Jim McCann originally nominated the Glen Golf Club as a gem back in 2005. Since then the course has made our Scottish Top 100 rankings which we published in 2009. The following passage is an extract of Jim’s original article from 2005.
I have lost count of the number of times that I have played at a club that lives in the shadow of a nearby ‘must-play’ course and come away thinking ‘what a golf course that is.’ The Glen Golf Club in North Berwick is a prime example.
The west course at North Berwick, just a couple of long drives away, gets all the plaudits in this neck of the woods but the east links of The Glen deserves recognition as a cracking alternative venue. Because most of the course is played on a cliff top, the views across the Firth of Forth to Bass rock and the island of Fidra, then beyond to the Kingdom of Fife, are a magnificent backdrop to the terrain over which the 18 holes are laid out.
Nine of the twelve par four holes are less than 400 yards so the layout will not tax you for length. Rough off the fairway is often long, wispy grass so you can cut loose with your driver off most tee boxes. Greens are not overly undulating or raised with run offs to throw slightly miss-hit shots away from the pin.
There is a holiday feel to playing here with so many people nearby relaxing along the beaches or walking along the hill paths. The signature par three 13th hole ‘Sea Hole’ which hugs the coast may be the one most advertised by the club but what a driving hole awaits a few holes later at the last when the elevation drops a hundred feet or more at ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ down to the green by the clubhouse – a thrilling, exhilarating way to end a great round of golf.
The Glen for me is a top course, the first 8 holes you climb the hill out of town, some of the holes are a bit ordinary, but the back nine along the coast is great. For me a far better golfing experience than North Berwick.
The par 3 are probably the most memorable holes and I would agree that the course is well used and therefore there are divots to avoid.
That said for me a must play if you are in the area.
The Glen is unusual among the collection of Lothian golf courses in that it’s sea and coastal views are simply magnificent, but the golf course itself is in my view fairly ordinary. It is heavily played and the fairways and tees well worn, but although the greens were patchy, they putted a lot better than they looked.
After a sharply uphill and frankly unsatisfactory opening hole, the course became a succession of hill-top challenges that weaved their way around the cliff above the town of North Berwick. Things became more interesting at the 9th which was a long par3 with Bass Rock as a backdrop, and the signature 13th hole which required a thrilling semi-blind short iron approach to a sunken green very close to the beach. Another exciting drive followed at 14, but the best tee shot was reserved for the last hole, sportingly called ‘Jacob’s Ladder’. From high up your final drive has a drop of over 100 feet before landing on a wide fairway, leaving a simple approach to the home green.
Seaside holiday golf this is for enthusiasts who want enjoyment, some quirky holes and great views, but not the level of intensity and challenge of other golf courses in the region.
The Glen golf course in North Berwick certainly should not be overlooked on a trip to play some of Lothians finest. Nestled within a hotbed of some of Scotland’s greatest links courses the Glen cannot rival these courses for design but does surpass for scenery and the spectacular views.
Barring the badly designed first hole (the worst hole i’ve played at a top 100 course) the course is played from high ground with sumptuous vistas of the North Sea and Bass Rock. Although not as testing as its neighbours it offers players a chance to score well, with many holes having wide fairways and not too penal rough. Playing in late October the course overall was in good condition showing only a few signs of wear. Greens were quick and had subtle undulations and bunkers were nice if a little friendlier than I’d expected.
The stand out was the thirteenth and rightly described as the signature hole. It’s a world class short par 3 with the sea in play and nowhere to bail out. I noted that a bad shot could see you playing your second from the adjacent beach, which wouldn’t be too disastrous as it was one of the most beautiful scenic holes i’ve had the pleasure of playing.
Overall the Glen isn’t going to challenge your Gullanes, NB’s or Muirfields. Its just not as well designed, nor is it difficult enough for better golfers. It doesn’t have the history, course conditioning or gravitas that these courses have in abundance. For me though it is one of the most enjoyable places to play. Perfect for travelling parties and societies looking to add a cheaper round to a golf trip. A round at the Glen would certainly compliment rounds at its more heralded neighbours. Sometimes absurd (hole 18), sometimes mediocre, but in many parts as good as anywhere in the UK.
I think I have to rate the course in the 4.5 ball category. It’s a 4 ball course but it is laid out in a 6 ball setting. Yes it comes up short in quality of design but for visual appeal and enjoyment it’s as good as any.
The east links at North Berwick are set on a grandiose cliffside stage. The course features its fair share of dramatic holes (9, 12-14, 17-18) and some inland pushovers (most of the outbound nine). Views of Bass Rock and the Fife of Forth are delightful, especially on the returning nine. The green complexes, especially when compared to other courses in the region, leave much to be desired. Nonetheless, this course is well worth a day trip and/or a complementary 18 to the main draw in NB.
