The Renaissance

Tom Doak
Modern 'minimalist' Tom Doak designed 'running game' course abutting Muirfield, with fantastic fescue grassed greens and fairways.
Between Gullane and North Berwick, East Lothian
Jerry Sarvadi
01620 850901
Green Keeper
Paul Seago
renaissance golf club,
Access Policy:
Private club, guests only
Dog Policy:
Open Meetings:
Fees in 1960s
Fees today


The Renaissance Club, located between Gullane and North Berwick, in East Lothian, was opened as an exclusive and private members’ club in 2008 on a part of the Archerfield Estate, using a 99 year-lease from the Duke of Hamilton, and abuts the courses of both Muirfield and Archerfield, along one of the most famous strips of links coastline in the world.

The 300 acres, previously covered by sycamore trees and a dense pine forest planted after the Second World War, offers infertile soil so ideal for fine golf grasses.

Indeed Renaissance along with Castle Stuart has been seeded with 100% red fescue grasses and arguably they have the best quality fairways and greens in Scotland. Recent press comment from a top professional golfer that neither gives a true links experience, just shows an ignorance of grasses and what constitutes the purest form of the running game.

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The new Renaissance clubhouse

Now that the Scottish Open has returned to a rota of ‘running-game’ courses and gives the competitors some practise a week prior to The Open Championship, the Renaissance appropriately comes into the reckoning as a brilliant venue, particularly with the three new coastal holes and the prestigious and attractively designed new clubhouse.

Tom Doak, one of the foremost American golf architects, was invited to tramp the forest, much as Harry Colt had done 100 years previously to create Swinley Forest. Doak had made his name by designing one of the now increasingly fashionable fast-running courses in the USA, Pacific Dunes at Bandon, Oregon, where the temperate climate supports fescue grasses, unlike the hotter areas of southern USA where target courses predominate.

He likes to be known as of the ‘minimalist’ school and here at Renaissance he has carved out a course that can be enjoyed by all classes of golfer from different tees that stretch to 7300 yards off the blues down to 5400 yards off the Ladies.

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Trees and wall on the eighth.

Doak has some of the early holes running through stands of firs but the trees hardly come into play except perhaps where you play round them at the third and where they unfortunately shade the fourth green. Like Castle Stuart there are iconic views, here using picturesque, stand-out trees and an old crumbling ironstone wall.

There is a feeling of calm spaciousness. Very little soil was moved by the bulldozers, leaving a natural feel to the lie of the holes, as on a traditional links.

Many of the bunkers have that beautiful wispy fescue look while those around the greens are close cropped. The sand has been improved to a softer variety and though they are not revetted the bunkers are deep enough and gather-in. These contrast to the usual international-style wide, flat ‘traps’ of the 1980/90s target-style courses built on mud near large conurbations for commercial reasons rather than agronomic ones, some of which have even hosted the Ryder Cup in recent years.

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The dramatic scenery for the new ninth

Tom Doak supports Jim Arthur’s assertion that the best courses are the least expensive to build. “Thanks to clients who understand the value of beautiful property, we’re able to create courses which compare to the best of the past…and look like they have been here just as long”.

The use of fescue grasses throughout, creates firm, fast-running surfaces to the fairways and aprons, which combined with a minimum of hazards at the front of the greens, encourages the low-running game under the wind, the true indicator of a ‘fine’ golf course

The experienced caddies here, it is rumoured, are used to snatching the lob wedges from the hands of the many Americans who love this course and the Club’s highly personalised service!

The original first three holes are now kept as academy practice holes and the round now starts with three stretchy holes in different directions. It was a prevailing westerly when I first played here and so the 4th and short par four 5th still required longer iron second shots to typical Renaissance greens with a lot of movement.

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The sixth green

Indeed, a distinct feature of the course are the undulations in the greens and, to score well, your ball needs some care in choosing to where it is played on the green. There is much scope for difficult pin placements and three-putting!

The fifth brings us back to the clubhouse, as does the new short fifteenth, so there are a clever number of options for people who do not have the inclination or the time to play a full round.

Paul Seago, the Greenkeeper Superintendent, has a blue-chip ‘fine grasses’ CV earned at Brancaster and Hunstanton, and was headhunted from the top job at Gullane. The greens are cut at no less than 5mm and they have a firm trueness with no thatch. The use of natural greenkeeping, also reduces maintenance costs and uses less water, fertiliser and pesticide than that used on ‘Target’ courses.

No designer can create an instant masterpiece; a mature, authentic links has turf that has developed sometimes over a century. Nevertheless that tight-knit sward that gives a wonderful crispness to the squeezed iron shot off the fairway and imparts backspin to help give some check to the ball is already found here. This sward has developed well since my first trip, and invites the percentage shot of the bump and run for a recovery.

