The Takeaway: Every student of golf architecture owes it to themselves to take a trip to North Berwick to experience the original Redan, play one of the first Biarritz inspired greens, and take their crack at the Pit hole where a wall separates the depressed green from the fairway. There are extremely compelling holes on each nine of this out and back routing with the stretch of 13-17 being particularly special. If you appreciate the quirks of old links courses then North Berwick has more than its fair share for you to enjoy, otherwise, this course won't be your cup of tea. Grade A-
Designer: Ben Sayers in 1932 (1832 6 holes, David Strath shaped in 1877)
Cost: £75.00 - £110.00 Click for current rates
Phone Number: +44 (0) 1620 895040
Course Website: Official Website - Visit North Berwick Golf Club's official website by clicking on the link provided.
Directions: Get here! - New Club House, Beach Rd, North Berwick, UK
Accolades: Ranked 8th in Scotland by Golf Course Gurus.
What to Expect: North Berwick has fascinated visitors for years with its fairytale seaside setting, peculiar design features, and authentic links experience. For golf nerds, perhaps the most well known feature of North Berwick is as the home of the original Redan design. Following the Redan hole players are treated to a Biarritz inspired green with as wild of contours as you could ever hope for. While some may not be inspired by the opening tee shot where an iron is often recommended and a massive area is afforded to hit, I found it to be a welcoming beginning to the course followed by one of the best approach shots on the links to an uphill green. Old walls run through the property and come into play more than once, including as protection to the 13th green, and is probably the most talked about feature at North Berwick. There are three buildings to be aware of when visiting. The first is the large clubhouse at the entry to the course when you are likely to be greeted by an enthusiastic member that delivers a hearty and heartfelt welcome to visitors and offers a quick tour of the facilities. Players are then ushered to the other two buildings on the property; one is the pro shop and the other is a building dedicated to handling the green fees and caddie arrangements. The pro shop is mostly dedicated to selling merchandise. The walking only course has a stronger back nine than front nine which is quite apparent during one of the finest stretches of holes in Scotland with 13-17 which I would be thrilled to play over and over. While some people aren't fans of the driveable par four closing hole framed by the parking lot on the right, I found it to be an exciting and fitting ending to a course full of the unexpected. Ultimately, North Berwick is a whimsical course full of unique features that only a links course could get away with; and it gets away with it beautifully.
By the Numbers
Individual Hole Analysis
Signature Hole: 13th (Pit) Hole – 387 Yard Par 4 – Named "Pit" but better known for the wall that runs through the hole, the name Pit comes from the bowled green found on the other side of the ancient stone wall that forms the left boundary of the fairway before cutting in front of the green. A tee shot up the left side is just begging for the wall to give you trouble so stay up the right and give yourself a nice angle back to the Pit. With the bowled effect of the green you have the chance of a ball kicking nicely towards the hole, however an approach that comes up short will leave an awkward chip over the stone wall to the hole location. If you find yourself near the wall you'll also find yourself not wanting to catch your chip thin so bad in your life. This is one of the most fun and unique holes not only in Scotland but in the world.
Best Par 3: 15th (Redan) Hole – 190 Yards – Golf architecture geeks like myself come to this hole and feel like they've laid their eyes on the Mona Lisa. The original Redan hole that has been copied by many architects, the 15th at North Berwick's West Links is a living masterpiece. Many modern Redans aren't as bold as the original that utilizes a large mound behind the bunkers fronting the putting surface which effectively blocks player's view of the green which means they have to trust their swing and the design of the hole more than ever. A great line is straight is to split the two bunkers in front of you which should result in your tee ball catching the right side of the severely sloped green and working its way to the day's pine placement which is always on the left half of the putting surface. If you don't love and appreciate this hole, you need to spend more time reading golf architecture books.
Best Par 4: 14th (Perfection) Hole – 374 Yards – The finishing stretch of six holes at North Berwick are ridiculously good and the 14th is one of my favorites among them. More semi-blind shots awaits here with the tee shot requiring a straight ball just left of Craigleith, the prominent island in the distance. Tee shots that travel too far can end up in the hidden bunkers at the end of the fairway that sit at the base on another hill. From the fairway players are afforded an aiming post to aim at which will take you safely to the middle of the green if you properly execute your shot. If you prefer to utilize the ground then a shot that carries to the back side of the hill fronting the green will feed balls onto the putting surface and set up a potential birdie effort. With mystery and beauty around every corner of this hole, it is a memorable experience that is fun to play each loop.
Best Par 5: 9th (Mizzentop) Hole – 519 Yards – The second of back to back par fives, North Berwick closes the outward nine with an uphill beauty that gently climbs and slightly bends left before terminating at the green location that is protected by bunkers, tight chippings areas, and run offs. Off the tee players have to decide whether to play to the right, or to the left, of the center bunkers. The right side offers an easier path but less chance to score low due to the increased length that route offers. Up the left side players open the door to take a rip at the green and see if they can yield themselves an eagle putt or an easy up and down for birdie. The ascension to this green take you to one of the higher points on the course with impressive views in all directions.
Birdie Time: 18th (Home) Hole – 277 Yard Par 4 – One of the things I love about links golf across the pond is all the quirks that you discover at different courses that you would rarely, if ever, find at highly touted tracks in America. The closing hole at North Berwick is a great example of this. I mean, where in the states do you find a sub-300 yard par four closing hole that plays downhill and features a parking lot up the entire right side? If you are a slicer of the ball, you are standing on this tee box looking dead left with the hopes of not having to call your insurance agent by flaring one to the right and taking out a windshield. The fairway is riddled with bumps, lumps, and wrinkles that provide all sorts of results as your drive tumbles towards the green. Long hitters can put a 3-wood on the putting surface and leave themselves with an eagle putt which would be pretty fun with the clubhouse watching on from behind the green. If you are flirting with a personal best score, having this as the 18th hole should seal the deal for you and leave you with a smile on your face.
Bogey Beware: 16th (Gate) Hole – 378 Yard Par 4 – Known as "Gate" but remembered for its unique green with Biarritz qualities, the 16th is a love or hate hole depending on how accurate your approach shot is. Tee shots play over a stone wall and hopefully carry the burn before coming to rest in the undulated fairway. The approach shot plays to a Biarritz green with sharp fall offs on the edges and a four foot swell separating the front and back thirds of the putting surface and creates almost too separate targets to navigate. With 55 yards of depth to navigate with the flatstick, a three putt here is commonplace. Don't let the sub-400 yardage fool you, you'll need to be spot on from start to finish on this crafty hole.