Whitekirk Golf Course: Young Layout Offers Great Promise

By John Morison, Contributor

Whitekirk is located approximately 35 minutes drive south of Edinburgh. It lies a short distance off the A1 just outside the village of Whitekirk lying between North Berwick and Dunbar on the East Lothian coast. It is an ideal course both in terms of location and flavour for a stopping point in a tour of golf courses around this part of the country.

Whitekirk is a new course, opened in 1995 it is a course that is one of the growing number of pay and play course that are being set up all over the UK and Ireland. But don't let that make you think that it is a typical, run-of-the-mill golfing track. Whitekirk has the good fortune and design to have as its home the prime golfing turf of this area of Scotland.

Through the eyes of the businessman, perhaps the greatest achievement connected with Whitekirk is the fact that it is representative of the way in which, via shrewd planning, a quality golf complex can be set up for a little over one million pounds. The extremely reasonable green fees continue this theme of providing high quality for a small outlay.

In a slight variation from the traditional seaside situation of many of the neighbouring links courses, Whitekirk lies approximately two miles inland and has a character that is a fusion of links, parkland, and heath. Strolling around the course, you become aware of the way in which the course seems to be elevated from the surrounding low-lying farmland - having a harsher, more challenging nature.

The roll nature has played is apparent from the outset - fairways are framed by purple heather that draws attention to the rocky outcrops that exist all across the course, just near enough to cause alarm as your carefully calculated hack veers from its intended path.

Golf architect Cameron Sinclair designed the course and through the majority of holes he has generated a layout belying the course's tender years. Despite the farmland backdrop, Sinclair has avoided the pitfall of creating a formulaic set up where holes fit together in what is essentially one large field. Sinclair has produced a layout where from the beginning each hole is a testament to the natural defence afforded by the area.

The views that result from the course's elevated setting are varied and spectacular. Inland to the west, you catch sight of the Pentland Hills. Rising above the East Lothian region they may give you advance warning of inclement weather aiming to make your day's golfing less enjoyable. On the day I played, clouds descended ominously over the hills quarter of an hour prior to a snow shower. Leading up to the hills is a landscape of fertile fields dotted with white farmhouses that you dream of retiring to. Most impressive however is the view out to sea.

If you are fortunate enough for the sun to emerge during your round, take a minute to appreciate it reflecting off the magnificent Bass Rock that resides in the Firth of Forth. Across this band of water lies that most famous of golfing destinations- St Andrews and the Kingdom of Fife.

The wind, I imagine, has a significant role in the majority of scorecards that result from a round at Whitekirk. Whilst the wind never reached the levels that were apparently reached at the infamous 1999 Open at Carnoustie, during my round I certainly began to develop a far more liberal attitude to club selection.

No longer was it a case of assessing the distance to the flag and shifting one club up or down in accordance with the strength and direction of the wind. I was taking long irons in my attempts to propel my ball to a green only 130 or so yards away and on one ego- boosting occasion took a 7-iron as second shot to a par 5.

In the future, it is possible that one of Whitekirk's greatest strengths will emerge as its ability as a true year round course. I played in early March, after a typically Scottish February - much of the farmland encasing the course was showing significant evidence of flooding. On the course however, despite the attempts of minor rain and snow showers, there was no evidence whatsoever of such saturation, In addition to this resistance of the elements is the wide range of teeing grounds on each hole.

It is a common occurrence on courses bereft of such a facility that either the course becomes a pitch and putt type affair in hot summers or exists as a course deserving a par some ten shots above its norm during more awkward winters. When I played, the majority of tees were placed reasonably far forward and as a result I was able to make some attempt at putting together a score that bore some relationship to my handicap- if only a remote one!

The course is one that manages to fuse the natural and the artificial almost seamlessly. Individual holes, especially on the front nine, are hidden from each other by the contours of the land and features of the landscape, such as the isolated pockets of small pine trees that become a more prevalent feature early in the second nine.

Such a separation of holes allows you to immerse yourself in the golf experience that Whitekirk offers. There are no worries about holding up the group behind, and unless you are truly uncontrollable off the tee, you will rarely encounter many other groups as you make your way about the course.

Whether it is due to nature or architecture, Whitekirk offers that most exciting of golf shots in good quantity - the blind shot. On a variety of tees you will scan the landscape for evidence of a comforting, easy to hit fairway and instead, if fortunate, catch sight of a marker pole that directs you somewhere over a hummocky landscape. Having consulted the hole map that is thankfully and thoughtfully displayed on each tee, you then set about hitting what you hope will be a booming drive into the great beyond.

This is Scottish golf at its best- more often than not, on arrival at your ball you will discover that your task wasn't all that scary at all. Most fairways are generously proportioned and are kind to all but the most errant Maxfli. Whitekirk is a fair course, you shouldn't spend too much of your day looking for balls, but this by no means makes it as an easy course.

For example, the second, an apparently innocuous 268-yard par 4 caused me more problems than I was anticipating. I drove well enough, taking a long iron and putting it into a position perhaps a little to the right of the ideal, but nevertheless a placement from which I fancied my chances of putting it close.

On arrival at my ball, it still appeared straightforward enough, I selected my pitching wedge, struck it well enough, slightly pulled- the ball bounced hard on the linksy type greens, skipped over the back and proceeded to take rest some 30 yards away from the hole at the foot of a small hillock. It was the first time of the day that I had been victim of the deceiving contours of Whitekirk.

The fifth hole is a stunner in my opinion. It is rated as the toughest on the course according to the stroke index, but to view it as merely a hard hole is to vastly underestimate it both as a challenge to your golfing talents and as a testament to the aura of this golf course.

The drive is semi - blind. Logic dictates that you should draw a three wood or two iron from your bag in order to send the ball in approximately what you believe the correct direction to be. The yardage and rush of adrenaline however demand that you take stance with the longest club in the bag. Having driven out past heather topped hillocks, your ball will hopefully be sitting in the midst of an ample fairway awaiting your attempt at an approach shot.

The approach shot must carry a small steep sided valley that leads up to a green that is protected on the left by the vegetation and on the right by a well camouflaged bunker and more strikingly, a small cliff face. I came up short and was left with a blind lob wedge shot over the aforementioned rocks. I'd advise attempting to avoid such a predicament!

The front nine, in my opinion, is the superior nine. However the back nine still offers some outstanding holes; the seventeenth and eighteenth are two that stick in the memory. The course is still only young - the fairways and greens are arguably in need of a few years maturing.

As a test of golf, one only needs to say that Whitekirk has held its first professional event and surely must hold more. The set up at Whitekirk is superb. The clubhouse offers full changing facilities and a restaurant of reputedly high standard. The complex also volunteers a good looking driving range and putting green.

The welcome Whitekirk offers is unsurpassed and is particularly extended to visiting groups and societies. Whitekirk is a young course that looks to have a rosy future. I'd advise being part of that future if given half a chance.

Whitekirk Golf Course
Telephone: 011 44 1620 870300
Fax: 011 44 1620 870330
Email: golf@whitekirk.u-net.com

Contact Hilary Monaghan at the course if you're looking to arrange a visit.

John Morison, Contributor


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