Musselburgh’s Old Links course facing cutbacks

Golfer Alan Hay is unhappy with the lack of consultation over changes. Picture: Joey Kelly
Golfer Alan Hay is unhappy with the lack of consultation over changes. Picture: Joey Kelly
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THEY have tested golfers for centuries . . . but this time the bunkers at Musselburgh’s historic Old Links course have really left players scratching their heads.

For East Lothian Council bosses have ordered 11 bunkers at the nine-hole course to be filled in – to the chagrin of staff who believe the step has been taken to save costs.

Head greenkeeper Alastair Patterson, who has been responsible for maintaining the course since 1996, said: “I am as passionate about the course as the next person but it is a council-run course and the council has other priorities apart from leisure. It takes turf, sand, machinery and manpower to look after all these bunkers and we can only do so much.”

The step has been hailed as an especially sacrilegious one given the course’s claim to be the “cradle of golf,” and the oldest in the world.

Keen player and local Alan Hay, who is the cousin of the late golf commentator Alex Hay, claims the community should have been “better consulted” on the contentious plans – which council chiefs insist have been carried out to enhance the course.

He said: “We are talking about the sporting legacy of the town and the oldest golf course in the world. The community council should have been notified at the very least.

“Why not fill in all the bunkers, then fill in all the greens and let’s just have a grass meadow? It’s only the oldest golf course in the world.”

Alan believes opportunities to promote the Old Links to rich Americans and golf tourists have been missed, especially ahead of the Open being played at nearby Muirfield this summer, and the Ryder Cup coming to Gleneagles next year.

Evening News golf writer Martin Dempster said: “It’s a little saddening if penny-pinching has led to the decision,” adding: “The loss of 11 bunkers will greatly affect a nine-hole course.”

The council has dismissed claims the “enhancements” are a part of a cash saving exercise. They say the work is the “culmination of two years of planning and discussion” with various partners including Open organiser, the R&A.

A council spokeswoman said: “Consultations regarding the course improvements were carried out locally and with representatives of the R&A, who provide best practice guidance on all aspects of golf course management.

“They approved the plans which will greatly enhance the quality of the course and hopefully entice both visitors and top professionals coming to East Lothian this summer for the Open at Muirfield.”

From gutter to putter

THE club is believed to be the oldest in the world. Documentary evidence shows that golf was played on Musselburgh Links in 1672 although Mary, Queen of Scots is said to have played there as early as 1567.

The diameter of a golf hole owes its origins to the historic club. Back in 1829, member Robert Grey invented the first hole-cutting machine using the first thing he had to hand – a piece of guttering from the clubhouse.

His four-and-a-quarter-inch hole cutter created a size which – following a ruling by the R&A in 1893 – is now recognised across the world.