Basic golf had been played on North Berwick links since the early years of the seventeenth century. There are references in the Kirk Session in 1605 and three relevant statements by the Town Council in the 18th century. With ten founding members the North Berwick Golf Club was formed in 1882. It denoted the beginning of ordered golf over a landscape that would form the West Links that we know today. In 1832 only six holes could be accommodated in the space available and medal competitions were played over three rounds. A seventh hole was then built. Not until 1868 were the Club able to extend the course over March Dyke to the west. The extra ground allowed for three further holes to be laid out while one hole was dispensed with. One of the new holes was the famous Redan. With the course now comprising nine holes, two rounds became the format for medal competitions. In 1877 a further extension of the links as far as the Eil Burn was possible and an 18-hole course was created. Seven holes were less than 200 yards long and at 4841 yards was rather too short. Finally in 1895 the total length was increased to 6095 yards and further alterations were made under the supervision of local clubmaker Ben Sayers in 1932. Since then bunkers have been added, moved and enlarged, medal tees have been lengthened and putting surfaces improved. The length is now 6464 yards and the par 71. In recent years the Club has regularly played host to a Final Qualifying competition when the Open Championship is held at neighbouring Muirfield. In that context many of today’s leading players have met with triumph or disaster on the West Links.
North Berwick Golf Club (6464 yards, par 71)
The course is located just 24 miles to the east of Edinburgh and the first tee is a very short walk from the town of North Berwick. With the land raised well above the sea there are many superb views of the Firth of Forth and the islands of Bass Rock, Craigleith, Lamb and Fidra. The word many golfers use about North Berwick is “Fun”. It has also been described as unique, charming, quirky, eccentric, entertaining, bewildering and more. The course has a superb collection of holes and several have been copied worldwide. The club make a point of keeping the rough relatively short. This is because their aim is to keep the length of round close to three hours. You can therefore play a round without being penalised by hazardous rough. The terrain of the front nine with humps and bumps is typical links land. However, the back nine is a different story where fascinating, compelling holes will delight, enthral and bewilder players of all abilities. You play over a drystone wall which is hard to the 13th green. This is followed by the 14th appropriately named ‘Perfection’ which it requires, then the famous much copied 15th short Redan. The 16th is a “Biarritz”, an amazing green complex with two raised plateaux separated by a trough. This style of green was first created at the early Biarritz club in South West France . When you have played these holes you will be more aware of how the game was played in the days when golf began. At little over 6,400 yards, North Berwick is not long course by modern championship standards. However, with stone walls, burns, deep bunkers, rocks, blind shots and some vicious green contours to contend with, it hardly needs to be. With its crumpled, fast-running fairways and fantastic greens, it represents what links golf in its original form was all about. North Berwick is a return to an age when architects used the lay of the land and integrated features found onsite like the rock walls that line the opening and closing holes. The course is a true links situated on the edge of the Firth of Forth. A Championship course it has hosted many important tournaments over the years and challenge matches in its earliest days. Playing the course is all about creativity and vision with the sea in play on 6 holes. You will find walls in the middle of fairways and in front of a green. All of these hazards are an important part of the history of the club. The course begins and ends in the town and some comparisons with the Old Course at St Andrews are striking. North Berwick has always lived hand-in-hand with the game. Golf is as much a part of daily life as the town streets and parish church
Suggested ways that you could play some memorable Holes
2nd Hole - Sea - 429 yds - par 4, index 11 - The second hole runs alongside the sea and presents a daunting tee shot across the water, where you can cut off as much as you dare. The elevated tee makes the distance to the fairway deceptively shorter than it is. This is a long hole and the second shot is also longer than it looks. The green is guarded by bunkers left and right and short of the green with one central near the green.
3rd Hole – Trap - 460 yds, par 4, index 1 - Your need to drive at the gap in the wall and getting quite close to the wall will shorten your second shot. The shot to the green is blind except through the opening in the wall. Your second shot is over the wall and it is necessary to avoid the greenside bunker on the right. The green is slightly undulating but does not have any significant slopes.
