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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.
North Berwick’s West Links has taken some time to evolve into the 18-hole course that’s now in play. Elementary golf – which was largely frowned upon by the local authorities – had been played on the ‘toune links’ in North Berwick since at least 1672, but it wasn’t until the foundation of North Berwick Golf Club in 1832 that a properly designated course was brought into play.
The ground used for organized golf extended only to the “March Dyke” which crosses the current 3rd and 16th holes and only six holes could be fitted into this small parcel of land, so that medal competitions were played over three circuits, allowing golfers to complete an 18-hole round. A seventh hole was eventually squeezed into this tight tract.
Moves to expand west, beyond the March Dyke stone wall, were made in 1868. Thanks to the Right Hon. John Nisbet-Hamilton, who owned the property, three additional holes were laid out – one of which was the famous Redan short hole – and this allowed one of the existing seven holes to disappear. Only two circuits were now required to play an eighteen-hole round.
Nine years later, further negotiations with the Nisbet-Hamilton family resulted in the course edging as far as the Eil Burn, with The Scotsman newspaper reporting that Messrs. Brodie (the Provost) and Whitecross (a member) had assisted David Strath (“keeper of the North Berwick green”) who in turn had received “hints given by Tom Morris on a recent visit.”
The course now comprised eighteen holes, but seven of them were less than 200 yards in length so another effort was made in 1895 to push even further to the west, giving the course an overall yardage of 6,095 yards. Modifications to this layout were then carried out under the supervision of Ben Sayers Jr. and C. K. Hutchison when additional ground was leased in 1932, stretching the course 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 delights of North Berwick is that you can play the course without being punished brutally by penal rough. The club prefers a round to take no more than three hours, consequently the rough is kept relatively short to speed up play. It’s not the longest links course but it’s sheer fun and a unique experience. You’ll need to negotiate stonewalls, deep bunkers, all kinds of humps and hollows and burns. You’ll also experience blind shots and you’ll need to hit out over the beach. North Berwick is genuinely entertaining.
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.
An absolute joy to play. We had a couple of club wind which kept things interesting. I agree with the comments that it is an easy walk and anyone can play regardless of age and ability. Some very interesting holes, great views. Only downside a little overpriced.
Just such a great fun golf course. I was fortunate enough to play with a member which certainly helped me to find my way around. Its the sort of course you could quite happily play every day for the rest of your life.
What another golfer thinks about North Berwick says a lot about that person. Before I came here the first time many years ago, I thought it was just another venerable links course in Scotland. How wrong I was !
North Berwick arguably has one of the most interesting collection of architecturally unique holes found on a golf course anywhere in Old World. Yet, it is not a freak show, but a course that fits together well. And as important to me, you can play here with anyone from your 80-year old mother-in-law to your daughter’s boyfriend who plays off scratch and you will all have a good time !
So, I can think of many worse conversation topics while waiting for the fourball in front than what to think of the 1st and the 18th at North Berwick. Would the course be as good if they swapped places? Alternatively, has the other person played the 16th (Gate) with the pin on the back plateau (most have not) and what did you/would you think about it? A third topic might be: do you think the tee shot or the second shot is most difficult on the 14th (Perfection)?
You get it, this topic can easily last you all 18 holes without becoming too repetitive. In fact, the course planner for NBGC could easily qualify as “This Week’s Guest Publication” on “Have I Got News For You”, such is the cult following of this wonderful golf course.
Therefore, if you have not yet played here, do consider making a promise to yourself to go there when the opportunity next presents itself. And, try to play at least two rounds while you are there and pity the poor souls who rush off to tick another box on their golfing CV.
This course belongs in my very personal top five, probably together with Prestwick, The Old Course, Royal County Down and Royal St George’s. And, if I needed to drop one of them to make way for another it probably would not be North Berwick.
PS To my two daughters: any prospective boyfriend who likes this course is always welcome in the house :-D
Full of quirk, charm and ridiculous amounts of fun- North Berwick is a special course. A pretty much classic out and back links, the quirk is on display from the start, with a fairway shared between the 1st and 18th, reminiscent of The Old Course. The approach shot on the 1st is blind, and although in theory this should be an easier opener, it really isn’t!
The 2nd tee shot is memorable, as you tee off over the beach, and with the beach on the right it is very much in play for slicers. The 2nd & 3rd also introduce playing over a wall, something that becomes more prominent later in the round. 6 is a quirky par 3, followed by the par 4 7th. If you leave yourself a short approach you will have a downhill lie as you try and feather a wedge over a burn, this is an example of the strategy present throughout this masterpiece. 9 is a par 5 with a tricky centreline bunker and undulating green.
