It is here you will find an expansive oasis of links golf located in the small East Lothian town that the club is named after. Our initial visit in August 2013 comprised of playing the two oldest courses whilst a return the following March also included No.3.
The No.1 course, opened in 1884, doesn't feature anything remotely close to a weak hole and golfers will enjoy 18 superbly crafted, solid and fair tests of golf throughout their round. The course is relentlessly persistent in producing quality golf holes, one after another. It's therefore no surprise it recently staged Final Open Qualifying for the 2013 Open Championship when held at nearby Muirfield.
The course winds its way up, over and around Gullane Hill creating, as you would expect from the rise and fall in terrain, a variety of holes in the process. The views are truly spectacular, none-more-so than the vista from the 7th tee where taking in the panorama from here will add at least ten minutes to your round!
However, before you get to that point you will have tackled six very different holes. The first is a gentle opener with bunkers rather than length the main defence. You then snake up the second with an angled fairway requiring a draw shot to put you in the perfect spot to find the long, narrow and leaning green. If the well-placed bunkers are avoided at the downhill par-five third you may have the chance to pick up a shot. And that stroke is likely to be required because the short fourth, with a slightly raised green, and the 450 yard uphill par four fifth offers little hope of birdies. The sixth is perhaps the best chance of improving your score at this delightful short par-four perfectly etched across and up the hillside.
From the highest point on the course the descent is rather more sudden than the march to the top. It comes in the form of the seventh where one must think carefully about the tee-shot before blazing away with a driver at this extremely inviting hole.
What follows over the next eight holes is as demanding and true a test of golf that I think I have ever played. There are four par-fours with the shortest coming in at 466 yards! Both 'short holes' approach 200 yards and the 15th measures 580 yards, and played uphill to the best green on the course is a definite three-shotter. The only breather comes at the reachable par-five 12th but strategic bunkers must be avoided here. The holes are nothing less than fair though with relatively generous fairways and the greens accepting of a long iron or fairway wood.
The 17th is akin to the seventh in so much that it is played severely downhill albeit the other side of Gullane Hill whilst the 18th is an excellent finishing hole bringing you back almost into the centre of the town.
The course has some truly fantastic views but don't be fooled by the amazing aspect that acts as a backdrop to almost every hole because, as good as it is, the scenery is most definitely a supporting act to the superb golf on offer.
The course doesn't possess the quirks and idiosyncrasies that some links courses muster but that isn't to its detriment. This is true championship links golf.
The second course at Gullane was built 14 years later and is a championship course in its own right. Indeed it has also staged Open Qualifying in the recent past as well as the Seniors Open Amateur Championship in 2002.
The type of links golf encountered at the No.2 course is very similar in character to that at the No.1 layout. In fact you could take almost any hole and place it on the main course and it wouldn't look or feel out of place.
The No.2 course is preferred by many locals and whilst it doesn't quite demand as much from the golfer it's easy to see why it is so well liked. As a whole the No.1 course in my opinion is undoubtedly superior and consistently produces on 18 occasions but it could be argued that the second course has the stand-out holes. The fourth, 11th and 13th certainly have the 'wow' factor and are seriously good golf holes. I could also make a strong case for it having at least as strong a set of short holes too.
It comes in 500 yards shorter than its elder sibling and houses only one long par four (which is played downhill) but the par of 71 is still a sound test.
The first two holes take you away from the clubhouse towards Luffness New Golf Club and are a gentle introduction to the course. No.2 doesn't quite make the initial climb up Gullane Hill in quite the same inspired way as the No.1 course. Here it is less imaginative and very much straight up the hill thanks to a blind but driveable par-four with an interesting green.
The impressive fourth slides down the other side of the hill and requires three cross-bunkers to be carried for what is likely to be a long second shot. The clever golfer can shape his tee-shot left-to-right and maximise the run-out on the drive at this 450+ yard par four but must be wary of pulling his shot into a lone bunker on the left-hand side. The fifth is a fine par-three and the next, a par-five at 537 yards, is also a good hole.
A run of four medium length par fours follow. After driving between two large bunkers the seventh has the most wonderful backdrop of sea and rolling hills. The 10th is perhaps the pick of the quartet though with a huge bunker guarding the front-right of the green.
