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Luffness New

Yardage
6502
Par
70
SSS
72
Built
1894
Architect(s)
Old Tom Morris, Willie Park Jnr, James Braid.
Nature:
1894, traditional club of classic running links with many cross bunkers and the finest fescue turf.
Location/Address:
Across the A198 between Aberlady and Gullane in East Lothian
http://www.luffnessnew.com/
Secretary
Stuart Graham
Telephone
01620 843336
Professional
-
Green Keeper
David Coull
Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
No dogs
Open Meetings:
-
Fees in 1960s
37p
Fees today
£100 - 2019, £125 - 2020

Review

The enigma that is Luffness New has a number of facets that need exploring to understand why this club, despite being ‘under the radar’ in modern times in comparison to The Honourable Company at Muirfield, Gullane and The Renaissance each only a couple of miles distant, (because each of them has been on television hosting a recent pro championship), continues to lie at the heart of all true lovers of the running game of golf, with its stylish simplicity.

Freddie Tait, a founder member.

Its controversial early history, its iconic clubhouse, the input of the finest course designers, the fashionable hero of Victorian amateur golf as a founder member, an evolutionary management structure relying on a membership of gentlemen who instinctively understand that the head greenkeeper is the most important person in any club, have all played their part in giving to the world of golf one of the most gorgeous experiences of the traditional values of running golf.

Luffness House

Old Tom Morris started his working life as the under-gardener of Henry W. Hope (at his other property ‘Rankeillor’ in Fife) who, with Lord Wemyss of Gosford, were the primary local land owners between Aberlady and Gullane, living at Luffness House.

Hope brought Morris back from Prestwick to lay out the seventeen hole original Luffness course (when founding the Club in 1867) on the flatter linksland along the Luffness Bay to Gullane point, land of little use for lush agriculture but great for golf with its fine grasses.

Old Tom Morris, Luffness New’s original architect.

Unfortunately Wemyss and Hope fell out in a big way, initially it is said through their game keepers beguiling the other’s pheasants, which led Hope splitting the Luffness Club’s membership by creating a new course, Luffness Mill, on only his own ground. This terrain later became titled Luffness New in 1894, the course again being created with the help of Old Tom Morris.

Henry Walter Hope Luffness New’s founder.

Hope’s initial idea was to have a ‘play and pay’ course but the professional classes in Edinburgh who made up 70% of his membership along with such notables as Arthur J. Balfour (Prime Minister 1902-1905) and Freddie Tait, the darling of Victorian golf, lent their support in creating a new gentlemen’s club.

In 1898 the Luffness club gave up their ground, parts of which are now holes within Gullane No2 in moving to ground at Craigielaw across the Luffness Bay, where they changed their name to Kilspindie. Subsequently when asked to relinquish the Luffness name they refused as it was part of their history so now, 125 years on, we continue to play over “Luffness New”.

The new course was opened with a professional tournament that Ben Sayers of North Berwick won with a score of 166 for 36 holes against the flower of Scottish golf including Old Tom Morris and Willie Auchterlonie the Open Champion of 1893.

Tait in full swing

Lieutenant Freddie Tait (1870 – 1900) of the Black Watch 2nd Battalion, in his short life before falling in the Boer War, achieved legendary status, not only through his fame as a golfer but also because of his qualities of sportsmanship and his open enthusiastic nature. Contemporary sources all testify to the magnetism of his personality and his immense popularity.

The Englishman John L. Low (of Woking and The R&A) in his book on Tait stressed the sporting nature of his subject. “He played the game as a Scottish gentleman, with dignity and strictness, tempered with unfailing courtesy”.

We should remember that it was in this period that golf developed its mass appeal and the spirit in which it was best seen. We can thank Freddie Tait for helping create the values of the game that it would be nice to think continues to lie beneath our attitudes today.

He held the record score at many of the finest courses in the 1890s, was twice Amateur Champion and though very much a national figure, continued to cite Luffness New as his home club and considered it as one of his four favourites along with Hoylake and the Old and New courses at St Andrews.

The Clubhouse

It was in 1896 that the white and red roofed clubhouse was first erected, since when it has evolved into an iconic, sprawling, single-story, inclusive structure where social activity is routed into just two rooms, one being the well-used dining room.

The ‘smoking room’.

Hector Chawla in his book to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Club notes “The atmosphere does not overwhelm with its own grandeur. Luffness is easy with its own identity. It has its own style”. Of which I would add ‘it relies little on bourgeois status symbols and in this respect is similar to Hoylake, Brancaster and Rye where also as an example there are no reserved parking spaces for ‘officials’’

He continues:”The requirements in behaviour were unwritten in 1894 and remain so today. The fundamental rule is that there are no rules – no inventory of solemn injunctions. Everything is as simple as not drinking Chateau Lafite straight from the bottle. Our way edges by instinct towards concessions over things that matter little in order to preserve things that matter a lot, a collective state of mind reflected in the brief simplicity of our AGMs.”