The par 4 13th ‘Pit’ is probably North Berwick’s most famous hole. The aforementioned wall runs in-between the fairway and the green, making players really think and is something you don’t really see at many other places! 14 is aplty named ‘Perfection’ and 15th is said to be the most copied hole in the world, ‘Redan’. Along with the 13th, 16th is my other favourite hole here. It has a crazy, ‘Biarritz’ style green, which you could spend hours putting on. The 18th plays back to town and the clubhouse, and although it has a massive fairway, you do not want to go right as you may hit your car in the car park- again very similar to The Old Course.
I’ve said before that The Old Course is my favourite course, but I really wouldn’t have North Berwick that far behind, and so for me there’s no doubt about its rating.
I could easily go on and on about North Berwick, but I'll try and keep it short. A town that simply loves golf, much like St Andrews. The similarities don't end there however, with the quirkiness of the course similar to that of The Old Course. The first tee shot is near identical, as are the 18th holes.
Whilst 2, 6, 8 and 9 are all great holes, NB comes alive on the back nine. 13 is one of the best par 4s in the world, famous for the stone wall running across its green. 14 is my favourite however, where a blind approach leads to a spectacular view of the sea, and you ball hopefully close to the hole down the bottom of the hill. 15 and 16 are famous for their Redan and Biarritz greens, and 17 has an amazing trench bunker guarding the front. 18 is just a mini St Andrews and the perfect half par hole to finish your round.
The West Links at North Berwick is the most fun course to play in Scotland. It has a feeling similar to St Andrews with the start and finish in the town. There's a great mix of short, quirky golf along with well designed open holes. The course starts with some unusual holes, then follows some more conventional holes around the turn. From the 13th onward, the course crescendo's up with the 17th being my favourite. Standing high on the 18th tee is the best feeling one can have on a golf course. Looking toward the small town after a fun run of holes, a mere 275 downhill par 4 awaits you. A two is very possible, but out of bounds awaits you to the right for a loose shot. Its similar to the 18th on the Old Course but there are more possibilities here.
Modern architects don't build courses like this nowadays which is a shame because they are the most fun to play.
North Berwick is located an easy drive east of Edinburgh, and 10 minutes from Muirfield. The seaside town has real character and is a lovely place to spend a few days. In fact I wouldn't mind making it my base for an extended break..
But it is the golf course that you will come for, and in my mind the west links at Nth Berwick are very special.
North Berwick has enormous variety- you just don't know what lies around the next corner- and the combination of rolling dunes, beach in play, stone walls, burns, and quirk factor all combine to make this THE most fun course to play!
From an architectural point of view we have a number of holes that have been copied world wide. The famous par 3 Redan hole is without doubt the most copied par 3 in golf, and the 2nd hole a super par 4 around the beach from an elevated tee is probably the first of literally thousands of 'cape' holes...
These are truly great golf holes. Perhaps my favourite of the lot is 'The Pit', the short par 4 13th hole where the approach to a green wedged in a hollow between wall and dune is made diagonally over a stone wall!!
Other outstanding holes are the par 3's at holes 4 & 6, and the quirk factor hole 14, aptly named 'Perfection'
North Berwick is not the best course in the world. The holes furthest from the clubhouse- 8, 9, 10, 11 are good without being great, and I would argue that the opening hole, while quirky, is not a great golf hole. And the green on hole 16 is so convoluted I cannot imagine ever being able to hit and stay on it..
Nevertheless despite it's weaknesses North Berwick has enormous positives. There is no pomp. It is a relaxed game by the seaside in a beautiful coastal village. The variety and quirkiness of the holes make the experience a delight you won't easily forget. It's just great fun. It reminds us of why we play the game
So when planning a golfing trip to Scotland I would argue that Nth Berwick should be the first course selected in your itinerary.
Every golfer should experience Nth Berwick
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Lots has been written about North Berwick so I’ll keep this quite brief. It’s all true. It’s my new favourite course and despite struggling in a howling wind, it’s the most fulfilled and content I’ve left a golf course. There are no weak holes but that run from the 13th onwards is on another level.
The views are excellent, the greens among the most ‘true’ I’ve played on, it’s great value compared to other big names, every hole is very different.
You know when you’ve finished a certain TV show or film and it’s so good it feels like all future shows or films are ruined? North Berwick has left me feeling like that.
If an architect built North Berwick West today they would likely be laughed at and ridiculed.
Yet, I have some refer to the golf course as an amusement park that is such fun that they cannot wait to play it again.
The only criticism I sometimes hear of the golf course is in regards to the 18th hole, a short par 4 of less than 300 yards. Yet I have made one of the finest pars of my life there, hitting my first tee shot right over the road behind the wall of a private garden, hitting my third onto the green and holing the putt so how bad can the hole be when it offers so many options.
The first three holes can be very difficult depending on the wind. The first hole offers the coastline right as out of bounds, yet that is the best line to the hole is to hug the right as much as you dare. The green is raised behind some hills and mounds and the green is large but tilted.
