The West Links at North Berwick Golf Club is an immensely enjoyable golf course, located on the Firth of Forth with stunning sea views across to Craigleith Island and Bass Rock. The equivalent of Turnberry’s “Ailsa Craig”, Bass Rock is a huge volcanic lump, rising up over 300 feet from the Firth of Forth.
This is a course that is extremely close to the origins of golf. It’s the thirteenth oldest golf club (founded in 1832) and the third oldest course in the world still playing over its original fairways. Only St Andrews (Old) and Musselburgh (Old) are more senior.
The original architect is unknown. We do know that North Berwick started out in life as a 6-hole course and was extended to 18 holes by 1877. Around the turn of the 19th century the course was stretched out to a little over 6,400 yards. There are two reasons why North Berwick is such an enjoyable course: 1) the land is raised above sea level, affording those excellent views 2) it has a superb collection of holes, a number of which have been replicated at other courses the world over. The 15th is one of the world’s most famous holes. It’s a par 3 measuring 190 yards, called “Redan” (a military term meaning “guarding parapet”), and is the most copied hole.
One of the many beauties of North Berwick is that you can play the course without being punished brutally by penal rough. They like a round to take no more than three hours and consequently, the rough is kept relatively short to speed up play. It’s not the longest links course in the world but it’s sheer fun and a unique experience to boot. You’ll need to negotiate stonewalls, deep bunkers, all kinds of humps and hollows and burns. You’ll need to hit blind shots and you’ll need to hit shots out over the beach.
According to golf historian Archie Baird, Balfour once said: “a tolerable day, a tolerable green and a tolerable opponent supply, or ought to supply, all that any reasonably constituted human being should require in the way of entertainment. With a fine sea view in front of him, the golfer may be excused if he regards golf, even though it be indifferent golf, as the true and adequate end of man’s existence.”
So, what are you waiting for? If Arthur liked North Berwick, then surely you will too.