North Berwick Golf Club: Sculpted by nature with breathtaking views
The traditionalist within me relishes the challenge that is posed by Scotland's great links courses. The subtle nuances synonymous with links golf are a real treat and can only fully be appreciated at first hand.
The infamous bump and run, and the essential knock down shot are unique to these type of courses, providing a refreshing change from the aerial bombardment that has become so prevalent on our inland tracks. These shots are essential to successfully negotiate the gauntlet thrown down by the links at North Berwick Golf Club.
For the links here provide a great test, challenging the shot-making repartee of all standards of golfer. Pot bunkers, rolling dunes, tight fairways, and good quick greens await every visitor. In addition there are several landmark holes with there own delightful idiosyncrasies that make the course that wee bit more memorable and enjoyable.
As if this were not enough, the views of the Bass Rock and the variety of bird life on display mean that even the most fanatical and focused golfer cannot help but be distracted by the beautiful scenery.
The opening hole at North Berwick epitomizes the golf course's charm but does not prepare the visitor for the more onerous challenges that lie ahead. This short par four requires placement rather than length off the tee and demands an accurate second shot to a raised green that from the fairway seems set perilously close to the edge of a rocky outcrop.
Longer hitters would be advised to take an iron off the tee, for at 220-yards there is a small gully from where it is impossible to see the pin for your second. Whatever happens, do not allow yourself to be overly intimidated by the sea to the right of the green for there is a great deal more room than the view from the fairway suggests. Additionally, be sure of your yardage, for this green has a large left to right borrow and therefore two putts from long range is no formality.
The real difficulty for the visitor at the second comes in knowing the correct line off the tee. The best line is on the Marine Hotel with a slight fade. This not only takes the beach completely out of play but additionally opens up the green where the only real danger is a bunker situated fifteen yards short and right of the putting surface.
Be warned that anyone who ignores my advice with the tee shot may pay a severe price, for the right hand side of this fairway subtlely encourages everything towards the sea.
The third at North Berwick is as demanding as any other hole on the course. At over 400 yards and often played into a strong sea breeze, this hole requires both length and accuracy. Moreover, the dry stone wall that runs across the middle of the fairway provides not only a great feature but also a potentially formidable hazard.
The drive should be aimed at the gap in the wall and will need to be well struck if the green is to be reachable in two. Those with less length may need to consider laying up short of the wall with their second should they fail to get a good one away from the tee.
If the tee shot is well hit, you have surmounted only the first hurdle for the green has a narrow entrance with two right hand side bunkers that seem to act as magnets to anything even fractionally short or off target. However, one must dice with these traps to hold the putting surface, for in the summer with the greens hard and fast, any long iron that carries these bunkers is likely to run through back, leaving a tough down hill chip shot.
Dropped shots are common here, for there are dangers lurking at every juncture. Accordingly, anyone who emerges without a blemish on the card has done exceptionally well. Moreover, they will have set themselves up well for the middle part of the front nine that winds its way along these beautiful links.
The next part of the course is overlooked by some spectacular properties. Jane Fonda used to own one of the houses here and they provide a dramatic backdrop to some fine holes.
This brings us out to the furthest point of the course and holes eight and nine, which oddly enough, are both par fives off the back tees. At the eighth, find the fairway and the rest should take care of itself. That task is complicated by the fact that from the medal tees it is impossible to see the landing area, making visualisation of the shot difficult.
Nevertheless, have trust in the marker post and make a confident swing. If the fairway is found, the longer hitters may be able to take on the green in two and most will at least be able to get over the fairway cross-bunkers. If the tee shot is less than perfect the dilemma is whether to try and carry the fairway bunkers. Laying up leaves a long approach but failing to get over in two means that a six is more than likely.
The ninth is a great par five that places demands on every part of your game. The tee shot is very reminiscent of Hogan's alley at Carnoustie, and like its more famous counter part, presents the golfer with two options. The safer of the two is to go to the right of two large bunkers situated in the middle of the fairway. The riskier option is to go down the left hand-side between the bunkers and the out of bounds. The incentive provided by the more dangerous route is that a good drive may mean that the green is in reach in two.
The green itself is well guarded and finding the putting surface demands accuracy and length. Anything slightly off target will run off the putting surface leaving the most tricky recovery shot. Accordingly, it is often better to lay up short in the fairway and leave yourself a relatively simple pitch up the length of this long narrow green.
The back nine at North Berwick Golf Club
Turning for home, there are any number of memorable and idyllic holes whose delights should be extolled in greater detail. However, I shall content myself with praising only a handful of holes. The thirteenth is a fantastic par four. The tee shot is not too demanding but the second shot is an absolute delight to play. For this green is not protected by any of the usual hazards. Instead the green is long and narrow and is vigilantly guarded by a small dry stone wall which protects the greens front edge and entire right hand side.
Therefore, the requirement here is to have enough club to get over the small wall. Anything short is likely to nestle behind the wall leaving absolutely no short for your third. The novelty factor alone of this hole's auspicious hazard makes it a real joy to play.
However, far and away the best hole on the back nine comes at the sixteenth. A tremendous par four, it presents phenomenal challenges. Off the tee, questions regarding length are asked for there is a burn running across this fairway at the 230-yard mark.
Generally the longer hitters will be tempted to take on the carry, for a drive which clears the burn gains a handsome reward. The shortest route over the burn is down the right hand side, but such a shot is not for the faint hearted for there are out of bounds which seem to encroach perilously close to the landing area.
The sixteenth green is raised and set at an angle to the fairway. This means any approach is generally running across the green and therefore demands pin point accuracy and great club selection. In addition, this green runs off on all sides and any recovery shot can be treacherous from tight bare lies. However, the definitive feature of this green is that while the front and back of the putting surface are raised some four to five feet, there is a deep gully in the middle of the green which is level with the fairway.
Consequently, two putts on this green are anything but a certainty, especially if your approach shot finds the wrong section of the green. The challenges thrown up by the sixteenth should be relished. Inevitably most will proceed to the seventeenth with a bogey on their card but this only serves to enhance the achievement of those who escape with par.
The 18th at North Berwick is a delightful little hole. While not quite having the teeth or the distinct characteristics of some of the other holes on these links, the stunning views and surrounding scenery provide more than adequate compensation.
Behind you, the sea laps against the shore and late in the evening the last of the fading sun light glints of the Bass Rock. Directly in front lies a panoramic view of the town's skyline, which incorporates the new starters box and increasingly popular Scottish Bird Centre.
Take the chance to sample some fare in the club after your round as the views from the upstairs lounge are a real delight. What's more, you can keep a watchful eye on your fellow golfers finishing out below you.
There are numerous other places to eat in North Berwick, including the Marine Hotel which overlooks the second and sixteenth fairways. However, for wider variety and a more cosmopolitan night out, why not try Edinburgh which is only forty-five minutes drive away.
There have been many historic matches played at North Berwick including one of the legs of the famous contest between Harry Vardon and Willie Park in 1899. The match was supposed to be thirty-six holes at Ganton and a further thirty-six played at Musselburgh. However, having heard that the locals at Musselburgh had a reputation for interfering with play, Vardon refused to play over at Park's home course and accordingly the fixture was moved to North Berwick.
In the more modern era, North Berwick is used as a qualifying course when the Open is hosted at Muirfield and has also been the seen of numerous ladies international series.
However, the real selling point here is not the course's roll of honour, but the links themselves. Sculpted by nature with breathtaking views, North Berwick offers something a little different from your normal links..play it and enjoy it.