The West Links at North Berwick Golf Club is an immensely enjoyable golf course, located on the Firth of Forth with stunning sea views across to Craigleith Island and Bass Rock. The equivalent of Turnberry’s “Ailsa Craig”, Bass Rock is a huge volcanic lump, rising up over 300 feet from the Firth of Forth. It’s the closest seabird sanctuary to the mainland and home to 80,000 nest sites; approximately 10 per cent of the world’s population of Atlantic Gannets stay here.
This is a course that is extremely close to the origins of golf. It’s the thirteenth oldest golf club (founded in 1832) and the third oldest course in the world still playing over its original fairways. Only St Andrews (Old) and Musselburgh (Old) are more senior.
The original architect is unknown. We do know that North Berwick started out in life as a 6-hole course and was extended to 18 holes by 1877. Around the turn of the 19th century the course was stretched out to a little over 6,400 yards. There are two reasons why North Berwick is such an enjoyable course: 1) the land is raised above sea level, affording those excellent views 2) it has a superb collection of holes, a number of which have been replicated at other courses the world over.
The 15th is one of the world's most famous holes. It’s a par 3 measuring 190 yards, called “Redan” (a military term meaning “guarding parapet”), and is the most copied hole. Bernard Darwin referred to this hole in his book, Golf Courses of the British Isles: “a beautiful one shot hole atop a plateau with a bunker short of the green, to the left, and another further on to the right, and we must vary our mode of attack according to the wind, playing a shot to come in from the right or making a direct frontal attack".
One of the many beauties of North Berwick is that you can play the course without being punished brutally by penal rough. They like a round to take no more than three hours and consequently, the rough is kept relatively short to speed up play. It’s not the longest links course in the world but it’s sheer fun and a unique experience to boot. You’ll need to negotiate stonewalls, deep bunkers, all kinds of humps and hollows and burns. You’ll need to hit blind shots and you’ll need to hit shots out over the beach. Fantastic stuff.
It’s not often that we thank politicians, but in this case, we should take our hat-off to golf mad former Prime Minister Arthur J. Balfour, immortalised as “The Golfour” by Punch magazine. He was once captain of North Berwick and took every opportunity to popularise golf.
According to golf historian Archie Baird, Balfour once said: “a tolerable day, a tolerable green and a tolerable opponent supply, or ought to supply, all that any reasonably constituted human being should require in the way of entertainment. With a fine sea view in front of him, the golfer may be excused if he regards golf, even though it be indifferent golf, as the true and adequate end of man’s existence.”
So, what are you waiting for? If Arthur liked North Berwick, then surely you will too.
If Muirfield is regarded as the King of East Lothian then North Berwick is undoubtedly Queen.
Sometimes words cannot accurately describe a course and do it total justice, you just have to go and experience it for yourself in order to get a proper flavour of the place. The West Links at North Berwick is one of those.
It’s an eccentrically brilliant links golf course. It's beyond quirky. It is one of the oldest (and best) in the World and is like no other. I can’t recall any other course that has 18 so vastly different challenges like North Berwick has. Mouth-watering doesn’t even come close to describing it.
North Berwick has hosted many championships but I don’t see it as a ‘championship’ course... it’s better than that.
Having co-hosted the 2010 Amateur Championship and final qualifying for The Open in 2013 there’s no question that it provides a true test to elite golfers, however, unlike many courses geared for top-level play North Berwick offers challenges that can be enjoyed, savoured and remembered for a lifetime by golfers of any standard.
Holes like the first, third, 13th, 14th, 16th and 17th are played with such a smile on your face that the uniqueness of them will leave a forever lasting impression. The spellbinding nature of these holes set North Berwick apart as one of the World’s best and unquestionably most delectable places to play golf.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Ed, I totally agree with you. This place is really special! And it will last in the mind for a very long time. I had my perfect golf experience there. It started when the secretary gave me a very friendly welcome and showed me the clubhouse. The Display Panel showed my Name as guest for the day. The starter paired me with a nice member and then the journey started in sunshine and a slight breeze. The holes are almost all so unique, you're just proceeding your round wondering what is coming next. Although I got totally lost on some holes like Pit an Redan, it was also possible to have some Feelings of success, like playing a par on Gate. After the round we went in the clubhouse to have a drink at the bar and enjoy the view of the 18th fairway. The member gave me the advice to visit Muirfield and Renaissance Club in the afternoon. They were Hosting the Boys Amateur Championship that week. So I went there and walked both course which was the perfect complement for my morning round in North Berwick. I cannot think of a better day in golf!
