North Berwick Golf Club
Designer: Davie Strath
Somewhere along the way, it was decided by golf’s establishment that in order for a course to be great it needed to conform to a particular template. A par-72 which returned to the clubhouse at the turn, and was comprised of two par-3s and par-5s per side, was deemed to be the ideal unit of measure. Even the holes were given a prescription for greatness, with blind approaches and rumpled fairways shunned by the purveyors of uniformity. One of the benefits of golf across the pond is that the courses provide a welcome break from this monotony. None more so than the West Links at North Berwick.
The origins of the West Links is something of a mystery, but Davie Strath – the closest friend and rival to Young Tom Morris – is given most of the credit for extending the original six hole links to a full eighteen. As the third oldest course in the world still playing on its original ground, unconformity abounds at every corner. Throughout the round ancient stone walls, wildly undulating greens, perilously deep bunkers, wandering burns, and the occasional vacationer heading to the beach will all come into play. As will an ever widening smile on the face of the golfer, thanks to the inspiring and frequent views of the sea.
After teeing off from the edge of town on an appropriately quirky opening hole, we play ahead to “Sea” where the slicing golfer will hope that the tide is out. The penalty for choosing the conservative play away from the beach is an uncomfortable stance from the wickedly contoured left side fairway. And so it continues at North Berwick, through the dunes and over the Eli Burn with the prevailing winds tormenting us from every direction.
As we reach the inward nine, the charm of North Berwick comes into full view. The 13th – known as “Pit” – with its green tucked directly behind an ancient stone wall leads the way in this regard, before the appropriately named “Perfection” that follows. Meanwhile, the double-plateau green found at the 16th is sure to be unlike anything we’ve seen before or since. Finally, it’s on the 18th where we find the greatest thrill of them all: the opportunity for a birdie at the last thanks to this easily drivable par-4.
Sandwiched amongst this incredible group is the most famous hole on the West Links: The Redan. This fortress of a par-3, played to a green that slopes away, is a grueling test on its best day. Although many of the holes at North Berwick wouldn’t be built in the modern era, the exact opposite is true of the Redan. It is without question the most replicated par-3 in golf.
At first glance, the West Links may seem like a pushover, but the story of North Berwick is poorly told by the scorecard alone. This little course has been known to humble the best in the game. Just ask Phil Mickelson, who carded an 84 in a qualifier for The Open Championship. By the end of the journey around the quirky and unorthodox links, however, even the steadfast conformists will likely yield to a new reality: the West Links at North Berwick is quite possibly the most enjoyable course in golf.
Major Basil Haversham, OBE
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