Holes 11 through 14 were my personal favourites. The downhill par-three 11th is nothing short of amazing with excellent bunkering and a green that falls away from you. The 12th is fairly innocuous looking at first glance but the wonderful view of Aberlady Bay, the Firth of Forth and the Kingdom of Fife can easily create a false sense of security. You can also just see the courses of Kilspindie and Craigielaw hugging the shore further around the coastline from this elevated tee.
Meanwhile the climbing 13th, in my opinion, is THE best hole we played out of the 36 at Gullane. Fairway bunkers, left and right, give you a choice from the tee as to whether you attack the hole and bring them into play for the chance of a shorter shot into the green, which is located close to the top of the hill, or play short of them and face an approach from further back and consequently an unwanted flatter ball-flight up to the raised green. The two-tiered putting surface with a false front is exceptional.
The 14th comes at a time in the round where one may be in a position where he or she needs to attack the course or play more conservatively and this hole asks the perfect questions. It sweeps round to the left and invites longer hitters to try and cut the corner, over a menacing fairway bunker, but the sensible play is probably to make sure of finding the fairway in order to set up a birdie chance. Holes 15 and 16 keep the momentum and incline of the course going with two strong showings - another excellent short hole followed by a long par five.
This brings us to the point where we need to descend back down to the clubhouse and once again this is done in a dramatic way thanks to the 17th. It varies from the seventh and 17th on the No.1 course in that it dog-legs to the left but the tee-shot is no less inspiring where a well-struck tee-shot will hang in the air for what seems like an eternity. The 18th is another shortish par-four and although a nice hole it is a bit of a tame finish when there is a tail wind.
The condition of both courses was, as you would expect, immaculate. The greens ran true and the fairways produced that tight lie only links golf can provide. The bunkers were immaculately maintained, both the sand and the surrounds. It has a reputation for excellent winter golf too and I can well imagine that being the case.
One key feature we noticed on both courses is the bunkering on a lot of the holes gives the appearance that the hazards are much closer to the green than they actually are. This may fool the first time visitor but you will certainly know for your second round, and third, and fourth... This is a course that once you have played it you will want to return to time and time again.
I can't speak highly enough of our experience here. It is very rare that you come across a club with two courses where there is such a consistent quality throughout both of them. We didn't see the third course but there is no reason to think this should be any different either.
And that was confirmed the following March when we visited Gullane again and sampled all three course.
The No.3 course has a certain charm and character to it. Not that the other two don’t but this, the shortest of the three, has a few more eccentric holes. The greens are smaller and even though you are often going in with a short iron they are still tricky to find and as equally well bunkered as the other two courses.
In many ways this course makes a refreshing change to the relentlessly strong championship golf that No.1 and No.2 serve up and provides lots of fun shots. It’s also the perfect length to make it an excellent choice for those looking to play two courses on the same day and still have the energy to enjoy some food and a beer in the clubhouse. At just 5,259 yards (par 68) it makes our leading golf courses under 6,000 yards.
In terms of the stand-out holes; the second is a delightful short par three to a tiny green and surrounded by bunkers where only the most accurate shot will find the putting surface. There are a string of excellent short par fours throughout the course but especially on the front nine with the 3rd, 7th & 9th particularly standing out.
However, there are also a handful of holes on No.3 that wouldn’t sit out of place on either of the older two courses. Despite its modest length of 342 yards the sixth is a wonderful hole played to a green carved beautifully into the hillside. The tenth is as fine a test as you will come across on the entire 54 hole estate and the 12th is just a wonderful hole that doglegs left-to-right and in doing so wraps itself elegantly around Gullane Hill. The 16th was also a personal favourite.
It would be amiss not to mention the par three 15th which at 176 yards is possibly best played as a ‘chip and run’ or even with a putter from the tee! Why? You’ll have to go play and see for yourself!
Gullane is a private members club but with access to three courses they are very welcoming of visitors every day of the week. The town itself is a perfect base for golfing in East Lothian with over 20 quality golf courses within easy reach.
There is something about Elie that puts you under a spell. It is a truly magical links that, after just one round, has won a place in my heart and mind forever.
There’s very little that hasn’t been written about the golfing mecca that is St. Andrews.