Jim Arthur

An example of the simplicity of the Club’s management structure is captured in a quote from Jim Arthur’s chapter in Bill Maclennan’s 1994 centenary book (and there are not many Clubs that the greatest ever golf agronomist praised more highly than Luffness New) “James King whose service spanned 33 years as Head Greenkeeper tersely observed ‘You can please yourself, gentlemen, but there will be no greens committee on my course’. There still is none. And that above all else has guaranteed the continuity of correct management, and the avoidance of costly mistakes, which has ensured that fine fescues dominate the entire links and notably those superb greens.”

Jim Arthur, and remember this is 25 years ago, adds: “We hear so much of the need for speed of putting surface, which has resulted in all manner of ignominious treatments being meted out to long suffering greens – and especially shaving to ridiculously low heights for long periods. This kills the grass, or at least permits meadow grass dominance. Luffness greens are as fast as anyone would reasonably require, because they are fescue greens, and they are as good in winter as in late spring.”

Luffness New greenkeepers in 1993. David Coull 5th from left.

James King set a great example in his ability and character (also being included in FineGolf’s ‘Pantheon of Finest Greenkeepers’) and Bob Watt and now David Coull have continued the ‘conservation greenkeeping’ regime of low inputs with greens cut at 5mm and Luffness’s reputation for its wonderful greens, high in fescue, continues. As the saying goes, ‘if you walk off the eighteenth at Luffness New without an improved putting stroke then you might as well give up golf!’

Not all of the finest courses have famous designers but if they do it usually helps. Luffness New was laid out by Old Tom Morris with four holes playing across the Aberlady/Gullane road, which in those days was an un-metalled cart track.

Willie Park Jnr.

Willie Park Jnr. made some changes before the First World War and with the increasing speed of cars he eliminated the road crossing on two holes (the old twelfth and thirteenth) and created the present twelfth and the fifteenth, while James Braid created the present fourth and fifth holes in 1925 and moved the eighteenth green west of the road thereby eliminating the final car problem. Nevertheless there were now 19 holes, not including the one in the smoking room and so the old seventh green was discarded and the Seventh hole, teeing-off from the side of Gullane Hill, was extended to the Eighth green.

James Braid.

All this may sound complicated but what is important here is to realise that the brains of three of the finest Scottish course architects have created the course we play today.

There is the odd hawthorn bush and some buckthorn but no trees and the holes, apart from the Eighteenth, are mostly rifle straight, just as when Old Tom Morris laid them out. Having said that, Willie Park Jnr’s Twelfth has a slight dogleg from the medal tee as does James Braid’s fourth with its gentle curve and the lengthened Fourteenth now is a proper dogleg from the new raised tee.

In my view it is the quality of the low-mown aprons and run-offs and the firmness of fine turf, that bring alive the subtle designs of the green complexes, that makes Luffness so exciting to play. Often the small greens have to be sought out from awkward stances on some of the bumpy fairways, flighting a running ball under the wind, rather than risking a high approach that might bounce through. This is proper three-dimensional golf where ‘run’ has to be taken into account as well as length and direction.

2018 map of the course

The four opening holes are an ideal introduction to this predominantly flat links. From an undulating fairway a raised green hidden behind cross bunkers is difficult to find at the First (‘Luffness Mill’), even though only 330 yards in length.

The Second (‘Saltcoats’) is 447 yards and allows you to open your shoulders off the tee, while the par three third (‘Gullane’) into the prevailing wind and 196 yards is quite superb with really what is a side-shelf green, set naturally against the slight rise in the ground. Putts are seldom conceded here and I was over the moon when I chipped-in for a two from the right-hand side recently with my ball moving more than a yard sideways at right-angles at the death of its run out.

Watercolour from the 1890s.

The approach to the green at the par five Fourth (‘Long’) 572 yards completely defeated me as I bumped in from on top of the fairway ridge. As my ball was running online with the centre of the green it caught the swale and was gradually swept off into the right hand bunker. I simply had not seen the subtle movement in the ground and laughed myself silly, though my foursomes partner was not so amused.

Another great Scottish amateur, this time working-class, Ronnie Shade MBE who before turning pro late in his career won five Scottish Amateurs in a row in the 1960s and three Brabazons, when asked in a newspaper interview considered the fourth at Luffness New as his favourite hole in golf.

Clubhouse behind 5th hole.

We are at this point quite near to the clubhouse again and Braid’s Fifth hole (‘Milestone’) is laid on rising ground away and plays longer than its 360 yards. A new tee has created a another dogleg with a new bunker on the corner.

Depending on the time of year the rough can be brutal across the course and with a sideways wind it is often more productive to keep to the short stuff than try to hammer your ball out of sight.