The other side of town to the internationally acclaimed North Berwick West Links, The Glen shares similar views out to Bass Rock. Potentially more of a cliff top course than a true links, this course is not to be sniffed at. Enough holes that make you think, which is combined with some strong undulations and bunkering. The 1st & 18th play up (then down) a big slope which opens up the rest of the course. The par 3 13th is reminiscent of the 7th at Pebble Beach, and you can imagine depending on wind it could be anything from a 4 iron to sand wedge. A nice enough course but has a lot of competition in the area, that is perhaps time better spent.
The Glen enjoys a breathtaking clifftop location with many spectacular holes offering views of the Firth of Forth and its islands including the Bass Rock, the world-renowned bird sanctuary. Also known as the East Links, The Glen offers some of the most spectacular views in Scotland. Quite hilly so not an easy walk, but well worth the effort. Known for the 13th hole, a short par 3 with the green on the beach, there are better holes throughout. #3 is one of the best green complexes you will find, a beautiful kidney-shaped green with a bunker tucked in the nook. Excellent James Braid. Much more than just a pretty face, this James Braid design has some tremendous green complexes and challenges abound, particularly around the turn where you are most exposed to the elements. Beautiful, fun holes and an incredibly friendly club. The Club opened in 1894.
Glen is a fun golf course and has fantastic views. I’m not sure it’s pure links though, sat on top of cliffs and being a little muddy it felt as much downland as links.
I really liked its routing. It has a few twists and turns so it’s not a 100% out and back course. I was surprised by the massive hill you play up to the first green but you get up there and realise why it was built that way. You’re rewarded with a great view that doesn’t leave you until you play down the same dramatic slope on the 18th. Along the way you have a couple of holes playing straight towards the Bass Rock, some shoreline holes where a slice will send you into the sea, plus of course the Pebble Beach style par 3. I really felt the mix of holes built you up, rewarded you, challenged you, then you have the gift of basically playing off a cliff at the end. That also gives you an excellent panorama over North Berwick town.
It's maybe the widest course I’ve played, I guess because it gets so windy up there. So it isn’t exactly strategic but it is fun seeing how far you can hit it off the tee and not worrying too much about the outcome. I liked the greens too, they were reasonably quick and ran well, again they weren’t too linksy or funky but they contribute to what’s an honest, straight forward and enjoyable course. I don’t think you’ll find better views of The Bass Rock either.
Anyway, I would recommend Glen but keep in mind it’s not the same sandy turf as at Gullane, North Berwick etc. I had a great couple of hours but if you’re in Scotland to just play pure links then you should probably look elsewhere.
North Berwick is a very pleasant seashore village that served as our base during our first golf trip to Scotland last year. North Berwick has two beautiful golf courses on each side of the town. The West Links is the better known golf course and attracts most golf tourists visiting North Berwick.
On the other side of the town the East Links is situated, better known as the Glen. It offers a true and honest golf experience.
The Glen also has a departure and return in front of the clubhouse, but since part of the course is situated on a raised plateau, the Glen also offers magnificent views over North Berwick, Bass Rock, the Law and the Firth of Fife. On a good day one can see the Forth bridge of Edinburgh.
The Glen - not being excessively long - offers a nice variety of good golf holes, and excellent greens to test one's putting skills. The Glen has been there quiet some while, and one can feel the maturity of the golf course when playing it.
Where the West Links is normally totally jammed from dawn till dusk, Glen offers a quiet and pleasant golf experience.
We discovered the Glen last year during our trip, and we returned this year, enjoying the course as much as last year!
The Glen Golf Club, often referred to as North Berwick East Links, is one of the most popular and the best value of all East Lothian golf courses.
Overlooking the town of North Berwick the cliff-top course enjoys simply sensational views across the Firth of Forth; as good as you’ll find on any golf course.
The coastal layout provides an enjoyable test but doesn’t quite stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the more recognised links in this part of Scotland; not that it pretends or tries to. The turf isn’t quite as good and the green complexes don’t hold as much interest as the real top drawer courses but that’s not to say a visit here isn’t warranted because it is.
The Glen promises much but for me ultimately just fails to deliver, but only if you are expecting the very high standard which many other courses deliver in East Lothian. This isn't really a negative on the course, more just a nod to the extremely good and tough competition East Lothian provides.
That said, go to The Glen with modest expectations, get a beautiful day, simply enjoy the walk and I suspect there are few better places to be.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
I've just seen Patrick's review response, so in answer I'd say that the Glen is definitely at least a 4 ball due to its location, condition and accessibility. Ref driving range, i always smile to remember the sign on Panmure's short range which is on the lines of "Golfers are reminded that this is for warming up, not practice". Many classic courses start with a gentle opener to get you to the course (RND, Montrose, Panmure, Dornoch, Old Course, Western Gailes, Turnberry, Portrush etc), so who needs a range ?