North Berwick West Links is a proper true links course from start to finish. The starting and finishing hole have the most classical set-up thinkable, reminding me of the St Andrews set-up: leading you out of and back in to the village, in front of the clubhouse. The remaining holes play alongside the friendly shore, west of the village. The course does not have the dramatic elevation changes and views of the East Links, but the 18 holes are definitely of a higher (golfing) standard then at its easterly sibling.
Due to the age of the West Links - and the minimal alterations to suit the modern golfer - it has some funky holes & blind shots, giving it the quirkiness of a links course. The turf is also the real deal: proper links turf from start to finish.
Much has been said already about the famous - most copied - short par 3, the walls used as obstacles on the par 4's and the green with a lower ridge, splitting it in two, and it is all true and there to be enjoyed. Maintenance is at a very high standard, but the greens were not the best greens we have been putting on during our trip.
But one way or the other, the course did not charm me all the way. Maybe it was the almost mechanical way the course is fully packed with fourballs from dawn to dusk, maybe it was all the waiting during the round, maybe it is the commercial feel around the whole course when compared with other links courses, who will tell.
Being - without a doubt - one of the best courses west of Edinburgh, I would rather spend my day at a links course less commercialised.
Played it for my first time in what is apparently not the prevailing wind. Today it was a howling easterly that really shortened up the outward 9. The first hole is a sign of things to come…6 iron, blind wedge up the hill, doing well to keep it on the green. The 2nd was straight down breeze and I was 20 yards short of driving it. Before you accuse me of pumping my own tires up, just for comparison the 11th back into it went drive, 3 wood, 4 iron just to get pin high. The turf was hard and fast running and the greens in pretty good knick, although not the best I have seen in my week of East Lothian golf.
The outward nine is probably the more interesting although I don’t want to sell holes like 13/14/15 short as they were crackers as well. I particularly liked the 9th – maybe one of the more typical golf holes on this atypical course.
It falls short of 6 balls as it is just a bit too quirky. If this course was down on the Northumberland coast with no other course within 30 miles I reckon it wouldn’t have the following it has. I like it a lot but something a bit too smug about it. Warren from Aust
An absolute joy and the a step back in time. Love the quirkiness. Proper links turf and some great holes (2, 3, 11, 15, 16) 18 is a stunning tribute to the Old Course St Andrews and provokes a similar “good to be alive” moment, no matter how you are playing.
One of the defining features of the North Berwick West Links are the stone walls that are throughout the course. In several instances you have to hit your shots over the stone walls. On the 13th hole, a stone wall protects the green. If you hit your shot to the right (wrong?) spot on this hole you will have to either chip or putt off the green through an opening in the stone wall. It is a lot of fun.
The sixth hole is also a very good one. It is a short par four where more likely than not you will be hitting your second shot from a downhill lie, over a small burn to a green that slopes down to the burn.
The 16th hole, close to The Marine Hotel, which looms over the course from a promontory nearby, has one of the most interesting greens you will ever encounter. The green is bisected by a gully which creates two distinct tiers that are separated from one another. If your ball is on the wrong side of the gully, you will have a miniature-golf style putt. Think it's silly? It's not, it's a blast.
Horace Hutchinson captured the essence of North Berwick and it still rings true today - "It is an exceptionally good school in which to learn the art of approaching." Clearly, at 6,420 yards, driving is not of paramount importance, but hitting good and often creative approach shots is.
North Berwick, like Prestwick, does have some weak holes, most notably the first and finishing holes. Its detractors will tell you that it is not a good test of golf. No doubt, these detractors have never played the course when the wind is up, which is the real defense of links courses.
