North Berwick Golf Club: The Most Underrated Golf Course in Scotland
First, let’s get one thing out of the way right up front about North Berwick Golf Club: It’s not pronounced BerWICK.
It’s pronounced BEAR-ICK.
I made that mistake a couple of times early on in the trip, and everyone around was quick to correct me. So, I’m just trying to do you a favor for when you inevitably go play this course (and after this post, you’ll understand why you should.)
I’m going to be totally honest and admit that before showing up at North Berwick I knew very little about it.
How North Berwick Golf Club Became One of My Favorite Golf Courses of All Time
It started by going down the Golf Digest Greatest 100 list, and reviewing all of the courses in Scotland.
How it ended was with one of the most enjoyable days of golf of my life, on a course that is unique, historic, and fun, all rolled up into one incredible package.
Let’s back up a second though.
After our round at Royal Troon we made the 2 hour-ish trek back across Scotland to get down to North Berwick. We checked into the Macdonald Marine Hotel, dropped off our bags and immediately headed to the bar to grab a drink and sit outside.
The beautiful hotel is located right on the course, and when we looked outside, we were treated to one of the most spectacular sunsets I’d ever seen.
The course was glowing, and what’s unique about many courses in Scotland, is that since they are on public land, the public is free to walk around the course.
We took our drinks and walked across the third and 16th fairways before heading up to the most famous hole on the course: the original Redan hole, #15.
Walking around was easily one of the highlights of my time in Scotland, and I couldn’t wait to hit the course the next morning.
12 Hours Later…
Scotland caught up with us.
As we walked over to the clubhouse from the hotel we were getting increasingly nervous, as there was no one on the course, and you also couldn’t see 100 feet in front of you.
It was a long way to travel not to be able to play the course!
When we showed up we met up with managing secretary Chris Spencer, who was to be playing with us during the round.
You could tell, he wasn’t too stoked about the fog either, but we made the best of it.
We spent the first hour we were there talking about the history of the area, and occasionally checking on the status of play.
North Berwick Golf Club History
The course was originally formed in 1832, and even though the main clubhouse has been expanded, the original room still exists in more or less its original form with the original lockers from 1880 (when the clubhouse was built) surrounding the walls.
North Berwick Golf Club was originally only six holes, but over the years the land has been acquired to expand the course to a full 18 holes, which was completed in 1877. One of the most unique features of the course are the stone walls that meander throughout the holes that originally marked the walls of the course.
North Berwick has held qualifiers for the Open Championship, but due to it’s short length by modern standards (around 6500 yards full stretched out), it simply doesn’t have the length to host larger scale events.
That being said, like many courses in Scotland, visitors are not allowed to play from the tips.
While it might seem too short for lower handicap players, trust me, this course is no slouch – and if the wind is up, you better watch out.
Last year when the Open was at Muirfield, a mere 4 miles away Bubba Watson reserved a tee time under a different name. He came out and played the course from the members tees – not the Championship tees.
“If Bubba and Luke Donald can play off the members tees, so can you.”
More so than any other course we played in Scotland, North Berwick felt unique in the sense, that you’ll probably never see another course built like it. Ever. Between the (fun) blind shots, the seaside location, and the brick walls throughout the course – it’s truly one of a kind.
We were scheduled to play at 10, and around 11 the fog had lifted enough for us to play and we sprinted out to the first tee. It wasn’t quite the warm up we were hoping for, but hey, all I cared about was getting out to see the course!
North Berwick Golf Club Facts
- Built in: 1877 was when the full 18 opened. Making it the 13th oldest course in the world, and the third oldest to be played on it’s original fairways (behind St. Andrews and Musselburgh).
- Rank: #25 Greatest 100 Courses in the World (Golf Digest), #51 Top 100 Courses in the World (Golf)
- Location: North Berwick, Scotland
- Fees: £95 April to October.
- Website: http://www.northberwickgolfclub.com/
- Slope: 127, Rating: 71.8
It’s worth noting, that most of our round was caked in fog, so the photos weren’t necessarily the best I’ve ever done. That said, they should give you a sense of what the course was like – and just keep in mind that when the sun was out the night before, it was one of the most spectacular settings for golf I’ve experienced. 🙂
Hole 1 (Par 4, 312 yards)
After playing Royal Troon the day before, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I found the first six holes on that course to be downright uninteresting, and I was hoping North Berwick wouldn’t be the same.
And don’t worry, it wasn’t.
The first tee shot feels reminiscent to the Old Course at St. Andrews in that there’s a split fairway between the 1st and 18th holes.
