Prestonfield Golf Course: A Hidden Gem in one of Europe's most lively cities
EDINBURGH - Nestled in behind the terraced flats and houses that run the length of Edinburgh's Dalkieth Road, Prestonfield Golf Course is a 'hidden' gem in the truest sense of the word. Such is its position that from the main road you could quite easily never realise that it was even there. However, look closer and you will find a lovely golf club with the feel of the countryside tucked away merely a mile from the centre of town.
Edinburgh is one of Europe's most lively and beautiful cities, popular all year round with visitors from all over the world. Whether interested in the city's historic attractions such as the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle or contemporary offerings such as Our Dynamic Earth exhibition or the Edinburgh Festivals, Edinburgh has something for everyone.
The visiting golfer similarly has a large number of courses to choose from and visitors to Edinburgh will find that the Prestonfield Club does have a great deal to offer. Firstly, the clubs location is a major bonus. Positioned just off Dalkieth Road, the club is only a fifteen minute bus ride from Princes Street and easily accessible by car. However the surrounding area also boasts a large number of guest houses, hotels, and bed and breakfasts. The 1,800 bed Edinburgh University Halls of Residence, which backs on to the course, is also available during Summer and Easter vacation.
Its location also means that golfers are faced with one of the most formidable landmarks the city has to offer, that of Arthur's Seat. The hill is an extinct volcano, similar to the one that Edinburgh Castle sits atop, and dominates the view from the course that sits at its base. A popular climb for locals and tourists, it provides a stunning backdrop to the opening and closing series of holes.
The course itself is an undulating parkland course that boasts some challenging greens. Although in the past drainage proved a problem, continuing improvements since the 1980's has seen an impressive drainage system put in place which means that today even during the winter months the course is rarely closed.
The course opens with a fairly simple par four that doglegs slightly to the right. Apparently a highlight of the course is that during summer months the trees that line the fairway of this hole blossom in bright pinks and create a beautiful background. Several members that I talked to described it as a wonderful sight, however having played the course in late February when all the trees were completely bare meant that this writer missed out.
The par-3 2nd and the par-5 3rd holes that follow are in my opinion two of the most well crafted holes on the course. Despite only measuring 151yards on the scorecard the second hole is a par three with bite. The first difficulty involved is avoiding the four large bunkers that guard the green. Even if this is accomplished, the tee shot still has to be accurate to make putting very easy on the very long, two-tier green.
The 3rd, a 551-yard par five with a left to right dogleg, will similarly test any player. It is a gorgeous sweeping downhill hole that runs adjacent to Arthur's Seat and is another that may be very good or very nasty. A good drive and you can find yourself in a very strong position.
However one loose shot and this can be an extremely expensive hole. The fact that a wall runs the whole length of the left hand side of the hole, marking out of bounds, should be enough to give palpitations to anyone afflicted with a tendency to hook the ball. However even those that can keep the ball in bounds may suffer on their approach shot with a deep gully to the right hand side of the green waiting to gobble up anything that may be off line. The gully is sometimes called 'Samson's Grave' after the geological formation known as 'Samson's Ribs' that is visible from the hole, and one cannot help but think that it may indeed be an apt title.
The following hole is, according to the scorecard the second hardest on the course although I believe that possibly the 3rd could play much tougher if the conditions were right (or wrong as the case may be). The fifth and sixth holes have recently seen some redevelopment as part of the club's continuing strategy of improvement. It is however the stretch of four par-4s and one par-3 from the 8th to the 12th hole that may make or break a round on this course, especially if the wind is up.
The 8th hole is, according to the scorecard, only the fifth longest of the par fours, but you wouldn't believe it when playing it. An extremely testing hole, it owes a lot to the fact that it plays into the prevailing wind, and in Edinburgh, as locals will testify, the wind rarely eases up.
If the 8th hole uses the wind to test you then the par three 9th uses sand, with five bunkers surrounding the green making it a very tough target. The 10th and 11th however rely on out of bounds. This time around any hookers of the ball will be safe as out of bounds runs up the right hand side of both holes. In fact the 11th is deemed the toughest on the course.
However, when the wind comes into play, the 12th may well challenge for that title. Again into the prevailing wind, this par four is only slightly longer than the neighbouring 8th hole, but utilises bunkers much more readily. Several fairway bunkers are on hand to ensnare tee shots, while the green is guarded by a further three to its left-hand side.
I didn't find the remaining holes quite as testing, but they were all the more enjoyable for it, utilising character rather than difficulty as the previous holes had done. The 13th for example is a par three and is called 'The Garden' due to a legend that Mary Queen of Scots once kept a garden there. Now whether there is any truth to this, who is to say, but the hole is delightful, the relatively new raised green adding to its charm.
What the Prestonfield Club manage to do successfully is to ensure that the small details are taken care of and let the big things take care of themselves. The course was in good condition when I played it, especially after a long winter, and a continuing process of improvement will ensure it stays that way. Reduced green fees for visitors in the winter and affordable prices the rest of the year means that few will find the club too expensive and a new website will also soon be able to give anyone interested any necessary information. And, although the course will never be an Old Course or a Gleneagles, it is highly enjoyable and is certainly not without a great deal of charm.
Prestonfield Golf Club
6 Priestfield Road North,
Club Professional: John Macfarlane
Tel: 011 44 131 667 8597
For group bookings contact Club Secretary: A. Robertson
Tel/Fax: 011 44 131 667 9556