Archerfield (fidra) - 16 POINTS
I have to preface this with a declaration of interest. Archerfield is my home course and therefore I am more familiar with both the Fidra and Dirleton than any other courses in the world and am proud to be a member of such a great club.
When Archerfield opened in the mid 2000s it was quite an unusual beast. A private members' club in Scotland which really wasn't easy to play unless you were a member. They quickly opened 2 courses - the Fidra and Dirleton, both designed by Scottish golfer DJ Russell. Timing was everything and the membership grew before the financial woes of 2007 came along. It is still largely a private members club but it is no longer impossible to play as a non-member, more about that below.
So, to the club and courses itself. The whole ethos around Archerfield is 'We play a different game'. There are no cliques, committees and arcane rituals around. It is a place to enjoy the company of friends and is very relaxed in style. The clubhouse is fantastic and the welcome you will get from the club drop, to the pro shop to the bar/restaurant is first class. Service is at a premium but it is in no way stuck-up or pretentious. The closest I have seen to it in the UK is Queenwood which is great company to keep!
I try and play most Sunday mornings and my wife and 2 young kids will often come up for lunch afterwards - jeans are fine, kids running around more than tolerated and there are colouring pens and books to keep them entertained. To some this would be a horror I'm sure but it makes for a great club to be a member of.
Anyway, you're probably not reading this to look to join (although there are still a few spots available if you are interested!!) so on to the review.
Firstly, if you are visiting Archerfield for a one-off visit make sure you leave plenty of time to enjoy the practice facilities. There are 3 short games area, 3 practice putting greens, a range playable from both ends and a covered tuition area with the hi tech fitting centre. It really is class.
Of the two courses, I prefer the Fidra. This is largely due to its characteristics and my abilities as a golfer. The first 11 holes wind there way through woodland before the course opens up into more traditional links style on the back 9. However, the trees all have pine straw at the foot and you will virtually never lose a ball in them and always have a punch shot out. Think Augusta. Kind of. As such I find the course more easy to get around than the Dirleton where the gorse comes into play a lot and for a man of my unerring inaccuracy that can be a problem.
Fidra opens with a 400 yard par 4 but it's all in front of you to see. That is another characteristic of the course - no blind shots. What you will discover though is that the bunkers around the greens are fantastically positioned to gobble up errant shots which balls find with an unerring accuracy.
The layout is a traditional par 72 but off the blue tees (around 6500 yards) the par 5s are all reachable for long hitters while the par 3s have a great range in yardages.
I won't do a hole by hole but some highlights for me would be -
2nd. A real thinking par 5. I always play it as an easy three shotter now taking driver, 7 iron, wedge as accuracy into the green is paramount, long or left and you can end up in the trees. They moved this green as it suffered from lack of light a couple of years ago and it has bedded in well.
7th. The toughest par 4 on the front 9. A long hole with a dog leg left means you will invariably be going in with a long second shot. It's a 30+ yard long green as well which means you always need to check where the pin is carefully.
9th. Only 386 yards but invariably playing into the prevailing wind and the bunkers around the green are more devilish here than almost anywhere else.According to my stats this one is a particular bugbear of mine. An average of 5.4 isn't a score to be proud of!
11th. I love this par 5. An accurate tee shot means it is the one three shotter I sometimes have a shout at getting on in 2 but the green is an upturned saucer and hard to hold. It marks the last hole in the trees before the course opens out
12th. And the course opens up from the trees with the signature hole. The green is again an upturned saucer but surrounded by huge waste bunkers to the front and back and a pot bunker almost carved into the green. Off the tee if you launch a driver down a tight corridor you will be going in with a flick of the wedge if the wind is behind but a more conservative shot leaves a mid iron which is hard to hold the green.
15th. For me the hardest hole on the course. The approach is often a long iron into the wind into a narrow green with a burn short, gorse left and deep grass to the right.
17th. A long 189 yard par 3 with a narrow green which can make the hole play 210 into a gale at times. I've seen people take everything from 9 iron to driver. Scottish golf at it's best.
It would be hard to say that Archerfield is a real links golf course as it's not in the purest sense. However, the fairways run fast and you can play the ball up onto the green - you will see putters taken from all kinds of distances around here. The greens on Fidra have proven harder to maintain over the years than Dirleton but the last couple of years they have played better than ever, running fast and true in the summer and as the course matures they should improve all year round. They may not be Gullane or North Berwick standard yet but are definitely coming on.
As you can hopefully tell I am a big fan of Fidra. It is a course which is very playable for the amateur - flat, you walk off a green to the next tee pretty much always and it's not too penal. It has hosted the a European Tour evenet, the Scottish Seniors and Scottish Ladies Open and it's been great seeing the scores required to win those. No-one has torn the course up which is always nice as a member but the players have raved about it.
The course is not ever going to be one of the top 100 in the world clearly, and it hasn't broken through to the top 100 in the UK really but it is top 30 in Scotland and you will not leave here feeling too beaten up but you will have played a course in great condition, which has really tested you, and you'll have had a lot of fun. And do make sure you have a haggis pie in the halfway house.
BOOKING THE COURSE
When Archerfield first opened it was strictly a private members' course but over time limited green fee play is possible. It's not something which is that widely advertised but equally you don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to find it - all details are on the website.
Having said that, it is £200 a person which is a lot given the other amazing golf around here. Now, the service, the overall experience and the practice facilities are all top notch but still, £200 is a lot!
Consider staying at one of the great accommodation options as you will get a discount on the green fee. If there is a really large group of you though then you may want to look at the residential membership option as you get 6 nights in the fantastic lodges as well as a green fee for £3,250 as well as 12 rounds of golf. So if there were 12 of you then for £270 each you could get 2 nights accommodation in one of the lodges as well as a round at Archerfield before exploring some of the other courses. That's actually pretty good value!
With a fair run, Archerfield is only 45 minutes from Edinburgh airport. There is such a variety of different courses in East Lothian that you could find a tour that fits most budgets - while I am biased I think it would be hard to argue this isn't in the top 5 places on the world to be based for a golf tour! The top end trip would include Gullane 1, Muirfield and North Berwick and then adding one of the courses at Archerfield or the Renaissance. The next 'tier down' from that, but still a great string of courses would be picking any from The Glen, Gullane 2 or 3, Luffness, Kilspindie, Dunbar, Craigielaw or Longniddry. Only Dunbar is more than 10 minutes in the car from Gullane so you really are spoilt for choice.
The accommodation at Archerfield is great and the hospitality is really something special so do think about doing at least a night here. You will also get a discount on the green fee if you stay here. However when it comes to staying off-site then Gullane and North Berwick are your best option. See both of those pages to get verdict on them - despite being a Gullane resident I'd probably stay in North Berwick if passing through.