Situated just 40 minutes from Edinburgh, North Berwick is a must play golf course if you’re visiting the East Coast of Scotland.
Every single time I bring a client to North Berwick, the feedback is very positive. I think this is because it’s not too long and has a bunch of great features. The sea is in play on six holes - incidentally you can play from the beach - and other quirky features include walls and a gulley that runs through the green.
As you approach the Club in your coach, you’ll drive past the rear of the clubhouse and unload next to a small statue of the legendary North Berwick Clubmaker Ben Sayers. The company was formed in 1873 and is possibly the oldest clubmaker in the world. Some famous items produced there were the “Benny” Putter and the “Big Ben” Driver. I actually have one of each!
Better be quick! The local residents do not like coaches pulling up and dropping off golfers! The club crest is prominent on the carpet as you enter the fine old clubhouse. Caddies are available but you need to make an advanced request. Local members including the junior members will be your guide and caddy for the round.
Standing on the first tee, tucked in beside the Firth of Forth, you can view the islands of
Craigleith,Fidra and the Bass Rock. Someone once asked the starter what do they do with these islands in the winter? He replied: “we reel them in and give them a scrub!” Whether or not this is true they were impressed!.
And that’s you off! The first two holes have water on the right and can be a little intimidating for the slicer. So make sure you aim well left for a trouble-free start to your round. You won’t need your driver, just a club that will take you at 180 yards or you will be halfway up a hill with a poor lie! From there it’s a 9 iron or wedge to a hidden green.There is a tall white pole behind the green to assist with your line.
The second does require a driver from the tee. Be committed to the line you choose and don’t gamble or you will be on the beach! However, if the tide is out and you can find it, you can play it!
On the third hole things get interesting thanks to a very unusual feature.
North Berwick’s third hole is characterized by a wall across its fairway. Your drive should finish short of the wall. If you “thin it” a Scottish expression meaning if you “blade it”, you better “duck or bleed”! The second should be played to the left side of the green to avoid the large bunker to the right. It's a Par 4 but a stroke index 1 hole so accept a 5. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of chances later to bag some birdies!
From here through the 9th, holes aren’t that long, but you should still proceed with care. Large bunkers, two tier greens and water in front of the 7th are hazards you have to avoid.
North Berwick’s 9th hole, a Par 5, gives you an opportunity to get up in two but you have to take a more daring line from the tee. Safe line is to the right but the hole is littered with bunkers.
From the short 10th called “Eastword Ho” you turn back and head for home.The sea is now on your left and so is the breeze! This is a typical design of a Scottish Links Course. No halfway house, no stopping for a coffee, a sandwich or a beer! But, no doubt you have packed well before teeing off?
The 13th hole called the “pit” and is definitely one of the most memorable. Not only does the wall come into play again, but it’s also flanked by a beach on its left.
I witnessed one of the best recovery shots from the beach here with the Brad Maddock Group who I had the pleasure to travel with a couple of years back. A hooked tee shot found the beach but the ball was sitting up nicely on the sand surrounded by rocks. With the yardage and line selected, the ball was nipped up nicely and soared into the sky, dropping down 10 feet of the pin. Splendid. High Fives all around in the usual American Way! “Come on lads we have to move on!”
From here on in, to the right side you can now admire some of the outstanding villas that make North Berwick such a popular seaside residence away from the cities.
The Par 3 15th is named “Redan”. The unique design features have been copied many times the world over by golf course architects. The green slopes severely from front right to back left making it tough to hold the green with your tee shot, but we love a challenge? No target golf here at North Berwick! Then you’re on to number 16. Good luck making two putts here! An amazing green with a gully running through the middle.The good “thin” would work? Look back for a description of this shot, but probably best is to chase it in? Confused? A low flighted shot with some “run” on the ball. Ask the caddy how he/she plays it?
Almost home now.. A nice drive at 17 and you’re in good shape to take on the large bunker and ridge that lies across the fairway short of the green. It’s set a little further back than you’d visualise so take plenty club but not too much or your ball will run through to the first green.
We now stand on the 18th. A slightly elevated teeing area with the clubhouse in the background. A charming hole with amazing similarities to the 18th on the Old Course in St Andrews but proportionally smaller in scale. You can get home with a good drive but you may want to aim slightly left as the Out of Bounds, the houses and the road are on your right.
And you’re done! Your group can admire a finishing birdie from the bar windows on the first floor looking over the green. I hope you donned some sunscreen to your face before setting off? You have been out there for 4 hours and could be turning tomato red around the cheeks as you sit down for your well earned refreshment. The wee breeze from the sea can make you forget just how strong the sun is on the coast.
Even for a non-golfer, North Berwick makes for a good day out as there are lots of fine little cafes and shops to explore in town. The popular Sea Life Centre and the harbour are both within walking distance. The beaches here are lovely too, but if you want to explore even further, Dirleton Castle, Tantallon Castle and Yellowcraig Beach are all waiting to be explored.
You’ll probably be staying in Edinburgh at this point, or at Greywalls Hotel in Gullane. Either option is an excellent choice.
The city of Edinburgh is known for its unique combination of old and new, boasting stunning landmarks and architecture, as well as bars and restaurants to suit all tastes. For a night out this is the right choice! The fashionable George Street in the city centre should be explored.
Greywalls meanwhile overlooks Muirfield, also known as the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. The country house hotel is one of my favourite places to stay. There is no reception desk in the hall, just a personal greeting from the attentive staff on arrival. It’s charming, quaint and hard not to love! In days gone by, Nicklaus and his entourage took over the house exclusively during the Open Championship. And you can’t blame them!
I hope this will entice you to visit this wonderful part of Scotland on your next golfing holiday. If it does take your fancy, don’t hesitate to contact us at Scotland For Golf and we can work together to create your ideal trip!
All the best,