Category: North Berwick

July 24, 2011

Scotland Golf Trip, Part IV: North Berwick Golf Club

Posted at 8:52 AM by

The view from No. 6 tee, with the island of Fidra in the distance.

By Charlie Hanger

After a two-hour drive from St. Andrews, we squeezed into the last parking spot on the road that borders the 18th fairway at the North Berwick Golf Club at 11:45 a.m. We were fairly confident that any sliced shots from 18 would clear the car, and that any passing cars would likewise be able to clear our rear bumper, but we were definitely vulnerable on both sides.

As we stretched our legs and put on golf shoes, a local man walking his dog struck up a conversation, asking where we were from and where we’d played, and telling us about his dog. The dog, it turns out, used to have drug-sniffing duty at a prison. On one occasion, after his retirement, he fixed himself next to a North Berwick laborer who was out for a smoke. The worker asked: “What’s wrong with your dog?” Our friend replied: “What are you smoking?” The conversation ended quickly.

The difference between North Berwick (pronounced BEAR-ick) and St. Andrews was pretty much summed up in the details of our arrival. The Old Course and the town of St. Andrews have managed to remain charming, but they are undeniably tourist attractions for golfers and non-golfers alike. In St. Andrews, you’re more likely to strike up a conversation with another American than an avuncular local walking past your car as you change shoes.

The North Berwick Golf Club, founded in 1832, is a central feature of and source of pride for the prosperous town, which has many residents who commute to Edinburgh, but the historic club is not a draw for the casual traveler looking to snap a picture of someplace famous. It’s about the golf.

Despite its rich history and stunning links course, the club is utterly without pretense, and the people couldn’t be more welcoming. If you get a caddie, it’s likely to be a member looking to pick up some exercise and a couple of extra quid. Visitor tee times are available Monday to Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.; Saturdays from 3 to 6 p.m.; and Sundays from noon to 6. Greens fees April through October are £85-115, or about $140-190. For more information, visit

After a sandwich with Chris Spencer, the club’s managing secretary, in the upstairs bar and grill, which offers grand views of the course and the Firth of Forth, we headed to the first tee of the West Links, where Dr. Peter Keeling, the club’s captain, met us. Both of our hosts played off a 5 handicap, so we paired up for a friendly, no-stakes match — Chris and I vs. Brad and Peter.

Berwick starts with a bang. Like St. Andrews, No. 1 and No. 18 share a fairway, so there’s plenty of room to miss left. To the right are the ocean and the beach, which is in play everywhere at North Berwick. After a tee shot down the left side, we needed short irons into a very elevated green sitting on a cliff. All four of us were on in regulation and made two-putt pars.

Berwick-no10 The most striking views are out to sea, where rocky islands come into view. Bass Rock, white with the tens of thousands of gannets and other sea birds that live there, is to the east; Craigleith is directly north of the first hole; and Fidra, which is said to be one of the inspirations for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, is to the west. (At right, the view from 10 tee, with Bass Rock in the distance. Click to enlarge.)

The beach also runs the length of the right side on No. 2, a 414-yard par 4, but it was the third where we first encountered the course’s most distinctive design element, an old stone boundary wall, about three feet high. (Golf has been played on this land for hundreds of years, but not always in the present layout.) The stone wall runs the width of the fairway on No. 3, a 444-yard par 4. A good drive will land within 20 yards of it, leaving an approach shot that must clear the wall on its way to the green. It’s not a particularly difficult shot, but hitting over a wall on purpose is a new and somewhat exciting proposition.

On No. 4, a par 3 that shares a tee box with the 15th, things started to go wrong for me. I hit an ugly pull off the tee and skulled my second into deep grass. It was gone, putting me out of the hole as far as our match was concerned. I picked up and was granted a “double” on my card that should’ve been even worse. I was basically along for the ride for the rest of the nine, making bogeys and others as Chris carried me in our match.

After going out in 43, a number that would’ve been higher if not for the charity of the scorekeeper, I strung together some pars, but Brad and Peter took the lead in our match.

