Courses

North Berwick is the most interesting golf course you’ve never heard of

Photos by Patrick Koenig

Unless you’re extremely passionate about all-things Scottish golf, you’ve probably heard very little about North Berwick Golf Club, if at all. Even if you’ve read a fair amount about St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Turnberry and other well-known heavy-hitters, North Berwick exists off the beaten path despite its history, its location and its unique beauty.

The West Links Course at North Berwick Golf Club is the world’s third-oldest golf course — only St. Andrews (Old) and Musselburgh (Old) are older. The course still plays over its original fairways and its original architect is unknown. Located along the Firth of Forth, the sea comes into play on six holes (!), and the course begins and ends directly adjacent to the town of North Berwick. All 18 holes at the 6,500-yard track present unique design features that stimulate a golfer’s creative juices. From rock walls that snake across and along several holes to huge swales that dissect greens, every shot is met with challenges that can be both fun and frustrating at once. Visitors aren’t allowed to play the course from the tips, so the three single-digit handicappers I played with teed it up from the white tees, which measure 6,140 yards. That might seem short, but it was plenty difficult.

The course, which is pronounced “North Berr-ick,” also offers the most-copied hole in golf. The 190-yard 15th hole is the original redan. By definition, a redan generally refers to a green that slopes from right to left and wraps around a deep bunker situated on the low-left side, and ever since originating at North Berwick, the redan has been replicated more than any other design in golf.

I’d barely heard about North Berwick before arranging an eight-person golf trip to Scotland (my first time visiting the country), and it was, by far, the most unique course I played. I teed it up there with friend and photographer Patrick Koenig, whose photos and captions below illustrate the stunning beauty of this 140-year-old track. You can find Patrick on both Instagram and Twitter. —Ashley Mayo

As is the case with most courses in the area, North Berwick is open to local walkers as long as the activity “does not interfere with other leisure pursuits.” Our caddie quickly ran out to the fairway and informed the dog walkers that golf takes priority.

A look from behind the green on the par-4 13th, “Pit” is one of the most unique holes in golf. Miss the green slightly right and your ball could bounce off the wall and into the North Sea, or it could land onto the green and set up a birdie.

Ashley Mayo fires one into the par-3 fourth hole. Pro tip: If you blade one into those rocks, par is unlikely. Ashley would find the green.

The second of North Berwick’s four par 3s requires another serious golf shot over an impressive swale. “Quarry” requires a medium carry at 161 yards.

The houses and buildings lining the outward 9 actually add some healthy ambience to the round. Our caddie informed us that this one is owned by several members of the Atlanta Falcons.

No one is actually sure of the natural color of the rock in the distance. Its white color is due to the fact that it is home to 40,000 breeding pairs of gannets.

No one is actually sure of the natural color of the rock in the distance. Its white color is due to the fact that it is home to 40,000 breeding pairs of gannets.

If you hook one onto the beach on the 12th hole, you can play it. When the tide is out, the beach plays as one giant bunker. Awesome.

If you hook one onto the beach on the 12th hole, you can play it. When the tide is out, the beach plays as one giant bunker. Awesome.

A look from in front of the wall bordering the 13th green. You better have plenty of golf karma saved up if your golf ball comes into contact with it.

There are a number of blind shots at North Berwick. Fortunately, giant white poles lead the way. Or you could just follow FOX Sports’ Shane Bacon (pictured)…he knows where he’s going.

Regardless of how many putts it takes you to find the hole, this is one of the most unique greens in the sport. With a giant swale in the middle and run off areas on the edges, you better bring that magic touch.

We received applause from our caddie for actually keeping 2 balls on the correct tier of the 16th green.

“If you don’t like the weather in Scotland, just wait a minute.” Just like your golf score, things can change quickly.

Another pro tip: If people are taking pictures, just look down the middle of the fairway and pose as your ball sails into the houses on the right.

With a similar feel to St. Andrew’s Old Course, North Berwick ends with a driveable par 4 back into the city. Exquisite.

Patrick Koenig continues to travel the world to play golf, photographing his experiences in gorgeous ways. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter if you’re interested in keeping up with his latest adventures.

 

Golf Digest Middle East

Golf Digest Middle East

Launched in 2008, Golf Digest Middle East is the #1 golf magazine in the region, featuring local content and exclusive articles from the world's leading professionals

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