How can you truly review one of the wonders of the golf world? That’s the issue when it comes to North Berwick’s West Links, undoubtedly one of the world’s great golf experiences. Quirky? Yes. Remarkable? Surely.
The first issue is finding the course — it is a hard left off the main road as you enter Berwick. If you miss it, as my car did, you’ll tour right around downtown Berwick before emerging on a road back near the course. From there you park alongside a white fence — that turns out to be right next to the 18th fairway.
The opening hole is a 328 yard par four — as strange a hole as you are likely to ever play:
The tee shot, right next to the starter’s hut, is intended to land near a foot path that crosses the fairway, which is nearly as wide as the opening hole at St. Andrews. The second shot is blind, over a hill to a green perched near the sea wall. In a word – strange.
Thankfully, the second hole is world class, certainly one of the most majestic tee shots you’ll ever hit.
At 431 yards, this is a great par four, made more impressive by the fact you can play the ball from the packed sand on the beach if you happen to slice one there. The second shot is not easy, but if you can cut a long drive out to the left, you can still hit a mid-to-short iron in. On the sunny day the photo above was shot, I was hard pressed to think of a better hole — anywhere.
Quirks abound at Berwick, mainly because it is another course that was molded over time, rather than built like today’s modern efforts.
No where is this more evident than in the third hole, a 464-yard beast.
The hole requires a long straight drive — though the tee shot is apparently often downwind. Once there, players will find one of the walls that crosses the course — with a narrow gap and a sign that can be seen in the photo. If you’ve managed to miss the fescue, players then have to navigate a long iron into a large green. Thankfully it is possible to roll the ball onto the green.
In many ways, the rest of the front nine is good, but not stunning. Holes continue to run away from the starting hole, peaking in the ninth, an interesting par five with a fascinating green site.
I found the 11th to be the next stunner, especially given its tee shot high on the dunes that run along the ocean.
The 13th it one of the holes almost everyone has heard about.
I’ve posted this photo before — for North Americans it is quite jarring. The hole is not long — a total of 365 yards — but the green is protected — by a wall.
I love the pro tip in the yardage guide: “Don’t argue with the wall — it is older than you.”
The most famous hole on the course is the Redan, the 15th hole. Often thought to be one of the world’s great par threes, it features a blind tee shot over bunkers to a green that falls away. It is a difficult hole, but presents many options for the inventive player. Interesting to note that one of my group made birdie by almost skulling a shot and ending up within inches of the hole.
The final good hole at Berwick is the 17th, a strong 425 yard par four. It features a green site perched on the table top of a hill.
If you survive the 17th, the 18th is a breeze — a strange 274 yard par four, where the only concern is the cars parked alongside the fairway. As the guide says: “Concentrate. Car repairs are expensive.”
Overall: North Berwick’s West Links is one of the great experiences in golf. Though at a little more than 6,000 yards, it might not appear testing — but all the facets are there. It forces a golfer to think in a way few modern courses do. It is hard to overpower Berwick — which is why it still holds up over time. Architect Tom Doak, in his Confidential Guide, listed Berwick as one of his Gourmet’s Choices. Hard to argue with his take on this amazing course which is a throwback to golf’s beginnings.