Berwick-no13-combo On No. 13, a 362-yard par 4, the wall comes into play again in a most interesting way. It runs parallel to the left side of the fairway, but the green is on the other side of it. You have to land your approach just over the wall to hit the green, and mis-hits or weak fades could end up snookered against the stones. I got my shot onto the green and managed a long two-putt. (At right top is the view from the fairway, with the flag barely visible to the right of the players. Below is a view of the green. Click to enlarge.)

No. 15, a par 3, is the original Redan hole, copied many times around the world. Course architect Charles B. Macdonald, who is famous for his Redans, described the style this way: “Take a narrow tableland, tilt it a little from right to left, dig a deep bunker on the front side, approach it diagonally and you have a Redan.”

The 15th at North Berwick is well bunkered and usually demands a carry to the front right of the green. My shot was left of the flag but managed to stop in good position for a two-putt par.

Berwick-no18-clubhouse The 16th and 17th are both challenging par 4s, and the 18th is a drivable par 4 that is reminiscent of the 18th at St. Andrews, only shorter. Directly behind the green is the grand old clubhouse, not quite as imposing as the R&A, but still a striking building to come home to. (That's it at right. Click to enlarge.) My drive was just short and left of the green, and I putted from the fairway, leaving myself about eight feet for birdie. I pushed it and settled for par, giving me 38 on the back. Quite a way to finish, and Chris and I won the match.

We had a great time on another charming and playable links, but I knew that we’d only seen one side of North Berwick. We had challenging winds but not the 60 mph gusts that sometime buffet the place. We had intriguing pin positions, but there were many more to choose from. We had played most of the length, but not the championship tees, which are only for members on their competition days.

"You could play this course five days a week for the rest of your days," Spencer said as we walked up the 18th fairway, "and never get bored."

He was right, and as we headed for the Edinburgh airport Novotel to finish packing for our Friday morning flights, I envied North Berwick’s members and their access to the ever-changing, quirky old links.

Final notes on North Berwick: The club also has a nine-hole par-3 course for juniors. Adults are only allowed if accompanied by a junior, and the greens fee is only £2. The course is lined with grand Scottish mansions, some of which have been partitioned into flats, as well as the imposing Macdonald Marine Hotel and Spa, a beauty with excellent views of the course and the water. For more information and photos of the course, check out this excellent review on For maps and satellite images, see Google maps.

July 20, 2011

Scotland Golf Trip, Part I: Kingsbarns

Posted at 5:32 PM by


By Charlie Hanger

On Monday after the British Open, I drove to Heathrow with three colleagues. As they took flights back to the States, I headed to Edinburgh on a noon flight. My friend Brad Reagan, who had flown in earlier to play North Berwick and watch the Open with the locals, met me at the airport, and from there it was an easy and scenic drive to St. Andrews for the start of a four-day golf trip. Here is the first of a four-part diary.

We checked in at the Old Course Hotel, so close to No. 17, the Road Hole, that sliced drives bang onto the metal roof on the first floor and guests enjoying the view from their balconies are wise to keep an eye out for incoming shots. This is the place made famous by, among other things, years of British Open broadcasts in which pros use the hotel's sign as an aiming point for their tee shots, which carry a corner of the structure.

After dropping our bags, we headed to Kingsbarns for a 5 p.m. tee time and our first round of the trip.

It stays light until about 10 p.m. here this time of year, so we had plenty of daylight. On the way to the course, about 20 minutes southeast of St. Andrews, we considered stopping at one of the many golf shops in town to pick up a rain jacket. I'd failed to get one before leaving the states and had balked at the prices for the British Open-logoed models at Royal St. George's. The forecast was good, and the tee time was fast approaching, so we drove on. (We would regret that decision 24 hours later, but we'll get to that in Tuesday's post.)

Kingsbarns, a Kyle Phillips design that opened in July 2000, is a truly spectacular place, with prices to prove it. At £185 (about $300), it’s a splurge, but the views alone are worth the price. With five oceanfront holes and countless stunning views of the North Sea, it's a rolling links that's challenging without being punitive. My favorite holes were No. 3, a par 5 with the ocean running the length of the right side; No. 12, another oceanfront beauty that's reminiscent of the 18th at Pebble Beach; No. 15, a 185-yard par 3 that requires a shot over beach and water; and No. 18, a par 4 fronted by a severe slope that feeds any short shots back into the "cundie," a stream that was originally built to drain water from the surrounding fields. (After steeling my nerves and getting a 6-iron on the green, I three-putted for bogey, choking a short putt. This would become a theme of the week.)

