Only St Andrews has seen golf played continuously over the same stretch of land for longer than North Berwick, which was founded in 1832.
And like St Andrews, it is very much a part of the town in which it is located – if you don’t feel comfortable teeing off on the 1st, or holing out on the 18th, under the scrutiny of whichever townspeople might be passing by, better to give it a miss.
But that would be a pity because you would forego the opportunity to play one of Britain’s premier links, which has hosted numerous prestigious events and is still a final qualifying venue when The Open visits nearby Muirfield.
It has a collection of excellent holes and one, the famous par three Redan (15th) has been duplicated around the world. The green is wide but not deep and angles away from you, from right to left, and also slopes away from you, from front to back.
Add to that a deep bunker front left, a few more on the right and you had better choose the right club or disaster awaits. And that’s just one hole.
The 13th oldest golf club in the world, North Berwick is second only to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews for continuous play over the same course. The West Links was originally 6 holes, with a 7th added before it was extended to 18 holes in 1877. One of the most natural links in the world, North Berwick may not be the longest of courses at 6,420 yards but rest assured that successful navigation requires the full repertoire of shot making.
Like all golf courses of similar historical origins, North Berwick has its own stories to tell - some good, some funny and some tragic. In the early days, matches between leading professionals were frequent and attracted thousands of spectators. In September 1875, one such match pitted Willie and Mungo Park against Young and Old Tom Morris. The match ended abruptly when a telegram arrived with the news that Young Tom's wife was seriously ill after the birth of their son. Tragically, both Mother & Son subsequently died and so devastating was the news to the 25-year old "legend", that Young Tom, already triple Open Champion, died 3 months later.
The course itself has been described as being from a primitive age, a statement that must not be perceived as taking anything away from its undeniable quality. The simple fact is that North Berwick has to a large extent evolved naturally with little assistance from mankind, a fact reflected in the name of the principle course architect - Mother Nature herself. Each hole on this stimulating links, which regularly hosts final qualifying for the British Open, poses different tests of judgement and skill. A unique golfing experience, North Berwick boasts blind holes, spectacular views, drives over walls and burns and bunkers deep enough for golfers to disappear from view. Many holes have been copied by designers all over the world; most commonly the 376-yard, 14th, named "Perfection" and the 192-yard 15th hole called "Redan", which has been replicated in both Pebble Beach and Shinnecock Hills.
Like many of the great holes in golf, first impressions of "Redan" can be deceptive and it is only through playing the hole a number, that the golfer can truly appreciate its hidden subtleties. The mounds, ridges and depressions that were left after the sea receded give the course its natural contours and the 15th hole was part of that evolution. For the player on the tee, the green is blind and the shaped shot, which is demanded to battle with the prevailing wind, can be struck with anything from a driver to a nine iron.
Thankfully - a golf course which is not championship length which rates high.
I took my father-in-law (from France) to North Berwick to try out his first ever links course and he loved it. The course is not too long but its links golf at its best.
My favorite hole has to be the 13th due to the wall which runs across in front of a very narrow green and I have seen a number of golfers up against it as it just scares people on the approach.
It is probably my favorite course in East Lothian.
Last Played: 24 April 2012.
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