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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.
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.
The opening three holes all have the sea as out of bounds on your right hand side. The 4th is an appealing par three of 175 yards with a narrow two-tiered sunken green. The 6th is another par three, aptly named ‘Quarry’, and you will know why when you see the bunkers. Holes 6-9 all have out of bounds along the left side.
As the whole course is on a fairly narrow strip of coastal land, it is quite a long walk to the furthermost point around the 10th tee. The 9th is a par five slightly uphill and with a number of pot bunkers which should be avoided. Eleven and twelve are good holes but 13-16 are great fun to play and quite possibly different to anything you have seen before.
The 13th, ‘Pit’ is a short par four but a very old stone wall about three feet high runs parallel and blocks the narrow green. Hole 14 is named ‘Perfection’. It is not a long par four but the second shot is uphill to a partly obscured green.
The par three 15th, ‘Redan’ hole is believed to be the most copied in golf. It is reasonably long, with a green that is at a 45 degree angle, elevated, and guarded by several large deep bunkers. The 16th, ‘Gate’, is much harder than it looks. The green is at an angle to the fairway with the approach featuring a large ridge which will kick most running shots to the left.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.
What better way to blow away the winter blues than a round over the West Links at North Berwick on a bright and not too breezy day like today in the company of a couple of golfing chums? OK, we had to use fairway mats (even in the semi–rough, for some reason) and the course plays shorter because of the winter tees that are in use, but the greens… well, if head greenkeepers at half the clubs in Scotland had putting surfaces like these in the height of summer, they would be absolutely delighted because these were in absolutely tip top condition.
I reacquainted myself with all my old favourite holes, of course – Point Garry (Out) at the 1st, Quarry at the 6th and Mizzentop at the 9th.
On the back nine, the closing stretch from Perfection at the 14th to Point Garry (In) at the 17th is such as thrilling collection of holes and they’re normally preceded by one of the best par fours in Scottish golf; “Pit,” the 387-yard 13th.
Unfortunately, just like the last time I played here in the winter, the hole was off for maintenance (the first week it’s been out of play during the close season I was told) and to not get the chance to fire an approach shot across the wall that runs diagonally in front of the green was SUCH a disappointment this time around!
As an aside, I sometimes shake my head when I read opinion pieces from well-intentioned people who write in glowing terms about courses manufactured decades ago with iconic replica holes (like the Redan at the 15th) which look to me like they’ve been forced onto the land by architects who really should have known better.
Today’s round over natural terrain at North Berwick proved to me, yet again, that there’s NOTHING to beat the real deal.
The links was in excellent condition with the fairways playing firm and fast and the excellent greens rolled smoothly and were a good speed. Did not lose a ball during the round and the rough was not as penal as some of the other links we played. The links was just under 6,500 yards from the medal tees and was a pleasure to play.
The 1st and 18th holes shared the same fairway and the second shot to one had to be precise as the Firth of Forth was just to the right of the green. On the second hole hit my drive on the beach with the sunbathers that day and had to hit the ball from the beach back to the fairway for the second shot. A pretty unique experience for me. The third has an old stone wall in the middle of the fairway that you must stay short of on the tee shot. The par 4 7th (Eil Burn) had the most immaculately groomed burn I have seen. The front nine had a wide range of holes with the 5 par 4s ranging from 322 yards to 460 yards. The front nine ended with 2 par fives that are birdie opportunities with well played shots.
The back nine started with the 172-yard par 3 10th (Eastward Ho!) into the breeze. The back nine had a several unique golfing experiences for me as the green on the par 4 13th (Pit) was situated behind an old stone wall. The par 4 14th (Perfection) lived up to its name with its blind tee shot toward the marker and a green that is situated on the edge of the Firth of Forth. Playing the par 3 15th (Redan) was a nice experience just to play this much copied design. I must say the par 4 16th (Gate) green was as unique as have ever seen. It has 2 separate raised green sections with a narrow strip connecting them -- pretty cool. The 428-yard par 4 17th (Point Garry in) was a nice challenge with its elevated green. The day ended playing the short par 4 18th (home) that is reminiscent of playing the 18th at St. Andrews as it shares the fairway with the first hole.
Overall an excellent top notch links course that was in excellent condition and a must play links if in the area. Click here to see a You Tube slideshow of some pictures I took during my visit. Jim Brady