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, second, third, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th are played with such a smile on your face that the uniqueness of them will leave a forever lasting impression. The spell-binding nature of these holes set North Berwick apart as one of the World’s best and unquestionably most delectable places to play golf.
These were the holes that brought the biggest grin to my face but the individuality of all the holes at North Berwick may mean you have your own personal favourites.
The opening hole is such a scary and fascinating hole yet only 322 yards in length. Played close to the southern edge of the Firth of Forth, and sharing the same fairway as the 18th, it has a sloping green that sits at the top of a rocky mound with only the top of the flag visible from the fairway.
The second has the most amazing, heroic drive where you could be playing your second from the beach. The third is played over a stone wall some 300 yards from the tee to a green that feeds in from the left but has a gathering bunker short and to the right. Downwind and with firm fairways you need to make sure you don’t drive too close to the wall, but in doing so you may leave yourself a longer than desired approach, on a hole that measures 460 yards. Into a stiff breeze and you may not be able to clear the wall with your second shot.
The 13th is named ‘Pit’ for its sunken green location which can the found at the foot of a large sand dune and on the other side of an ancient stone wall from the fairway. The wall must be crossed and is in play should your ball come to rest next to it.
Hole 14 is named ‘Perfection’ and has just simply everything; a tee-shot to a tumultuous fairway, a blind approach over a large ridge fronted by two large bunkers and the beach just meters from the putting surface. There's a little bit of uneasiness and disorientation for the golfer when playing the first part of this hole and this is what makes it so brilliant.
The famous Redan 15th needs no introduction. Meanwhile the 16th boasts an angled green like no other with three distinct parts; two narrow plateaus with a deep valley dividing them. The green is one of a kind but it was the second-shot approach that made the hole for me, the aerial route is not always an option here.
Finally, the approach at the 17th must be played over a cavernous bunker to a green adjacent to the first at the top of a hill but in a sort of bowl. You get a glimpse of this approach after teeing off at the second and the wait to play it is agonising. This tough hole also comes at the perfect time in the round with the knowledge that the 18th is a potential birdie opportunity.
There’s so much uniqueness to experience in the above half a dozen holes that the approach over Eil Burn at the seventh, central fairway bunkers at the 10th and the simple but inspiring return to the village, courtesy of the ‘Home’ hole, can easily be missed on first reminiscence.
The holes that ‘fill the gaps’ in this rollercoaster ride of a golf course are also all sound holes. The short fourth, sixth and 10th may be overshadowed by the influential Redan but will test your iron play, especially in a cross breeze, whilst the three par fives, that come in a stretch of just four holes around the turn, present their own challenges largely due to the fact they are played towards three different points on a compass. The positioning of the bunkers at the trio of longer holes is also exceptional and makes you think all the way from tee to green where you will discover fabulous complexes at the latter two. The fifth and 12th may seem mundane compared to the rest of the course but be assured they are not.
At North Berwick you will play some shots that you will have never hit before and may never hit again. The sui generis nature of this course must be seen at first hand.