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  • Neil White

Gullane No.1

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

It mattered not a jot that the wind was gusting at up to 38 miles an hour. My smile remained transfixed.

Gullane No.1 was tremendous - the fairways, the greens, the variety of the holes and... the views. Boy, those views.

My good fortune was enhanced further by wonderful company and the fact that heavy rain which was coming down in stair rods a few miles away, literally circled us.

Visiting Gullane Golf Club is an experience akin to few others because of its remarkable set-up.

As one enters the town, the visitors' clubhouse and practice area is on one side of a main road and over the way is the professional's shop, golf museum and members' clubhouse.

The practice green for No.1 is on an island between that clubhouse and the starter's hut.

My meagre words don't do it justice - it feels as if one has arrived in golf Mecca - and that sense is heightened during the round where there are views towards nearby Renaissance, Archerfield and, of course, Muirfield.

As said, I was fortunate to be hosted by a jovial member and another top 100 compadre and we indulged in a convivial breakfast roll before opening our shoulders on the first tee.

Gullane is proud to have hosted the Scottish Open and the traditional clubhouse has a modern entrance with a life-sized montage of former winner Rickie Fowler and stars such as Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose who have competed on its turf.

This is a venue which combines smart with raw. Every element of its welcome is on point as are the paths and maintenance around the course. But there is no soft-soaping the Scottish weather and the difficulty of the links.

Those who have observed No.1 from the road may think it is a piece of cake if the first - a short par-four - is a good example of its holes.

It isn't - except for the consistent tangly rough and the deep greenside bunkers (I found myself in a fried egg which put paid to my hope for early glory).

The second is much more intimidating - bending, uphill, against the wind with a steep bank to the right and deep grass and bushes awaiting those who try to cut the corner on the left.

Gullane already wowed me but my breath was taken away by the views from the tee of the par-five third. From there, we could see across the bay to Edinburgh and my partners pointed out the city's castle and famous Arthur's Seat.

This clearly inspired me to kickstart my round with three decent strikes around the sand traps before a pleasing two-putt.

Two steps forward became three steps back on the first par-three thanks to me selecting three extra clubs to accommodate the wind and then firing through the green. My only lost ball of the day was the result.

I have seldom had such a poor start in terms of Stableford-point scoring and felt so unperturbed. The surroundings were so impressive that I knew my form would return and so it proved.

For the first time, the hoolie was behind us for the Stroke Index-1 fifth hole, a dogleg that then ascends to a green with a false front.

One of my compadres then produced one of the shots of my travels on the 300-yard par-four sixth, reaching the putting surface with an astounding drive. I was thrilled to follow his lead with a (much shorter) drive, chip and putt for a birdie.

I had already believed I was in golfing heaven and then came the view from the 7th tee across the beach to Muirfield et al. It is simply sensational.

Our host was an American who lives in Gullane three months a year and had wonderful stories to go with almost every hole.

He told how he brought his non-golfing wife to sit on a bench on the course for a sandwich and glass of wine to explain why he wanted membership.

She said he had no need - she could see the attraction with her own eyes.

Spurred on by the vista, I cracked a decent tee shot down the middle of the seventh, a fairly straight-forward par-four by Gullane standards.

The eighth is a smashing par-four with an undulating green framed by the sea and the theme continues on the ninth, a par-three studded with bunkers around a large intimidating target.

As we admired another incredible vantage point, our host told us how he had to run his fastest in 30 years to prevent his electric trolley from sweeping over the cliff to a watery grave a few weeks previously.

Having become used to the fierce wind and the terrain, my game raised a gear in the second nine, despite an inauspicious hook off the 10th tee.

This is the second toughest hole on the course with fiendish bunkers awaiting those who try to be greedy.

The 11th is another belter down towards the brine, running parallel to the eighth and demanding accuracy to elude traps. Even if mission one is accomplished, there is still a devilish putting surface standing in the way of glory.

By now, I had learned that putting from the fairways and bump and runs were the order of the day and I yielded profit from such tactics by nailing a par five on the 12th.

This runs alongside fortifications from the Second World War which, according to our tongue-in-cheek host, successfully prevented tanks from coming ashore,

There are definitely no gimme par-threes at Gullane and the level of difficulty is maintained on the 13th. One large bunker straddles the approach while six more are dotted around the green which has a fiendishly steep entrance.

Gullane No.1 became a rather different animal with the wind behind and, despite being back up the hill, both the 14th and 15th offered scoring opportunities.

I snaffled my chance on the par-four 14th but my drive on the 15th, despite looking good, caught a gust into the fairway bunker. Alas, this was my Hamlet moment, and a blob resulted.

It was a nearly a very different story on the wickedly tricky short 16th when I was gobsmacked to see my five-iron strike, curve around the bunkers and trundle up the green towards the flag. I dreamt of a two and, inevitably three-putted for a four.

I will never forget the 390-yard, par-four 17th because my drive was the longest I have hit in my life.

Admittedly, its downhill gradient is sharp and we had a near-gale at our backs but I was thrilled after I gave the ball a fine old whack and it flew on and on and on... only to come to rest in a bunker about 40 yards short of the green.

We were on the 18th where Fowler completed his heroic win on the same day that he grabbed his first USPGA title in years.

It provided a remarkable finale because our big-hitting compadre went for the green and fired his drive way right, across the road into the visitors' clubhouse car park! He then came up just short of the target with his provisional ball.

It was a fitting climax to a truly joyous day, polished off with more tales of feats here and on our travels over a jar out of the wind.

Gullane No.1 was spectacular and I would love to return.

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