Bud, this is the oldest golf course there
is. First one. That’s unbelievable what a world here we are in. Places like Musselburgh aren’t
supposed to exist. Not today. It’s a relic from the origins of tournament golf. It’s
it’s literally inside a horse track. Not an old timey long abandoned horse track.
An active venue. It’s Scotland’s second largest with races throughout the year.
It’s easy to let the novelty of Musselburgh distract you from its history. But
that’s a mistake. The history is the reason we’re here. It’s what makes this
nine hole track so special. I didn’t hit any shots at Musselburgh. My doctor
had me on a limited pitch count because of a shoulder injury. But to be honest, it
was just as enjoyable to walk around the course and read the history posted on
its walls. Playing the Musselburgh Old Links is like stepping back in time. And
because of that using modern clubs felt just plain wrong. So the guys ditched
their regular sticks for hickory clubs and old-style balls, both of which are
always available for rent from the clubhouse. Today would be about brassies, mashies and niblicks. Musselburgh wasn’t the first golf
course in the world, but it’s the oldest one that still exists. There has been
golf played here since 1567, which is about the time Galileo was born. In other
words most everyone playing here in the early days still believed the earth was
flat. Enjoy some more drone footage as that sinks in. Fast forward some 300 odd years and
Musselburgh played a prominent role in the history of the Open Championship.
Upon chipping in eight pounds – about a third the cost of a new trophy – Musselburgh became part of a newly created Open Championship rota
in 1872 along with Prestwick and St. Andrews. The rota was created out of
necessity. When a new trophy was needed, the story goes that back then if you won
something three times in a row you got to keep it. Simple as that. And that’s
exactly what happened when young Tom Morris won his third consecutive Open
title in 1870. He got to keep the championship belt. This left the
tournament in need of a new trophy – what would become the Claret Jug – at a cost of about twenty-five pounds. Since no course would put up all the money needed, it was
decided to split the costs and rotate the tournament across the three
different venues. Musselburgh would host the open six times between 1874 and 1889. My favorite story comes from the 1886 tournament and well I’ll let Dave
the general manager of the Musselburgh Old Links tell the tale. “In 1886
they were short of competitors so the Secretary of the Golf Club went out and
found one of the members who he knew was a good golfer, David Brown. He was a
roofer and he was working on a roof. He dragged him off the roof, brought him
back to the clubhouse because he was filthy, stuck him in the bath, got him
dressed, put him on the first tee and he won The Open Championship after being
dragged off the roof.” After 1889, The Open Championship never returned to Musselburgh. Deciding the links had become too crowded for their liking, the
Honourable company of Edinburgh golfers moved up the road to the Old Tom Morris
designed Muirfield, which from then on occupied Musselburgh’s place in the
Open rota. The course today feels like a living museum dedicated to the history
of golf in East Lothian. Not only are you encouraged to use old school equipment
but the playing conditions are from a bygone era as well. The greens are shaggy
and nothing is perfectly manicured and that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.
You’re not supposed to have the perfect club for the perfect distance. And you’re
definitely not supposed to have a perfect lie. Instead you’re supposed to
head out in the field with your weapons and try to make it work the best you can.
And it’s fun as hell. Here’s Soly flashing what I think is some
sixteenth-century tour sauce. Old equipment called for old rules as well.
Things like stymies were put in play to fit the occasion. Off the fourth green of Musselburgh sits Mrs. Foreman’s pub, a historic landmark in its own right that
features prominently into some of the most famous course lore. Though I was
disappointed to learn I couldn’t actually get a beer there anymore. The
Park and Morris families are Titans of Scottish golf history and they had
rivalries that lasted generations. In 1870 Willie Park Sr. played a
challenge match at Musselburgh against Old Tom Morris. The Park clan was from the area so on this day the hometown crowd was riding hard in their
support of Willie Sr. They weren’t shy taking liberties with Old Tom’s ball, kicking it, stomping it, even throwing it between shots. Coming off the
fourth green Old Tom had enough and walked directly into Mrs. Foreman’s
Pub, where he sat down refused to play on and enjoyed himself a pint of beer. Park,
agitated, carried out his round then went back to the pub to confront old Tom,
trying to convince him to play on. It was to no effect and eventually the match
referee declared the whole thing void. The golf on our visit was a little more
friendly. Walking around Musselburgh is taking a jaunt through time. It’s a
rare opportunity to experience the game as closely to what it once was as is
still possible today. Any journey to Scotland is a journey to the game’s
routes. It’s a reconnection with the past. If
that means anything to you, if it stirs anything in your bones, get to Musselburgh and soak in the history. Be transported in time. “Water, sugar, acid – it just says acid.
Irn Bru brewed in Scotland since 1901.
Original recipe. It’s good! After stops at Kilspindie, North
Berwick and Musselburgh, it was time to hop in the cars and leave East Lothian. “Tron very obviously forgot his left side.” Leaving our first region of the trip was a
reminder of just how much golf there is to be played in Scotland. We could have
stayed in East Lothian for another two weeks without getting bored. We’d have
the same feeling in the other regions we visited on this trip, but if we had to
leave East Lothian at least we’re heading to a pretty cool destination. I don’t know man. Where are we? Oh shit! Here’s the first tee. Here’s the R&A. The famous Dunvegan Hotel and Inn. I thought the Swilcan Bridge was a (expletive) disgrace. Leave here at 2:45?