Berwick upon Tweed
Berwick upon Tweed Golf Club (Goswick)
For it is not until you venture a little further out onto the bumpy linksland at Goswick that the golf course really starts to come alive and show its full character.
Arguably the worst two shots on the course can be seen as you drive into the club; the opening tee-shot with an ugly copse of trees and internal out-of-bounds down the right plus the approach to the uninspiring par three ninth.
That aside this classic and genuine links course, found just south of the border town of Berwick, delivers not only a true test of golf but asks you to hit a wonderful variety of strokes, both along the ground and through the air. There is much more movement in the land than you might expect from your initial impression of the course with some superb changes in elevation throughout the 18 holes.
A centrally situated clubhouse, located at the end of a twisting 3 mile single track lane and close to the main East Coast railway line, dissects the course that runs along the beautiful Northumberland coastline; front nine to the north and back nine to the south.
The welcome is always warm and friendly at this much underrated links that has hosted Regional Open Qualifying in its recent history and pushes 7,000 yards from the back tees.
The duneland of the outward half tilts slightly towards the inland side of the course and as a result of this you play to raised greens at the first and fifth where flighting the ball well is paramount, especially if the wind is blowing straight in off the sea, even more so if it is across.
You also get to play thrilling drives across sloping fairways, which drape over the rumpled duneland elegantly, from elevated tees at the third and sixth; both of which dog-leg slightly to the right as does the reachable par five fourth.
The sixth is also a par five and is my favourite hole on the entire course and perhaps in the whole of Northumberland. It has an amazing green complex that has a real air of class about it. In truth the green complex actually starts over 100 yards short of the putting surface as the contours of the land gradually build to a crescendo. A high teeing ground, hard against the boundary fence with a lovely view of more golden duneland, invites you to pull driver from the bag but it is the approach that takes your breath away with the superb lofted green location and menacing bunkers glaring at you as you stand in the middle of the fairway. A couple of sand hazards 50-60 yards short of the green add to the challenge on a hole that is nothing short of exceptional.
Holes seven and eight begin the run to the turn and although they are played on flatter land they are both good holes with inviting but tricky second shots to wonderful greens, the latter boasting a subtle yet brilliant raised side-tier on the left.
The first eight holes at Goswick undoubtedly belong in the top bracket of links golf courses they are of such a high calibre. From here on in the course isn't as consistently good as what's gone before it but has arguably the more interesting and unique holes.
Two sound holes take you away from the clubhouse at the start of the back nine, the first of which is a conventional long par four whilst the next is a par five that has a valley fairway with many undulations. A semi-blind approach greets you at the 12th, on the assumption that you have found the rolling fairway, before more solid golf is required at the 200 plus yard par three that is played to a large green relatively in the open but protected by a ring of bunkers.
The next two holes at Goswick excel in the quirk factor. A par four through a shallow valley of dunes to a bowl green site at the 14th is an absolute delight whilst the next is a short downhill par three that requires a high dropping shot to a dell green surrounded not only by bunkers but steep slopes that could easily ricochet a ball several yards through the back of the green. The view from this tee across more sandhills and out towards Holy Island is blissful.
Holes 16, 17 and 18 comprise a solid finish at Goswick, particularly stern if into a northerly wind, but present birdie opportunities on a benign day; the tempting driveable 18th should be an easy pick-up but I bet many a card has been wrecked by one, or more, of the plethora of bunkers that encircle the green. I have also visited whilst playing the Winter course when the last is actually played as a 202-yard par three. In my opinion it plays much better as a long one-shotter than a short two-shotter.
What I like most about Goswick is the variety. It mixes quirk with traditional links golf to magnificent effect. One moment you are being asked to hit conventional links shots but then at the next you must think outside the box in order to get maximum reward. The fine bunkering is also a strong aspect of the course, particularly the fairway traps; they are well positioned and must be avoided.
This is as good as many of the top links in East Lothian and knocks socks of many of its southern counterparts. And perhaps that is the reason; its relative isolation, in no man’s land, just off the A1 in Northumberland on England’s East Coast.
The course is undoubtedly worth a stop-off on the way up to or down from Scotland but in truth it is much more deserving than that. Each hole has something about it that makes this an essential course for those who love the game of golf.