North Berwick, West Links: course review

A charming & charismatic club, cut from a unique cloth

Charlie Lemay's picture
Wed, 21 Oct 2015
North Berwick, West Links: course review

“You’re going to enjoy yourself today boys,” North Berwick’s starter said with a glint in his eye as we made our way to the first tee.

Between us, our group of golf hacks had played many of the world’s most revered layouts, and after 18 holes on the West Course, we agreed there was nothing quite like it.

Scotland's golf coast: birdseye view

The charismatic club is located on Scotland’s “golf coast” in East Lothian, just an hour drive from Edinburgh. The stretch of courses is one of the most prestigious in golf - Dunbar, Gullane, Muirfield and Musselburgh are all there, among others.

Golf has been played on North Berwick since 1832, and it is the third oldest course with a continuous record of play over the original turf (St Andrews' Old Course and Musselburgh are more senior).

St Andrews: golf guide

It has hosted the Final Open Qualifying many times, most recently in 2013 when golf’s oldest major was played at neighbouring Muirfield, and also stages the Gentlemen and Ladies Amateur Championships. 

On the first tee, players get a taste of what is to come. The 312-yard par-four opening hole hugs the coastline, and a path traverses the fairway, often trodden by beach goers.

The optimistic golfer can say a prayer and go for the green in one. Push your drive or your approach, and you’ll be in the sea or playing off the sand, depending on the tide.

Ten of the best: courses in Scotland

In fact, during the round you will have six chances to have a chinwag with dog walkers on the banks of the Firth of Fife – at least, that’s the number of holes which use the sea as a hazard.

The raised fairways provide stunning scenery out across the water, and the islands of Bass Rock, Craigheath, Lamb and Fidra and the town of North Berwick itself. 

The opening stretch is quirky, but Berwick bursts into life on the back nine, exposing itself in all its glory.

The par-four 13th hole, known as the Pit, features a green guarded by a wall, giving the putting surface an amphitheatre-like atmosphere.

Shooting St Andrews: a snapper's view

Two holes later is the famous 15th, a 192-yard par three called Redan. A strongly sloping right-to-left green is guarded by a bunker to the left, and three to the right, while a wall waits behind. On the next hole, the green is dissected by a gully, which leaves a punishing putt for those landing on the wrong side of the short stuff.

Almost every hole boasts a distinct, playful characteristic. There are blind shots, pot bunkers, ancient walls running across fairways and puzzling putting surfaces, to name a few unique features.

They say North Berwick is a layout for the golfer with a sense of humour. It has perfectly balanced its quirky features, which makes it stand out from the pack, while also staying a "serious" golf course – at no point does it stray into “Micky Mouse” territory.

In order to ensure rounds are completed in good time, the rough is kept relatively short for a links course. You therefore have to go way offline in order to lose your ball, or find the water of course, which makes it more enjoyable for all handicaps.

The Castle Course, St Andrews: review 

While your average hacker will enjoy his/her outing, it’s a test for the better players as well, especially if the wind is blowing. Greens are heavily guarded, and are often large and undulating. Many holes are risk and reward, but if you gamble and go bust, it will be a big number etched on the scorecard.

The West Links Course will play differently every time you take it on, depending on the weather, which means it will never get boring, no matter how many times you have the privilege of playing it.

The closing hole is a gem, as all 18s should be.  Houses line the right side of the fairway, while the clubhouse awaits behind the green on the 277-yard par four. Easily reachable in one by the bigger hitters, but undulations around the green make it a tall order to reach in a single blow.

Not that it deterred a player in a group behind us, who stuck his tee shot in the cup. A fitting end to one of the most enjoyable and memorable rounds I have ever played. 

Par: 71
Length: 6,506 yards
Green Fees: £40-£100 (visitors can play any day other than Saturday)
Website: North Berwick