Documents prove golf was played on Musselburgh Links as early as 1672, although Mary Queen of Scots reportedly played there in 1567
An ambitious £10 million plan to breathe new life into The Old Course at Musselburgh Links – the oldest continuously-played golf course in the world – has been unveiled this morning (Monday, 8 May) by Edinburgh investment firm Blue Thistle.
A ‘Let’s Make Musselburgh Great Again’ campaign has been launched in a bid to “recapture the long-lost heritage” of Musselburgh Links and take the six-time Open Championship venue back to its Victorian heyday circa 1896.
Blue Thistle has outlined proposals which would see £10 million spent over the next seven years to completely restore the course to its previous ‘Open Championship’ condition and refurbish the accompanying facilities, with a plan to create 40 new jobs in the process.
Director Robin McGregor, a former club secretary of the Musselburgh Links Course, says he has acquired private investment backing through binding shareholder agreements.
McGregor said: “The Musselburgh Links Course has an immensely important role in the history and development of the game Scotland gave to the world and it is our wish that be recognised and returned to its former glory.
“The investment is in place to launch this project and our shareholders remain satisfied the business plan is well positioned to give them a good return on investment over the medium to long term. Essentially, we wish to make Musselburgh great again.
“We have entered preliminary negotiations with East Lothian Council who are custodians of the course and outlined our proposition to them. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll make more details available where locals can see how much we aim to transform the global perception of Musselburgh as a crown jewel in golf’s history and development.
“Musselburgh Links can act as an economic catalyst to spearhead a national and international campaign that further enhances tourism in East Lothian. A re-invigorated historical sporting icon of this stature, is, we believe, crucial to achieving that.”
Blue Thistle says Musselburgh has played a pivotal role in golf’s evolution which continues to influence the game today. It claims the most significant of these is the size of the hole used on all golf courses after local men shaped the first hole-cutting tool using a piece of drainpipe. When the R&A Golf Club of St Andrews was appointed to create a standard set of rules in 1894, it adopted the Musselburgh standard of 4¼” as the norm, which is still true to this day.
The course produced five local Open Champions – winning the trophy 11 times in total and producing the very first Open Champion, Willie Park Snr, in 1860.
Between 1860 and 1872, all Opens were played at Prestwick but, after Tom Morris Jnr won the Championship for a third time in 1870, he could keep the champions belt in perpetuity. There was no Open in 1871 because a new prize had yet to be commissioned for the winner.
The matter was resolved the following year when the three clubs of Prestwick, St Andrews and The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers put together a sum of £20 and commissioned the now famous Claret Jug.
The Open would now be shared amongst the three clubs and Musselburgh – home to The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers – would host its first Open in 1874. Only 14 courses have ever hosted The Open Championship. Musselburgh was the third and did so on six occasions.
McGregor added: “We want to re-imagine parts of the course, re-specifying a host of iconic features that were in play at the time of the late 19th century Open Championships played here, such as the famous Pandy Bunker on the 6th hole which have been lost through time and due to the expansion of the adjoining Musselburgh Racecourse.
“The course will be a challenge for the modern golfer using today’s clubs and equally for the traditionalist and historical golfer who play with hickory-shafted clubs.
“Some new tees and greens will be built, new practice facilities created and we shall spearhead a major campaign to establish and grow a ‘grassroots’ programme to encourage local juniors to take up the game on a course which replicates a genuine Open Championship course of yesteryear.”
Fellow Director Dominique von Prondzynski said: “My father is the main investor behind these proposals and was enthralled by the Musselburgh story when I first related it to him. He has visited the golf course and sees the potential for not just the course but the local area.
“As a company we are looking for a return on investment but will look to work with existing stakeholders, local businesses and groups to maximize the opportunities this kind of development brings.”
Blue Thistle is working with a range of partners on the project, including golf architects MacKenzie and Ebert; Jay Dobson, Agronomist NDTS, and branding experts H&A Design.