There are few places in the world to play like North Berwick that are magical and will inspire you to keep going out again and again to play.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
One of my all-time favorites. Played here during The Open week late on Tuesday afternoon and thank you North Berwick for allowing my son and myself to be members for the day. We ate lunch in the clubhouse bar before the round where the views overlooking the 18th green and the Firth of Forth are stunning.
On the first tee the starter said we could play the blue tees and I asked him how we could use the tees just behind the blue and he said North Berwick has a policy you had to be top 10 in the world. He did say a player ahead of us just played those tees. I asked him who it was and he said Matt Kuchar. He then said Bubba Watson has played here 3 times and Luke Donald also played. Pretty cool to see those Open players made the trip to play this classic championship links.
Played here three years ago during The Open week when the condition was nearly drought like and the wind was with us on the first nine. This time the weather was cooler, the wind was in the opposite direction, North Berwick again was in excellent condition (greener this time), and playing it again was another great experience that would highly recommend others to play. A highlight for me was to play a match against my son on this seaside links where many legendary challenge matches have been contested. I did birdie the 18th hole to tie the match which I must say does not happen very often.
All of the holes are memorable and look forward to the day when can play here again. On this day we were joined on the 11th hole by a young golfer from California and his dad. The son is a fine young player who drove the short 18th and made the putt to finish his North Berwick experience with an eagle. He had a very knowledgeable caddy that helped us as well. When we finished the round and had a drink in the clubhouse bar her framed picture was above us as Scottish Amateur Champion. Pretty cool.
While all 18 holes are outstanding, holes 1 through 3 and 13 through 18 are some of my favorites. Having the beach and the Firth of Forth with the large water hazard to the right is a great way to start. Watching my son play the 362 yard par 4 13th (Pit) the way it should be played was also a highlight. A truly unique golf hole that Golf Digest ranks as one of the 18 undisputed, unchallenged, scientifically factual best golf holes in the world. Number 14 (Perfection) is just perfect. Number 15 (Redan) is the original and not sure how it could be copied. The green at number 16 (Gate) is incredible. Not many better holes than number 17 Point Garry (in) and is nice to finish on the drivable 18th (home).
The North Berwick Golf Club was truly memorable and would highly recommend it to any golfer that enjoys a classic championship links. Click below to see a You Tube slideshow of some pictures I took during my visit. Jim Brady
Jim, great review! what a memorable day. -Steve Hoekstra (California "Dad"...
The true measure of a great course is that you enjoy it even if you don't score particularly well. Despite not having my best playing day, I left with a huge smile on my face after played North Berwick.
The course seems to be universally cherished in Scotland, with everyone from hotel staff to starters at other courses (St. Andrews included) claiming it is one of their favorites. All this talk raised expectations a great deal but I was not the least bit disappointed. Lucky enough to be blessed with a sunny day in the middle of April, I headed out to play the course everyone kept talking about. From the drive up to it to the amazing scenery and quirky stone walls, it was an experience I will never forget.
Given the unseasonal good weather, the whole town seemed to be out either playing or walking the course which slowed down pace of play a little. But that gave me more time to enjoy the course and the views, still finishing our two-ball round in 3 and a half hours. And I can easily say it was the most fun 3 and a half hours I have ever spent on a golf course. I can't wait to play this course again!
A firm, fast and classic out-back traditional links routing full of quirk and creativity that only a small handful of the world’s great courses possess. A lot of which would hardly be allowed in newly built courses in modern times for one reason or another. This was only my second play here but already I’m trying to figure out when I could return. Travelling quite extensively for golf it’s really rare for me to play a course where I have a strong burning desire to return to after a couple of plays and North Berwick is just that for me.
North Berwick is the kind of club you can never tire of playing because everyday is completely different every angle of approaching greens poses different challenges with each varying pin position changing up the ideal strategy to approach each hole. Other amazing aspects of North Berwick range from the continuity of the routing and the flow of the walk to it’s idyllic locations on the edge of the Firth of Forth. The course is one of the easiest most flowing walks in golf from green to tee nearly no space is wasted and one of the few places you can take your time yet still walk a sub 3 hour round of golf. On top of this no two holes are remotely similar not to mention the fact that the course is fun and playable for every lucky member of the clubs that play here. Needless to say, I love the place. If you’ve never played here, put it on your bucket list.