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Open Championship Week Continues: North Berwick West Links

How can you truly review one of the wonders of the golf world? Thats the issue when it comes to North Berwicks West Links, undoubtedly one of the worlds 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, youll 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:

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The tee shot, right next to the starters 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 youll ever hit.

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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 todays modern efforts.
No where is this more evident than in the third hole, a 464-yard beast.

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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 youve 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.

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The 13th it one of the holes almost everyone has heard about.

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Ive 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: Dont 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 worlds 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.

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Though the final hole is nothing to write home about, the 17th is 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 Berwicks 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 Gourmets Choices. Hard to argue with his take on this amazing course which is a throwback to golfs beginnings.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

1 CommentLeave a comment

  • I played this course in the summer of 2002 and really enjoyed it, even if I didn’t play all that well. My cousins who live there really showed me a lot of nice courses. Lorne

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