A simple 6 iron got the ball in play, and then you have an approach to an elevated green with a steep drop off into trouble on the right.
It was a really fun opening hole, and immediately I could tell I was going to like this course.
Hole 2 (Par 4, 414 yards)
The aptly titled “Sea” hole forces you to make a decision off the tee. How much of the sea do you want to cut off on your drive? I pulled out my three wood and barely snuck it into the rough between the fairway and the beach.
It’s tee boxes like this that make for a great opportunity to soak in your surroundings, and truly enjoy where you are.
Also, because of a tricky approach with two forebunkers and another one guarding the lefthand side of the green, it’s easy to try and bite off more than you probably should. It’s decisions like this that make North Berwick so much fun.
Hole 3 (Par 4, 444 yards)
The long par 4, 3rd is one of the first great examples of a hole you won’t see anywhere else – and it’s also the #1 handicap hole on the course.
Halfway down the fairway a stone wall that marked the original boundary of the course runs all the way through the fairway. Drive it to close to the wall and you’ll have to contend with a form of hazard that you just don’t see very often.
The best play is to be 20-30 yards short, giving yourself plenty of room to take a long iron into the green.
Hole 4 (Par 3, 168 yards)
The first par 3 on the course, has you once again teeing off over the stone wall. The main defense here are the bunkers surrounding both sides of the green. I can attest to the difficulty of the bunkers as I found myself in the center right one – however, that’s just a taste of what’s to come with some of the other potential sand shots on the course.
Hole 5 (Par 4, 359 yards)
A solid dogleg right, just be careful on a fade or slice, as there are fairway bunkers directly in your landing zone should you go a little too far right.
Hole 6 (Par 3, 139 yards)
A fantastic par 3, that while it is the shortest on the course, is also one of the more intimidating shots you’ll hit.
It has a large green, and is only 139 yards from the tees we played – but one of the scariest bunkers I’ve ever seen awaits and shots that are left short. For a short hole with such a large target area, I was surprised at just how much I had to think about this shot – and how scared I was to hit it.
As you walk up to the green, you also begin to notice that all of those other bunkers aren’t exactly places you want to spend your day sunbathing either.
Hole 7 (Par 4, 344 yards)
Off the left side of the fairway you see more homes on “millonaires row” – seriously, if I had a few million pounds to spend, this would be one of the best golf vacation homes I could ever imagine.
The main strategic element on the 7th comes on your approach shot. There’s a very intimidating burn at the front of a large green, and 3 bunkers dot the right hand side of the green. Make sure you take enough club, but if you hit a good approach, this could be a good birdie opportunity.
Hole 8 (Par 5, 487 yards)
The 8th hole at North Berwick has some of the best fairway bunkering of any course I’ve seen. There’s only one major fairway bunker to contend with off the tee, but on your second shot you have a decision to make. Do you try and layup over the cross bunkers, or do you go for it in two and bring the quadruple forebunkers around the green into play?
Not an overly long par 5, so if you play your cards right, you can make birdie, but if you end up in one of those bunkers – things definitely get trickier.
Hole 9 (Par 5, 502 yards)
On 9 we see more excellent cross bunkering, and off the tee bunkers that slightly resembled Hogan’s Alley at Carnoustie. Stay right for the safest shot, and if you want a shorter second, dare to stay to the left of the bunkers.
Fun elevated green to close out the front 9.
Hole 10 (Par 3, 153 yards)
Another excellent par 3, from a slightly elevated tee with a great view. The center bunker isn’t quite as close to the green as it looks – so make sure you take enough club.
Hole 11 (Par 5, 523 yards)
A tricky par 5 that has the dunes and gorse in play on the right – so make sure you’re smart off the tee. Fairway bunkers are on the right, and even if it looks like there’s a chance, believe me, there’s no cutting the corner carrying the gorse…I learned this the hard way.
Second shot features a sloping fairway, and four strategically place bunkers that will swallow anything a little too short or a little too long of a perfect layup.
Keep your approach left, and bring enough club to carry the pot bunker.
When Bubba was out here he went driver, lob wedge into the green. And reports were that he shot a 4 under on the day.
Hole 12 (Par 4, 363 yards)
A slight dogleg left, make sure you keep your drive right, as there are 4 scary bunkers clustered on the left of the fairway. That said, the fescue isn’t too bad short of the bunkers, but gets worse the farther off line left you go.
Luckily the wind was pretty benign the day we were there, but I could see this being a pretty tough green if a strong breeze was coming in off the sea.
