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« And One More East Lothian Great: Gullane | Main | Golf World On Tiger's Open: "Wrong And Gone" »
Wednesday
Jul242013

More East Lothian Golf: North Berwick West Links

The real star of Open Championship week: North Berwick West Links.  Everyone who played there raved about the experience and in a shocking twist of fate, the architecture. Long held by Americans and even some Scots as too fluky and strange, while generally punished in rankings by panelists because of its lack of, well I don’t know what, this masterpiece impressed with its cinematic setting and enjoyment.

“It’s so fun,” were the operative words heard over and over again.

But even more than the purest golfing pleasure imaginable, there seemed to be a newfound appreciation for the importance of studying the West Links as a model for design and as the ultimate community course.

“You can’t call yourself a student of architecture until you’ve played there,” said Geoff Ogilvy, who played North Berwick Tuesday afternoon after his morning practice round.

Other pros spotted there during the week included Stewart Cink (using a trolley!), Bubba Watson and Johnson Wagner. Other dignitaries like USGA Executive Director Mike Davis went for morning or evening strolls to take in the sacred grounds and all came away either reminded of its genius or newly infatuated. Even the often maligned Redan hole, whose offspring tend to be more fun to play, was savored thanks to the firm conditions which made the approach function beautifully.

The other frequent reaction: if golf had more places like North Berwick, with its character rich design and neighboring children’s course, the sport would be much healthier going forward.

As I noted in my East Lothian pilgrimage story for the July Golf Digest, this is a masterpiece that must be the centerpiece of any visit to this grand golfing mecca. Oh, and don't be shy about playing the "East Links," aka The Glen. It overlooks the town and while not featuring as many interesting ground features (what course does?), it's a great alternative, especially late in the day as the sun sets.

Some photos from 2012 and 2013:

 

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Reader Comments (32)

Perfection!
07.24.2013 | Unregistered CommenterPasaplayer
Wow!
07.24.2013 | Unregistered CommenterGreg c
Having played over 350 courses in 25 countries and about 50 of the world's top 100, The West Links has been in my personal top 10 from the first time I played there.

It is that good - IMHO.

Now, with respect to the children's course mentioned above - I was heading for my lowest gross score even in my life (the wind was calm that day) and after just having birdied The Redan, I hit a high balooniing left to right tee shot on 16 only to find that it had ended up on the children's course which was considered out-of-bounds despite being on the property - which was not that evident off the tee. I love the West Links. I hate the children's course!
07.24.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarky Mark
In the previous blog post, Geoff makes reference in the linked Golf World article that Mickelson was staying at the Macdonald Marine Hotel, which actually overlooks The Redan Hole at North Berwick.

Perhaps inspired? Maybe :-)
07.24.2013 | Unregistered CommenterAbu Dhabi Golfer
I heard that Bubba Watson was told to play off the forward tees!

Catriona Matthew's home town and I believe has house overlooking the course.

Any devotee of the game can't fail to feel the history of the game when playing this course. Magical place.
On one trip we scratched another course for a second go at North Berwick in different conditions. The vote was unanimous.
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterD. maculata
Interesting note, It was at the North Berwick West Links where Young Tom Morris was playing a match with his father against the Park brothers when he received telegram that his wife was having trouble giving birth to their child. Young Tom finished the match (only two holes remained when he received word) and took a ship across the Firth of Forth to St. Andrews only to learn both his wife and child had died during the childbirth. Young Tom died almost 4 months later of what many say was a broken heart. He was 24 years old.
How could anyone not appreciate this course for its natural beauty? Don't let you-know-who get his hands on it!
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterStephen W
Fun seems to be the consensus here. But no one designs a fun course anymore, new courses have to be "championship". I have seen several fun courses renovated with the intent to become more "championship" and the result is the fun is renovated right out of the course.

Gullane also has a childrens course, Geoff has mentioned the ANGC parking lot before, which would be a good location for a childrens course and a model for others to copy.

Speaking of children's golf, my club and many others like it have made it tougher for kids to have access to the course, and they wonder why membership applications are down. The solution of course is to borrow lots of money and build a giant fitness facility....
What does it cost to play a round there?
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBeagle
This is making me reconsider our Scotland trip next year, which is focused on the Highlands area (Dornoch, Nairn, Cruden Bay, Castle Stuart, Royal Aberdeen, etc....). Perhaps we can hit this on our way out of Dodge.

As an aside, Royal Dornoch is in my personal top 3. I love that course and that part of Scotland. Is there anything better than going out for your second round after dinner??
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterSari
@ c&c

There was a story about Luke Donald, not Bubba Watson, being told he couldn't play from the championship tees:

http://www.dailystar.co.uk/sport/other-sports/327793/Luke-Donald-has-to-tow-the-line

Sounds a little hard to believe though.