This course may not require the severity of a Cambridge University entrance exam such as Muirfield next door might demand of the visitor. However, there are plenty of places to lose balls combined with a generosity of fairway for the higher handicapper if playing sensibly. The bunkers are predominantly located on the ‘beeline’ that the expert wishes to take, just as a strategic design should possess.

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The Firth of Forth behind the sixth green

The first time the sea is viewed is on the tee of the short 6th, running away from the front of the new clubhouse. It is a classic side-shelf green, providing an attractive view across the end of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers’ land to the Firth of Forth. The par five 7th is played between stands of old deciduous trees that have been thinned out recently and the fairway has significant swales and a blind approach to a green on which I got lucky for a birdie in 2009.

There is a regal parkland feel about some of these holes but none the worse for that and then we come to the iconic 8th.

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John Harris and my wife Angelika on the eighth

This is a 406-514 yard par four to a wide undulating fairway where the preferred drive, keeping to the left around the dogleg, has the advantage of making it easier to avoid the dominating fairway tree and to prepare for the second shot. This requires avoidance of two large pot bunkers short of the green and two left of the green.

The setting of this mischievously rippled green with the tumbledown stone wall and wizened Scots pine behind gives some romance.

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The new ‘infinity’ green at the nineth

The new ninth is a long par three to a large Castle Stuart-like ‘infinity’ green leaning against the old wall, falling away on three sides with need for only two pot bunkers on the right and set with the glorious sea behind. The natural simplicity of the design should receive many accolades. This new hole is the first of three built on land acquired from The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which have the advantage of sea views and have allowed Doak to create a short par four with a daunting drive across the cliff edge and at an angle to the fairway that can easily see one’s ball run-out into a heavy roughed bank.

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Angelika on the tenth fairway

There has been some debate about the loss of the original par four twelfth, but it was never the strongest of the holes with a blind drive that was a bit of a slog. Let me add that in James Braid’s day when he created blind drives such as at distinctive Perranporth they can still add to the quirkiness of the experience. However, blind drives at modern courses that wish to host championships seldom work.

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My Labrador ‘Dexter’ on the eleventh tee

After a walk up to the top of the hill one plays from near where an old wizened tree that used to stand beside the old 12th green has sadly been removed. Nevertheless the bent-over firs behind the next green have been left alone and they help give character to the par three 11th with its green nestling on the opposite side of  the old wall by the ninth green.

The new long par four 12th rises to the highest part of the property and the 13th is now a doglegged par five running down alongside a dense forest of spindly larch that might be made more attractive by the pruning of the dead lower branch stumps. But that is just a personal whim and the only place on the whole course where the trees do not add naturally to the open linksy feel. The first row of larch trees has been thinned out and I understand it is planned to develop some houses along this edge of the course. Even more reason for making the trees look more attractive!

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150 yard post at the 14th

This par five 13th is long but a definite birdie chance playing to a huge green in a dell, unlike the long par four 14th with a drive across rough ground, usually into a two-club westerly wind, followed by a thrilling long iron to a big green that falls away on three sides and feeds in from the left.

Now comes the third new short hole playing back towards the clubhouse. Here, a classic plateau green is protected by deep bunkers on the right. My partner suggested that the bunker on the left was so far from the green he believes it was put there for purely aesthetic reasons. It was inevitable that I would hit a very fine raking draw right into it!

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The new par three fifteenth

The 16th has been lengthened into a par five and downwind makes a longer approach to the generous, interesting long camber in front of the green, which if used as the landing area, may not always propel the ball far enough up the green.

Next we are taken to a fine 200 yarder 17th set between dunes to the right and back with a wide but shallow, two-tier green. The 18th, another fine hole, similar in its examination to the 14th, is a 400-485 yard par four into the prevailing wind, and concludes a strong finish to the round, playing to an undulating green. I had the extraordinary fortune of my second bouncing forward from the top of the rugged stone wall that traverses the fairway. It was certainly against the odds!

It comes as a relief that you realise there are no artificial lakes, that this is a walking course and that I saw two other golfing dogs. All good features to commend this luxurious private club which now boasts tremendous practice facilities and an impressive clubhouse.

It can only be guessed at, as to whether this private club wants all the hassle associated with being added to the Scottish Open rota. Nevertheless its lay-out and position close to Edinburgh also makes it a great Ryder Cup venue when that next returns to Scotland, if the PGA recognising that the ‘running game’ is the future of golf, rather than selling one of golf’s fantastic ‘match-play/team’ events to cranked-up target courses whose owners want to use the accolade to attract the mesmerised golfer to their expensive hotels, refocused on the longer-term interests of the game of golf. 

Review by Lorne Smith 2009 and updated in 2014

Reader Comments

On October 24th, 2014 David Goodson said:

An outstanding course but not what it was when it first opened. The fairways have been in part replaced by long grasses, making strategy less available. It’s a real shame.

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