contoured putting surfaces.
Both golf courses have a par of 72, both are routed in two returning loops of nine, both have four par-threes and four par-fives, both stretch to the 7,000-yard mark from the championship markers along with four sets of tees. It’s all very standard for modern golf courses. DJ Russell has created a wide range of holes across the flattish estate, along with many differing bunker styles, but throughout the 36 holes there isn’t one tempting, driveable par four; that’s a missed opportunity in my book when effectively starting from scratch.
There’s a lot to like about Archerfield, especially the fast running nature of both courses, and I’m sure their members are extremely proud of their home. Personally, I’m never going to fall in love with a place like this but I suspect, and can see why, others will tumble head over heels.
I think if I was offered ten rounds here I’d use six on the Fidra, three on the Dirleton and may just cheekily sneak off down the road to play one of the Gullane courses for my tenth.
Copt Heath is a very fine parkland golf course that requires precision, plotting and a deft touch around the slick greens.
The Blue is a mix of American-style design and traditional English parkland. It's an unusual combination which makes the most of the terrain available. It was designed by Simon Gidman and opened in 1994.