Rainbow_298x224 The weather was spectacular, low 60s with skies that fluctuated between bright sunshine and ominous clouds, but we stayed dry and even got to see a rainbow right out of a Scottish golf brochure (photo right). We were back at the hotel in time to have a late dinner and beer in the Road Hole Bar, which provides sweeping views of No. 17 and the Old Course. That helped ease our disappointment about failing to win Monday's ballot, the daily lottery-style drawing for open tee times on the Old Course. We'd have to try our luck again on Tuesday for a Wednesday time.

Up Next: Tuesday
A round at The Duke's, an inland course, in which we were passed by two fast-playing 60-something women and their dog, Gatsby; an afternoon round at the New Course, which borders the Old Course; and a massive downpour.

(Photos: Charlie Hanger)

July 26, 2010

Muirfield for prestige, North Berwick for a thrill

Posted at 10:30 AM by Chad Conine

Chad Conine is a sportswriter from Texas who spent the summer in Scotland and the town of St. Andrews. He chronicled his golf adventures before this year's British Open, held at the Old Course July 15-18.

EDINBURGH, Scotland — In some ways, Muirfield is golf.

It's the home of the oldest golf club in the world, The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. As such, it's extremely private and, therefore, incredibly intimate. There's no stone wall announcing its presence. There's not even a sign. The best thing is to ask directions from the guy behind the counter at the Gullane Golf Club pro shop. Muirfield has no pro shop. A coat and tie are required to dine in the clubhouse. The starter meets guests at the iron gate on days when visitors are allowed to play the course.

Jack Nicklaus loves Muirfield like no other British course.

The links holes, which rotate clockwise for the first nine and counterclockwise for the last nine, don't play any tricks on the golfer. Of course, the course never takes it easy on the golfer either.

Muirfield appears almost plain with fairways and greens cut out of dense links-land grasses. But other courses, even ones in the region that run along cliff sides, can't match the test of golf that is Muirfield.

When my dad and I played Muirfield this week, our caddies openly gushed over the chance to walk the course day after day, particularly on sunny days like the one we enjoyed.

Indeed, playing Muirfield, perhaps the most dignified of the British Open venues, is a privilege.

All of that stated, I like North Berwick better.

Just down the seaside road, North Berwick shares some golf legacy with its British Open-hosting neighbor. North Berwick serves as a Final Local Qualifying site when The Open comes to Muirfield. North Berwick has its history, too. It's where Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris played and won their final match together. It's also where they received the tragic news that Young Tom's wife was struggling mightily in childbirth. Old Tom and Young Tom rushed home together from North Berwick, only to receive bad news when they reached St. Andrews.

Looking out to sea from the shore at North Berwick, you can imagine the Morrises setting sail, rushing back home. But it's not a melancholy view. In fact, it's stirring. When I played North Berwick in 2004, my caddie told me Robert Louis Stevenson gained inspiration for Treasure Island by gazing out at the row of small isles just out to sea from North Berwick.

Northberwick And oh, by the way, the golf holes make a round at North Berwick consistently fun. It's not just a classic links course, going out and then coming back in. It does so with style, forming a figure 8. Coming in offers a thrill a minute starting with a 144-yard par-3 back toward the sea at No. 10. Then comes a shot over the wall at the par-4 No. 13, and a shot at a high-posted bull's-eye target on the par-4 No. 14 (see photo, click to enlarge). At the par-3 No. 15, called Redan, you must play over bunkers and a green-front swell. There's a creek bed running through the 16th green, making putting an adventure on that par-4. Finally, looking across a wide fairway toward the green from the 18th tee, with the town on the right and straight ahead and the sea to the left, well, that just feels like standing on the home hole at The Old Course.

So if I wake up in Edinburgh and you tell me I can't play Muirfield that day but I can play North Berwick, then I'm still one smiling golfer.

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