Baberton Golf Club: Accurate Placement Will Always be Rewarded
Baberton Golf Club was founded on 1 May 1893, situated on the ancient Baberton Estate on ground hunted over by Mary Queen of Scots in the 16th century. Many of golf's all-time great names contributed to the design of the course. The first of these men was Willie Park jnr., a two time Open Champion and expert club-maker who designed the initial 9-hole layout in 1893.
It was commented that he "arrived from Musselburgh with a cleek under his arm, asking to be left alone to weigh up the ground". Rumour has it that Park had a 9 hole layout prepared within 2 hours. Further contributions were made in future years by Ben Sayers, 5-time Open Champion James Braid, and Bobby Locke.
Notwithstanding all the contributions of these golfing legends, Baberton Golf Club's main claim-to-fame originates from the invention of a local blacksmith named Thomas Horsburgh. He was one of the original members of the club, and in the founding year he began work on a new set of golf clubs.
These clubs had shafts made of steel, which Horsburgh saw as a better alternative to the hickory shaft. He crafted 4 woods and 3 irons (one of which had a head which could be adjusted for loft by a simple screw-unscrew method), and after discovering how much better they were, he patented the invention on May 1, 1894.
This attracted many leading professionals and club-makers, and the R & A eventually sanctioned the use of steel shafts in 1929. The patent was later bought by an American company called True Temper, who we now know as the largest producers of steel shafts in the golf industry.
Horsburgh's collection still forms the centre-piece of Baberton Golf Club's display cabinet, and the 7 clubs along with 2 more heads and 2 premierextracts of the patents are priceless. The link between Thomas Horsburgh and Baberton Golf Club means that this club will always have a special place in golfing history.
In more recent years, Baberton has had many more excellent players. Ewen Murray was Scottish Matchplay and Strokeplay Champion, and Foreign Champion at the World Boys Championship in San Diego in 1971, and he is now the main commentator of golf on Sky Television, the UK's main satellite/cable station.
Baberton is 6,129 yards long and is a par 69, with a standard scratch score of 70 (note: the ladies course is a par 72 of 5,489 yards). The course record of 64 is jointly held by David Beveridge jnr, Ron Bradley and BJH Tait. The course is parkland with heavy tree growth at various points.
In the centenary year of 1993 many new tree plantations were added with the intention that by the time of the bi-centenary almost every fairway would be tree-lined. The course is fairly undulating and has several extremely well designed holes which not only make the best use of the contours, but also take into account the prevailing west-wind which is almost always.
In general, Baberton is a genuine test for any golfer looking to play to their handicap. There are numerous par-4s of well over 400 yards, and 3 of the 5 par-3s are over 200 yards, making these holes difficult even for the most capable player to score par.
One has great difficulty in choosing the best and most memorable holes on Baberton there is barely a hole on the course which does not provide an interesting challenge. Both the opening and closing holes are tough tests. The 1st hole is 405 yards long and plays downhill, so length is not a major problem for most golfers. However, many golfers will walk on to the 2nd tee with a seven, eight, or even double-figure score on their card.
The elevated tee sits directly in front of both the Professional's Shop and the Clubhouse, and the observers there never tire of watching the trials and tribulations of a nervous golfer! There is a tall hedge down the left side of the tee and out-of-bounds tight on the right side. The usual west-wind often pushes the ball in that latter direction. The par-5 2nd hole then plays directly into the wind, before the next couple of holes give some respite.
The finishing hole (421 yard par-4) is also difficult, and has a very tight tee-shot with trees all the way down the right side and a narrow gap through which to drive. Most golfers are left with a side-hill lie, blind second shot to a narrow green cut into a slope.
It is important to discuss in more detail the 12th and 13th the two best holes on the course. An extensive tree plantation lies to the left of the 12th, and as it grows, this hole (along with the adjacent 7th) will be particularly difficult. Even now, it is a 469-yard par-4 which plays with a (sometimes swirling) cross wind.
Another tree plantation lies to the right, and there are three large fairway bunkers ranging from 200-250 yards from the tee. The hole then dog-legs left and a second shot over a large dip in the fairway remains. The green is quite well protected by a bunker on each side (the one on the left is deep).
After negotiating 12, the golfer then faces the hardest tee-shot on the course on the 13th Baberton's signature hole. Large mature trees lie to the left and right, and with the swirling wind a truly accurate tee-shot is vital. "The Gap" is a simple yet very appropriate name for this hole.
The second shot plays well uphill to a 2-tier green which has yet more trees directly behind it. The bunker on the left of the green lies above the level of the putting surface, yet has a very steep face. Similarly, the bunker on the right side has a steep face, and is in fact by far the deepest on the course. It is unusual to see much of the flagstick from this bunker.
My overall verdict on Baberton Golf Club is a definite thumbs-up. Though the growth of new trees make the course more challenging by the day for all levels of player, it remains an extremely pleasant course to play. The course is characterised by difficult tee-shots and punishing rough, so accurate placement will always be rewarded. An extensive green re-development project has taken place over the last several years in anticipation of wear and tear through constant use, and the course is expected to maintain its high standards.
However, for me, the jewel in Baberton Golf Club's crown is the incredible history contained therein. No other club in the world can boast of owning the first steel-shafted clubs in golf, and visitors are free to view these treasures in the main lounge of the Clubhouse.
Baberton is a very easy club to get to, both on public transport and by car. It is located on the south-west outskirts of Edinburgh, about 6 miles from the city centre. By car, follow signs for the A70 west and stay on it all the way to the village of Juniper Green, then turn right at the Royal Bank of Scotland and follow the road all the way to the top.
Visitors are welcome all throughout the year, and group bookings are taken. Visitors can also be catered for and the standard of meal is excellent. Electric trolleys are permitted and the terrain is suitable for their use.