But it’s a little easier to do so when you know you’re headed North Berwick. Listen I know we can tend to get a little hyperbolic at times. “Best par I’ve ever made in my life.”
“World’s best turf.” “The best in the entire world anywhere.” But I’m gonna try to keep my views on North Berwick very coldly objective and in perspective. “I don’t say this lightly I think this is my favorite golf course in the world.” All right maybe not.
“First impressions?” “I might stroke out.” “I’m worried for Randy’s safety to be honest.” Like most of the small Scottish towns are gonna see this review website season North Berwick is a completely golf-obsessed place.
It became a holiday town, almost like a Scottish version of the Hamptons in the 1800s because of its beaches and of course its golf courses. The North Berwick club itself held its first meeting in 1832 making it the 13th oldest club in the world today. There were 28 original members that played North Berwick’s six hole course back then in 1832. In its early days it became a popular spot for exhibition matches between people like Old Tom Morris, Allen Robertson, Willie and Tom Dunne and others. In fact the whole history of the club is littered with names that golf nuts will recognize. The course was a meeting place for the who’s who of East Lothian.
It still kind of is. This was my favorite bit I found while I was reading about North Berwick. It said quote, “It is recorded that on a certain day in 1903 there were in the course of play at the same time on the west links the prime minister, the Speaker of the House of Commons, two members of parliament, two bishops of the Church of England three eminent professors, a field marshal two generals and a famous Tibetan Explorer.”
Not bad. Although, I’m sure the day that No Laying Up visited will be remembered similarly in the annals of history. One can only wonder the last time that a renowned takesmith, a critically acclaimed podcaster, an American Slenderman an international golf superstar and their consigliere all visited the West links on the same day.
It’s truly historic stuff. The history is one thing but any conversation about North Berwick almost immediately leads to a discussion about the quirkiness of the golf course. So you want to hit it max like 170 from this tee. Downwind, firm running firm it would be like a wedge. I’m gonna go for it come on. I mean it’s 260 carry over that thing.”
“I’m weak.” Can we talk how great golf in Scotland is that we said 8-iron might be too much off the tee on a par 4? For instance it’s totally possible to hit a wipey fade down onto the beach and then try to play it.
“The first time you play you don’t really realize that playing close to the hazard is the best play gives you the best angle.” You get in this mood where you just try to hit golf shots just to see if you can hit them. You even have that mindset when you’re facing a shot that you know is physically, completely impossible and it just doesn’t matter.
You have to think about protecting yourself from the ricochets off stone walls. We made up a specific game for long trips like this that we like to call Tilt. It’s a very modified Stableford game where you earn a number of points for whatever score you make on each hole.
But then the catch comes when you make a net birdie. That’s when you go on tilt and your next hole is worth double. If you make another one your next hole is worth triple and so on. It’s a game that really causes big swings either way.
We’ve seen Neil get all the way up to 7x before and at North Berwick we saw Randy make the turn in the lead with 52 points and then finish the day in last with 36. Big shout out to Icarito there. I’ve played North Berwick four or five times in my life and I couldn’t tell you what I’ve shot ever there ever. You just get so sidetracked with all the other fun shots that you just want to try to hit.
This type of golf certainly isn’t for everyone and that’s fine. If you wanted to take a swing at North Berwick, I suppose it would be that the front side is far less dramatic than the back side, which might make it feel a little unbalanced. But the flipside of that argument is that the back side is just that good and that’s we’re gonna walk through now. And because I’m driving the ship I’m gonna say that the back side technically starts on the ninth hole. The course is a very traditional nine out nine in type of links routing and the ninth hole is that turn on the far side of the track that makes you just want to slam your foot on the gas down the homestretch. I’m not a racing guy I don’t know if that analogy makes sense but it just it makes you want to go fast.
The ninth is a wonderfully simple par-5 with a dramatically elevated green. It features the baked in strategy of two perfect centerline bunkers, which is something that always gets the whole NLU crew all hot and bothered. From there you make the very literal turn onto the back nine. The prevailing wind is into you for almost the entire front nine, which means that the whole back nine you’re coasting downwind at full speed and feeling like a goddamn superhero. The tenth hole is a downhill par-3 that can either make you feel destined to make an ace or a triple depending on where the pin is. The eleventh is another par-5 that’s extremely friendly to the wipey fade.
It’s reachable in two but approach shots are gobbled up by an absolute death bunker on the right side of the green. Number twelve, Bass, can make the wind feel like a jigsaw puzzle as you’re trying to figure out just how much to cut off and how to avoid the well-placed bunkering. And then you have to try to stop a downhill, downwind shot on the green.
And that brings us to what is probably the most famous hole at North Berwick, the 13th, Pit. The tip in the yardage book might sum it up best. It says “don’t argue with the wall, it’s older than you.” In reality if you put a good drive in the fairway the wall doesn’t even exist.
You just knock a short iron on to the punchbowl-y kind of green. The problem comes as your tee shot gets farther away from the wall. The longer the second shot, the more of a chance you have of being absolutely Mutumbo’d by the wall, which definitely happens. That’s when things start to move really quickly for you. Then you’re faced with trying to hit a flop shot up over this wall off of turf that’s as firm as a car park. This hole is very fun.
Hole number 14 is boldly named Perfection and it’s frankly really tough to argue. The hole is all about placing your tee shot in the fairway and then firing a hero shot into the blind green. It’s not really until the second time you play this hole that you realize just how much this hole is about using the ground, especially on your second shot. “How good is that?” The 15th hole is the Redan, a word you surely have heard exported around the rest of the world.
It became one of the most famous templates of Seth Raynor and C.B. MacDonald and if the pin is down on the left side it’s one of the most fun shots there is. It challenges you to play toward the slope on the far right side of the green if you really want to get the ball close. Number 16 features a green so comically insane that it’s impossible to be upset at how difficult it is. even the yardage book there says you either need accuracy or luck to succeed. The 17th is a gorgeous par 4 with a wild trench bunker and a semi Punchbowl green.
And the 18th is the ultimate half par finishing hole. It’s only 269 yards from the member tees making it drivable for the everyman. “All right Matt we’re good we don’t have to show this one.
You really… like you don’t have to keep showing it it’s fine. I don’t think people… this isn’t really what they’re looking to see. All right you can see it one more time and then let’s let’s move on.
We’ve got other things to talk about.” With a patio of members watching you want nothing more than to finish with a birdie in front of everyone. Even with his spectacular fall on the back nine, Randy wanted to point out that he did make birdie on 18 while Rickie Fowler made par.
He was insistent that we point this out. Always good to see Tron acknowledging the center court crowd at Wimbledon. You have miles and miles of room to hit it left on 18 but there still seems to be one person in every group that flirts with the carpark. Like this guy. “How you gonna play this one?” “This could be interesting.”
You’re gonna hear a lot about vibe this season and North Berwick, both the course and the town, has it in spades. That’s what’s driven so many people to come play this course, especially Americans. And it’s what drives so many pros to want to play it when they’re in the area.