The 6th green, with the eleventh behind

The par three Sixth (‘Quarry’) 152 yards is no longer played from over the quarry but from a sheltered tee at 90 degrees to the same green ringed with bunkers. Here a commitment to the strike is required and though a Luffness quirkiness has been removed some will argue it is a better hole in being fairer and not blind from the tee. When caddies were the norm many is the player who achieved a hole-in-one here, as they assembled by the green waiting for their clients to play.

The uphill 7th hole

The Seventh (‘Hill’) 323 yards is aligned directly and strongly, with a blind drive, up Gullane Hill to a thin and long plateau green. It used to be stroke index one as the senior members, so it was said, needed a stroke up the hill but it is now more fairly indexed as fifteen.

Luffness 8th hole next to Gullane No3 course

From the Eighth tee (‘March’) 413 yards, the whole of Luffness Bay towards Edinburgh and over to the kingdom of Fife across the firth is laid out before you. The green slopes away down the hill and a degree of luck certainly comes into play as to where one’s approach will finish up.

The next three holes have virtually dead flat greens. The Ninth (‘Inchkeith’) is 424 yards and the Eleventh (‘Peffer Bank’) at 442 yards are in opposite directions with open green fronts at the same height as the fairway, so running long irons are the ideal equipment to deliver a birdie putt, particularly with a slight ‘redan’ tilt from front to back on the ninth green.

The par three Tenth (‘Benty’) at 210 yards has a false front green with a semi-rough bank around the back that hides a clandestine bunker. The hole looks quite innocuous though if a par is attained it puts a jauntiness into one’s step.

Willie Park Jnr’s 12th hole from the seventh fairway with buckthorn in forground.

Willie Park Jnr’s Twelfth (‘Luffness’) 365 yards is best played to the left of the fairway and it resembles both the first and the seventeenth. The bottom of the pin is hidden behind cross bunkers though here the green is sited down a bank which in dry weather can kick one’s ball to the back of the green.

Bunkers on the 17th.

In a sense these three holes epitomise the 1890s type of design when play was with the gutty percha ball, using barricades of hazards across the fairway to collect a penal outcome for any foosled ball from the high handicapper. Some will continue to argue that to be fair the bottom of the pin should be able to be seen but at least modern club design allows the high handicapper to more easily clear the obstacles that are shy of the firm greens and thereby allowing the ball to be run in rather than having to be flown and stopped quickly.

The 14th with Aberlady behind.

The Thirteenth (‘Well’) 401 yards is as straight as a whistle with a green sloping against the overall lie of the land while the Fourteenth (‘Aberlady’), now extended to 552 yards, did create some debate as to whether it was better left as a long par four.

No doubt in this age when extra length seems to be taken as a primary requirement of a course’s defence, this came into the Club’s thinking but would it not be even better if the R&A’s review of the “distance of the ball” report that is due by the end of 2019, came forward with practical proposals to limit such distance? Surely this is wise, even if initially bifurcated (as the new clubhead groove rules have been) for the elite golfers’ tournaments.

Cross bunkers at the 15th.

The Fifteenth (‘Road’) is currently having a new green sculptured, located some 70-80 yards further on from the lovely old Willie Park Jnr. triangular shaped green with swale run-offs. This alteration also creates another dogleg but also quite a long walk back to the Sixteenth tee. The new fairway has been turfed with bumpy movement which, if it turns out like the ‘John Philp‘ (a member of FineGolf’s Advisory Panel) fairway at Carnoustie, will be a success.

The fourth par three Sixteenth (named ‘Warren’ after the rabbits hereabout) 163 yards is again ringed left, right and centre with bunkers and open to the elements, hence it can play anything from a one iron to a wedge though always best played long rather than short.

The 18th drive.

The two good finishing holes both align down the westerly wind; (‘Plantation’) 360 yards with cross bunkers thirty yards shy of the green and (‘Home’) 455 yards to a two-tier green where your accurate bump-and-run is usually needed to achieve your par. These holes maintain the challenge right to the end of the card, offering quiet, simple and glorious enjoyment that is five star on the ‘Joy-to-be-alive’ feeling chart.

There is a sense of patrician indifference to the symbols of status at Luffness New. They are just different to other nearby clubs in that they have managed to come to terms with the new century without discarding the influence of the previous two. The result is, what I suspect, will in the future be the gold standard for people who revere traditional running-golf.  They are not slaves to visitor income and their visitors see the club as it is on a daily basis and return because of that.

Is there a downside to Luffness New? Well, readers of FineGolf will know that it is a supporter of well behaved dogs being allowed on courses thereby giving an extra socialability to golf  but no dogs are allowed here.

Reviewed by Lorne Smith in 2019.

If golfers are looking for fine food and an overnight bed locally, the family run ‘Duck’s’ in Aberlady will give you a welcome if you mention FineGolf.

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