Hole 13 (Par 4, 362 yards)
Up until this point, I already loved North Berwick. I thought it had some incredibly fun holes, and better use of bunkering than the previous two courses we’d played.
That being said, 13 is where I went from “I really like this course” to “All I want to do is go back out and play another round.”
13 is a medium length par 4, unlike any that you’ll ever see anywhere else.
If you slice your drive, there’s a good chance you’ll be on the beach. I was, and you can play it from down there.
You’ll want to stick to the right side of the fairway if you want the best shot at the green, which is tucked directly behind a stone wall.
No really. The wall goes right up to the edge of the green and defends the hole thing. You’re hitting kind of a diagonal approach, being sure to get enough to clear it, without hitting it into the dunes behind the green. It was quirky, fun, and quite simply one of my favorite holes in Scotland.
Hole 14 (Par 4, 358 yards)
The 14th requires a smart tee shot, that gets up onto the top of the ridge, but is short of the two bunkers below the second ridge. You’ll then have a blind tee shot, to a spectacular green that I unfortunately don’t have a photo of!
Generally speaking, consult your pin sheet, and aim for the marker jutting out over the horizon.
Hole 15 (Par 3, 178 yards)
Ah, and here we are. The most famous hole on the course, and the one that helps cement it in golf history: the redan.
The 15th at North Berwick, is the original redan golf hole. For those of you that aren’t golf architecture nerds, a redan is generally a par 3 with a green that’s wider than it is long, and slopes right to left and front to back – from the front right corner. There is also usually a bunker guarding the front left of the green.
There are notable examples on some of the best courses in the world, including: National Golf Links, Shinnecock, Yeamans Hall and Fishers Island. There’s also one on Tom Doak’s Old MacDonald course at Bandon Dunes – Doak has mentioned multiple times how North Berwick is one of his favorite courses, and a source of inspiration for his courses.
Easily one of my top moments of the trip was standing out on the green the night before at sunset, and just basking in the history of the course.
Hole 16 (Par 4, 360 yards)
There’s a burn running through the fairway just over 200 yards out, so you’ll need to decide whether or not you want to go for it.
From there you have an approach to one of the top 5 coolest green complexes I’ve ever seen – it might even be the best.
Even though the original Biarritz green originated in France, I think it’s safe to say some of the inspiration came from 16 at North Berwick. The green is extremely long and narrow, and on the left hand side there’s a very “biarritz style” swale that must be 5 feet deep.
The 9th at Yale is the only other hole I’ve played that has a similar swale, and something about this green was even more interesting to me in a subtle way. All I know, is that if the green is on the left hand side, good luck!
Another point worth noting is that to the right of the fairway on 16 is the “Children’s Course” a par 3 course, where for next to nothing kids can go out and practice before their ready to pay the full course. It’s supposed to be kids only, unless an adult is playing with them, but I won’t lie – the course looked like a ton of fun.
Hole 17 (Par 4, 405 yards)
A long par 4, with a blind uphill approach. Stay clear of the bunker on the left off your drive, and don’t go short on your approach, or you’ll end up in a steep and scary looking bunker. I had one of my better approaches of the trip on this one and just barely missed my birdie putt.
Hole 18 (Par 4, 269 yards)
One of the things that I found in Scotland is that many of the best courses have multiple, very good short par 4s. North Berwick is no exception, and the 18th is a fantastic hole to close things out on. It may seem simple at first, but look a little closer and you have a big risk/reward decision to make.
At only 277 yards the green is drivable. But the question is “at what cost, am I willing to take the risk.”
The hole is similar to St. Andrews 18th in that it shares the fairway with the first hole, and there are cars lined up directly to the right of the fairway.
I was so terrified of the cars I took a 3 wood and hit it right in the middle of the two fairways, and still only had a short pitch in for my approach. The green is huge, so take note of where the pin is and get it close, otherwise a 3 putt is very possible.
If you haven’t noticed, I loved everything about North Berwick. So much so, that it ranks very highly in my personal list of top 100 golf courses.
The quirkiness of the course, the fun holes, the history, the beautiful seaside setting.
I feel like it may get overlooked, as it’s relatively short, and maybe on the “second tier” of courses to visit when planning a trip to Scotland.
If you ever listen to me, do so now: There is nothing second tier about North Berwick.
It’s very well deserving of it’s world ranking (#25 Golf Digest, #51 Golf Magazine), and whenever I’m able to get a tee time at Muirfield (which is only 4 miles away), you can bet I’ll be back to enjoy another round.
Have you played North Berwick Golf Links? What was your experience like? Share with us in the comments!