That said, there is a hidden camera on the par 3 10th out at the turn to keep an eye on what the golfers are upto or if people are jumping on the course. On the hole I hit it to a foot and there was not a soul in sight. When I got back in, the starter complimented me on the birdie and admitted he was watching on cc tv.
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterHard by the Sea
I had just finished an East Lothian trip when I walked into my house, picked up the issue of Golf Digest that had been delivered when I was away, and opened to an article by Geoff Shackelford that told me that I should have taken the exact trip I just took. Kind of validating.

I am glad to see that GS has good words for the East Links. I happened to play it on a cloudless day and though it lacks the West Links' profound architecture, it is a fine place to play the game, particularly if Pebble Beach-like views appeal to you.

If you make it to North Berwick, you're likely a traditionalist anyway. Therefore, be sure to stop in for a pint of cask ale at the Auld Hoose, the most traditional of traditional pubs. Just pronouncing the name of the pub is part of the joy.
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterG. Harding Warren
North Berwick as a town is great and I can see why people have fun playing the course but playing a tournament there and hitting a downwind approach over a wall when some joker had put the pin at the front- well the fun seemed to go right out of it for me!!
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterChico
Masochistic greens keepers exist on every continent! How about "laying up" right of the wall and slightly long, then popping a little pitch over and close? "Birdie" four.
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterPasaplayer
There are a couple of relatively new pricy private clubs sandwiched in between Gullane and North Berwick - Archerfield which borders the Muirfield property and has 36 holes and Renaissance which was designed by Doak. I have not heard a single reference to either on tv, the internet, or in print over the whole of last week.

That shows just how impacting the older historical masterpieces are along the East Lothian coast.
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterHard by the Sea
Nothing, Sari. Absolutely nothing.
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterD. maculata
Chico - I trust you're being a good host to our friend? I gave him an earful to think about before he left ;-)
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterD. maculata
D Mac- sadly he's not making it this time.Hopes to be here next year though which would be great -why don't you come too?!
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterChico
@hard by the sea.Renaissance and Archerfield are good courses but they are very much corporate playgrounds. The old courses are much better. IMHO and you can't buy history can you?!
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterChico
When I went to North Berwick, I drove up on a Sunday morning, teed off on the Glen ( East Links), then checked in at the Marine McDonald hotel, overlooking the West Links. Played it the next day. Fantastic course, fantastic town. Anyone wishing to experiance thew true essence of golf, the West Links is a must. The welcome you recieve there will be a warm one too. I have played 8 Open courses to date and though the West Links could never host an Open, it is right up there with them to me.
Anyone off to Fife ,playing the Old Course might try Crail GC as well. Wonderful golf to be had there too.
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterEasingwold
What is rarely discussed is that the seat of the toilet located adjacent to the Redan slopes from front to back.
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarl Peterson
@Chico, surely you respect the course for giving rise to Decision 33-8/33, right?
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarl Peterson
Well I suppose I must respect it for something Carl!!
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterChico
Carl - I'm a bit of rules 1 to 28 man myself- enlighten me on this interesting bit of wrong green history?!(am on holiday sans rule books- hope I am close!)
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterChico
Concentrate- car repairs are expensive. very nice way to end the round.
07.25.2013 | Unregistered Commentervwgolfer
The L.R. treating the apron of the (wrong) putting green as part of the wrong putting green with mandatory Rule 25-3 relief began at The West Links. It's the apron of the 4th green that is protected by the L.R. -- I can't recall which of the inward holes brings the player so close to it that the need protection occurs.
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarl Peterson
@ Chico Perfect description of Archerfield and Renaissance - nice tracks, but not something that I would travel to Scotland to play -- too may great courses with history.

@ Easingwold The Balcomie Links course at Crail looks so easy and peaceful. It is the toughest little 5,900 yard, Par 69 golf course you can find. Love it. And Graeme Lennie is the consummate host professional - class act. Right Chico? And after you climb 'cardiac hill' to the clubhouse you are treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets over the North Sea from the "new" clubhouse addition. Spectacular.

North Berwick is simply marvelous. Might not have the ring to it as some of the OPEN venues, or even Royal Dornoch, or Cruden Bay, and such, but every bit as good. Don't miss it!
Fantastic course. Happy memories of playing in the Scottish Boys Championship there each April (almost 40yrs ago)...apart from the hailstones!..
07.25.2013 | Unregistered CommenterFar East Jocko
Yes Dover Pro! Mr Lennie- a good friend of mine and a fellow devotee of fine wine!One of the most knowledgeable men on golfing history I know- I think he would prefer a museum to a pro shop!
07.26.2013 | Unregistered CommenterChico
@ Pro and Chico; Mr Lennie was great when I went there. The clubhouse in amazing ! Who wouldn't want to be a member at Crail ?

Couldn't agree more with everything you said.
07.26.2013 | Unregistered CommenterEasingwold
Hard by the Sea ... thanks for the link. It does sound hardly credible I must say.

It's a creepy ol' world these days. Big Brother's watching everywhere. Can't even get away from him even on a golf course now! (lol)

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