Thanks to the gentle, but not insignificant undulations, I could play here for eternity, never get bored and would continually find new ways to play each hole because I can think of few courses more exposed to the wind and where you must continually work the ball, predominantly under the breeze.
I arrived just before 2.40pm and whilst waiting to pay my green-fee behind the bar (the lady was in the middle of carefully pouring up a tray with a dozen glasses of Kummel on it) I got chatting to a couple of seasoned gentleman deep into their first pint of Belhaven Best. I asked if they had played that morning. Their reply was, “No laddie, but we’ve been round this afternoon”. Slow play isn’t an issue at Luffness.
Indeed, I had the course to myself and I suspect Luffness, founded in 1894 and designed by Old Tom Morris, receives the fewest plays of all courses in East Lothian. It doesn’t actively seek the attention of the endless number of golfers converging in Gullane but the welcome for those enquiring to play is warm and welcoming. As a result of the limited play the condition was immaculate and the sense of peaceful isolation only amplified.
The opening five holes are on a parcel of land separated to the rest of the course by the snaking coastal A198 road. They are an excellent introduction with a perfect balance of movement in the land, fine green complexes and an early indication of the fierce bunkering that you will encounter during the round. The par-three third is a truly wonderful hole with a brilliant green site whilst anyone in need of a confidence boost should head to the tee on the descending fourth and strike a drive with a breeze at their back; in conjunction with the firm ground this 572-yard par-five was reduced to a drive and a mid-iron!
Good things continue all the way to the turn. I really liked the uphill seventh (only 323 yards but devilishly tricky to find the green in a cross-wind) and loved the falling and angled approach to the next even more so. The ninth is also a fabulous hole and concludes a strong front-nine.
Holes 10 and 11 are both nice too but don’t quite match what has come before. There is some unattractive mounding round the 10th and the blind drive doesn’t quite fit at the next. But the course bounces back with a bang at the 12th; an inviting downhill par-four of just 365 yards with a plethora of menacing bunkers to contend with and another green that slopes away from you. It’s difficult to know how to play this uniquely brilliant hole. I think I must have changed clubs at least three times on the tee and as a result of my indecision ended up making a complete mess of it.
Onto the closing stretch and the long 14th is a visual delight from the tee as it sweeps down towards Aberlady Bay with a couple of bunkers on the inner-elbow to avoid. Holes 15 and 17 both head East and are modest in length but mighty in the way they are defended by bunkers and low-level undulations. In-between we temporarily switch direction to play a classic links short hole with a deep bunker to hurdle short of the green. Heading towards Gullane centre again and the 18th is a monster two-shotter at 455-yards but a fine way to finish an excellent course.
The greens were like lightning and staying below the hole was imperative on my visit with a stiff breeze sweeping over the linksland. Even on a benign day you will really need your putting touch if you are to master the excellently crafted putting surfaces. The greens; their surfaces, surrounds and internal contours especially are of an immensely high quality, they are perfect in just about every sense.
This deceptively challenging course measures 6,502 yards from the tips, par is 70 and SSS a reasonable 72 (on a calm day) but as soon as the wind starts whistling down the Firth of Forth you will need every ounce of ingenuity and bogeys become pars. Depending upon the strength and direction of the wind cross bunkering at a number of par fours will come into play on either drive or approach and must be avoided at all costs.
Inevitably, due to the proximity, comparisons will be made to Gullane. In summary, Luffness is very similar in many aspects, the best way I can describe it is that it’s a good compilation of all three courses at Gullane. It doesn’t quite match the highs of its neighbour but it also doesn’t have the problem of having to tackle Gullane Hill. In terms of preference I’d probably slot it between Gullane No.1 and Gullane No.2.
The closest comparison I can make for English compatriots would be Rye down on the Sussex coast, certainly away from the course, where they certainly do it their own way. Jacket and tie is required in the clubhouse after 10.15am here and the (very fine) golf is almost secondary to the actual belonging of The Club.