Golf in Musselburgh: I’ll take the course—and the people—behind door No. 3
So, I set out first thing this morning to play what’s purported to be the oldest golf course in the world. But I ended up on a relative newcomer. And it couldn’t have worked out much better—well unless, of course, I’d won the competition.
This story of serendipity begins with the intent to find my way to Musselburgh in the Midlothian region of Scotland, east of Edinburgh. As I noted in my previous post, I’ve been reading Tommy’s Honor, a double biography of Old Tom Morris and his son Tommy. Both played at Musselburgh, home to the earliest iterations of the Open Championship and an archrival of the now far more famous St. Andrews. So it seemed like the perfect place to start this two-month journey into the heart of Scottish golf.
But, alas, following the sign postings to the town of Musselburgh won’t necessarily get you there. But it could have you pulling into the car park of the Musselburgh Golf Club. If that sounds like a riddle, I’m right there with you. Turns out the track Old Tom and his contemporaries traipsed upon is known as the Old Course, sited in the infield of the Musselburgh Racecourse. Musselburgh Golf Club dates back to 1938 and, more recently, has served as a venue for Open qualifying. So it’s got some history of its own and, truth be told, much more to offer in terms of golfing challenge.
Now, if that’s not sufficiently confusing, I also discovered today that there’s a third Musselburgh—the Royal Musselburgh Golf Club. Completely different place. But no point in continuing with this particular digression.
Let’s stick with Musselburgh the Younger, given that my car is parked and—after a check with the starter—two locals are willing to let me into their game and show me around the place. I might not know my Musselburghs. But I can certainly recognize good fortune when it’s staring me in the face.
Danny is a member of this very hospitable club. Dougie is his friend of more than 40 years. The two played on the same football club when they had a bit more of a spring in their steps. For much of the time between then and now, they served the youth of Musselburgh as teachers—Dougie taught English and Danny physical education. Now they’re retired, which explains why I found them on the first tee on a Monday morning.
And what a lovely view it is from that opening perch: a 346-yard downhill par 4 with bunkers left and right and, most notably, the St. Michael’s Church spire for a backdrop. It’s the kind of setting that can put a wandering American in an agreeable mood, even when the two Scots he’s just met insist on including him in a wee Stableford competition with full handicaps to be applied.
Though they didn’t admit it, Danny and Dougie might have questioned that decision when I split the fairway with my drive, knocked an 8-iron on the green and two-putted for a regulation par—your basic dream start to a long golf trip.
Unfortunately, my additional playing highlights were much too few and far between the rest of the way around. Dougie, though, brought forth his A game, booming it off the tee and sinking a handful of lengthy putts. Danny struggled on the way out, but rallied on the inward nine. Still, the man of words bested the man of muscle. I finished third (OK, out of three!), a point behind Danny. But it was all in fun, especially when I inquired about the stakes—only to be informed by Dougie that they “play strictly for pride.” What a country!
After the golf, my hosts insisted I join them in the clubhouse for a pot of tea and an egg-and-haggis breakfast sandwich. Once again, I followed orders—much to my delight. Who knew cow entrails could be so tasty!?
What of the course? It’s strictly parkland (vs. links), but a very entertaining one. The founders were blessed with a large tract of land upon which to work their way around, so there’s plenty of buffer between most of the holes. And the routing is refreshingly circuitous. Each hole points you in a different direction from the one you just played, constantly forcing you to adjust for wind and terrain. This Musselburgh won’t beat you up, unless you insist on playing it from the tips. But there aren’t any gimme holes, either. Even the 2nd, a 124-yard par 3 with a stroke index of 18, can jump up and bite you (as it did me, when my ball landed in one of its many facing bunkers and I needed two blasts to get it out).
Mostly though, what I'll remember about this opening salvo is the good walk, the good company and even the good haggis. Perhaps I should lose my way more often!