4th Hole - Carlekemp – 177yards, par 3, index 15 – A hole in natural surroundings where it is very important to find the green with your tee shot. The two tiered green is protected by bunkers left and right. The green is slender so club selection and pin position have to be carefully considered.
13th Hole – Pit - 387 yds, par 4, index 12 - From the tee, to the west you can enjoy the view to the island of Fidra, believed to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”. It is a fairly short par four that calls for a creative approach to a sunken green behind a wall. You should drive right of centre avoiding the bunkers on the left and keeping short of the wall. The second shot should be just a short iron over the wall but the green is protected on the right side by a rock wall that runs from the bunkers to the next tee. It is long and narrow and bordered by slopes on all sides.
14th Hole- Perfection - 375 yards - par 4, index 15 - From the tee there is an inspiring view to the Bass Rock, home to one of the world’s largest gannet populations. The name ‘Perfection’ is legendary, meaning that it must be played faultlessness with two shots to achieve a favourable result. This short par four requires a very accurate tee shot evading pot bunkers on the right and two bunkers at the end of the fairway. The approach shot is uphill and blind and must carry the ridge. This is so that with the fairway sloping towards the green you land short and role on. There are no bunkers surrounding this green which slopes towards the ocean. Anything short leaves a tricky recovery shot.
15th Hole - Redan - 189 yards, par 3, index 14 – “Redan” is one of the most famous holes in all of golf, no other par three has been copied around the world more than this hole. It is a testing hole played to a large, steeply sloping green that is wider than it is deep. Then comes the famous ‘Redan’, where the elevated green is set slantwise across the line of play. It angles diagonally away from the tee box right to left so that the left side is further from the tee box. From the tee you can only see the flag stick so it is partially blind. The hole plays every inch of its length and the green slopes severely from left to right. Your tee shot must carry all the way to the green. Beware the vast hidden gully to the right front of the green. The further to the left you go, the longer the carry over a pair of fearsome bunkers to the green beyond. One option is to aim slightly right preferably with a draw and allow the contours to gather your shot back towards the hole. There are five bunkers but the one in front of the green and pot bunkers behind the green are the major hazards waiting for anything short or long. Redan means – “A defensive fortification work in the shape of a V. It is a work in a V-shaped salient angled toward an expected attack, that is from right to left in this case.”
16th Hole – Gate - 378 yds, par 4, index4 - There is not a problem with the tee shot which just has to carry a burn. It is the second shot and the green where the hole is defended. This sixteenth hole presents a green the like of which should not be and would be difficult to imitate precisely elsewhere. It comprises, from front to back, an elevated table green, then it is bisected by a hollow some five feet deep that makes one green into two, then an elevated, yet smaller, rear section. It is termed a “Biarritz” named after a hole on Biarritz Golf Club in South West France. Players from the UK used to practice there in the winter months. The original hole is no longer there. Note that the green is angled about 45 degrees from the fairway. All four sides of both parts of the green slope away from their central plateaux, assisting the moving ball from any club or putter to roll off into a nearby hollow. Regular players of the course have no guaranteed method of controlling this situation. It requires extreme accuracy or luck to succeed. The way that you play your approach shot depends entirely on which way the wind is blowing. If its downwind you could play a low running shot that will climb up onto the green. The green is very narrow so if you miss the putting surface you need to play a delicate pitch or a chip back onto the green. The putting surfaces are flat here but getting onto the green is the main problem..
17th Hole - Point Garry (In) - 428 yards, Par 4, index 10 – This is the longest par 4 on the back nine and one of the most demanding par fours. Your drive here is to aim at the Bass Rock out in the Ocean and slightly left is the shortest line. From the tee you can see that the fairway has lots of undulating humps and hollows indicating that your approach shot may be from an uneven lie. A bunker on the left comes into play for very long and you need to carry a ridge otherwise a long thin bunker can catch any shot not landing on top of the hill where the green is located. If you cannot reach the green in two laying up short of the bunker at the bottom of the hill is the best option. The green is wide open and an up and down is not too difficult.