10 Balcarres Road, Musselburgh, EH21 7SD, East Lothian, Scotland

Musselburgh Old Course Through The Ages

Mary Queen of Scots

Following the demise of her unruly husband, Lord Darnley, Mary Queen of Scots was arrested in 1567 at Seton House, just a few miles along the coast. She had been implicated in plotting with those who lit the fuse that blew up his Edinburgh home, with him still inside! It was noted on the indictment she went to Seton to play golf. This would most probably have been at Musselburgh Links. King James VI of Scotland, later to be James I of England, was also reported to have played here.
Golf was first documented as having been played on Musselburgh Links in seventeenth century.

Historians discovered that Sir John Foulis of Ravelston, a prominent Edinburgh lawyer, who kept copious records of his golf on Leith Links, played golf at Musselburgh in 1672.

When on 2nd of March that year, he lost in a match with his friends Gosford and Lyon and others as his notebook records:


Mar 2 Lost at Golfe at Musselboorgh with Gosford, Lyon etc .. .£3 5s 0d

We cannot know how the course was then set out as no records survive. But we do know how the course developed from the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Old Links had seven holes, with the ‘Home Hole’ added in 1832 and the final hole, “Hole Across” created in 1870. Today some changes occurred in 1985 with the shortening of “Barracks Entry” and again in 1996 with a new “Gas” hole being introduced. The course was lengthened slightly at this time.

The first three holes stretched eastward from the racecourse grandstand, which incidentally doubled as the former clubhouse of the Honourable Company until 1868. To the right is the main traffic route to which golfers would often slice their shots. They would play back to the links using the new brass-soled clubs designed by Musselburgh club makers for this purpose (commonly known as a “brassie”). Until recently,  the fourth green still stood beside Mrs. Foremans Inn, where golfers would be served refreshments though a hatch in the wall. Mrs Formans has since been redeveloped as private houses.

The course turns northwest with the short hole playing back towards the sea. The next three holes follow the coastline, and the last hole returns south towards the grandstand. The “Home Hole” has now become the first after the course alterations in 1996.

The hole size – A very interesting fact

Why is the size of the hole four and a quarter inches? Prior to 1893 holes on golf courses could vary in size. It all depended upon where you played. The holes at Musselburgh Links hole had since 1829 been cut with a converted piece of drainpipe, so the diameter of the holes cut was four and a quarter inches. This standard was adapted by the Royal & Ancient Golf club in 1893 when they began the business of standardising the rules of golf. So, next time your putt lips out, you can now blame Musselburgh for not having wider drain- pipes !

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