The second hole requires the tee shot to play over the corner of the beach. I have put my ball on the sand many times as the wind was too strong in my face.
The third requires you to hit your second over a wall to this long par 4 where once again the wind is typically in your face.
The fourth is a wonderful, partially hidden par three of medium length with a hill to the right and a tricky green.
Then the course loses a bit but the plus is the setting with the lovely large mansions to your left. You reach the 8th hole and you are about to play three par fives in the next four holes.
The 9th offers the best defense of these par fives, played in the corner of the property as a dogleg to a raised green that is well protected.
Standing on the 10th hole, a lovely downhill par 3 of medium length you can see the golf course, the mansions, the beach and the firth as well as Bass Rock. It is a sweeping view and one should take some time to take it all in. It is marvelous.
The 12th is sort of the last straight forward hole, a short par 4 to a well defended green. There are some swales and mounds to navigate as well.
While the 15th is the most famous hole on the golf course, most players remember the 13th the most due to the rock wall on the right side at the edge of the green as well as the skinniness of the green itself. I have seen every possible score on this hole, from birdie to an eight to "I will pick up." You must hit the tee shot down the left side where all the real danger is to have a look at this green and the best angle. This hole is absolute fun and a laugh.
14 is a medium length par 4 that requires a blind second shot over the ridge. Your tee shot seemingly goes through a canyon. The fun has continued on this hole.
The most copied hole in golf follows, the famous 15th redan par 3 of 180-190 yards. It is pure brilliance with the tilts going both ways and the bunkers you must carry as well as the steep hill to the left of the hole. If you miss the green, try to miss to the right. It is truly special.
The 16th offers both a burn and the famous biarritz green that is always, always deeper than I remember. The dip in the middle of the green divide it into two sections to this raised green so hitting your second onto one of these small sections and holding the green requires a very good shot. Even chipping on from nearby by and holding the green can be difficult.
The 17th is the second hole requiring you to carry the ridge on your second shot. It is not a particularly difficult hole at 430 yards because you can hit a longer club than you might need and still hold the green.
Everyone should have the chance to play North Berwick West due to its uniqueness as well as the famous 13th and 15th holes. You won't want to play it on a really windy day as it can become unplayable, but you won't want to play it on a windless day either as it would be a bit too easy.
The views are stellar of the town, the Marine Hotel, the mansions, the beach, the firth, and of the golf course itself. The rolling nature, tall grass, hidden mounds on the land on the 1st and from 12 in offer some interesting shots should one miss the fairway.
This is as natural a golf course as one will every play.
Berwick embodies everything that is sublime about links golf. It's old - 10th or so oldest club in history - and played over ground that has plenty of rumples and swales and rises that create nothing short of delight when playing. Links golf involves a bit of chance here and there - a willingness to face whatever comes your way, knowing the strike was pure (if it was) and that the results will at least allow you the chance at reward. You must lay up on the 1st hole and play to an elevated green that is partially obscured. The 2nd isn't all that concealed - you just have to hit over the beach, though it is in play. You hit over an old stone wall on the 3rd, again to a green partially obscured - take what comes. Those first three holes set the tone for a marvelous adventure, facing wonderful views of the Firth of Forth and the five rock islands the starter will point out to you when you arrive. Walls are part of the narrative at Berwick, forming either lines and visuals that remind you of the history of the club/course and an enchanting time in the past, or outright obstacles to greens, though who wouldn't want to hit over a stone wall? The 6th is a typical links hole - not too difficult a shot if you strike it well, but deep pot bunkers on the sides and a large cross bunker in front await the imperfect shot and serve as just punishment. The 9th shows the use of center bunkers to force players to one side or the other down the fairway, a slight hint to make a decision and deal with the consequences. You turn and head back in, with the 10th again saying don't hit it too badly or you will suffer (golf is such a metaphor for life). The 12th-18th is as good as it gets anywhere in the world, with demanding holes that require consideration of your game that day and where you stand as a golfer. If it's into a stout wind on the 12th, can you even carry the burn? And if you do, can you carry the bunkers 60 yards short of the green? What a delight this course must be with old balls/clubs. And the 13th - just ridiculous. Can you hit the perfect shot over the wall, or should you play back and hope a pitch/putt brings a par? Who doesn't want to drop balls as close as possible to the wall to see how close they can hit it? Do you trust the caddie/yardage book on the 14th when you realize you can hit a simple punch shot over the hill that chases the ball all the way to the green? And the view that awaits you as you climb that hill? How many tee shots will you hit on the Redan hole - just to see if you can play it the correct way. Your view for the 16th is a row of wonderful old houses, backing a green with a middle swale and drop-offs all around it. Can you hit over the cross bunker on 17, into the wind? And the 18th - a straight way driveable par 4 that leaves you with the chance for a great memory, right at the door of the clubhouse. This golf course is perfection. Be dubious of anyone that gives it less than 6 balls.