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Friday, September 16, 2016

Five Days of Golf in and around North Berwick

An invitation came out of the blue to play golf in Scotland. Would I and a couple of friends like to come to North Berwick for six days of golf? mmmm, let me think about that! YES!
So, flights were booked from DC to Edinburgh and I volunteered to help with the golf bookings. I love an excel spreadsheet! My friend provided the extraordinary accommodations in North Berwick. There are many great golf options that exist in the East Lothian area and you have the ease of travel to and from Edinburgh. We didn't want to travel too far from our home base and The Old Course at St Andrews was out of the question as it was the RandA Autumn Meeting. Most golf is easily bookable online and I found all of the Club Secretaries very responsive through email. Several of the group were golf magazine raters and some clubs very generously gave us a break on the rates, which was kind of them. Contrary to popular belief, the weather in Scotland is actually quite good and we were blessed with a week of incredible days with rain and wind on only one day. I spent two years at University in Glasgow and recall some wet days, but it was always better than dealing with 105 degrees and 95% percent humidity which is DC in the summer! And so our journey began, with only 18 holes and teeing off around midday each day. There would be no 36-hole route marches for us - we are too old and wise for that - ok, just too old!

Our Merry Band
Day 1 - North Berwick

The West Links at North Berwick was heaving with people on Monday morning. Many were Americans, as North Berwick has quite rightly become a "must play". I have played it many times and am never disappointed. The finishing four holes are as much fun as anywhere on the planet and are built for matchplay drama. The 15th is the original Redan hole, the short par four 16th hole with its crazy double green, the 17th and it's blind approach to a punchbowl green and then 18. Wow! The cars that line the drivable 18th were in imminent danger with our group and how Chip missed a car and ended up behind the green we will never know!
The 13th hole - The Pit - They don't build 'em like this anymore, which is a shame!

Green Fee -  £105
Pro Shop - 8/10 - the NB logo is way too complicated to work with - They should call Lee Wybranski who would do a killer rebranding!
Condition - 9/10 - firm and fast, except for rather oddly, the depression in front of 18 which was overwatered
Fun Factor - 10/10 - North Berwick will make you smile all the way around! And then want to go back to the first tee!

Day 2 - Longniddry

A lovely golf course, that with some tree removal could be even better. It is truly hiding it's light under a bushel of trees! Many of the sea views are lost and strategy on a couple of holes has been compromised by trees that need a chainsaw or a storm in the middle of the night! One of the best holes on the golf course is the short par four 5th with its infamous sloping green. Four and even five putts are common here - add my name to the list! Don't look at the scorecard yardage, presume it's too short and make the (wrong) decision not to go - it's a gem!
Green Fee -  £55
Pro Shop - 7/10 - solid selection
Condition - 8/10 - in good shape, but they need to cut down dozens of trees that are killing the views to the sea and adding nothing strategically
Fun Factor - 7/10  - great views and some terrific holes

Day 3 - Dunbar

Dunbar Golf Club opened in 1856 and was recently used as an Open qualifying course. If the wind is up, watch out because the wall that runs around the golf course from the fourth hole onwards will be watching you and your ball! If you are a slicer, bring some golf balls! The course starts with two gentle par 5s, both birdie chances, and following the delightful downhill par 3rd the real fun starts. You feel like a gladiator entering the ring walking through hole in the wall to get to the fourth tee and the fun never lets up. Great views, a great walk and a really solid course that should be on every visitors must play list. On 18, below, I got close and personal as my second shot hit the wall. I couldn't resist the "wally" and salvaged bogey.
Green Fee -  £75 - good value for a classic links golf course
Pro Shop - 6/10 - opportunity missed with small range of merchandise, like the logo though
Condition - 8/10 - in great shape
Fun Factor - 9/10 - the old sea wall provides plenty of drama, especially for slicers!

Day 3 - Musselburgh Links - with hickories

It is billed as the oldest golf course in the world and no one seems to dispute that. So that's cool! However, the experience, although fun, was not quite up to par. Musselburgh Links (not to be confused with Royal Musselburgh) is a 9-hole golf course located in the middle of the Musselburgh race course in a decidedly dodgy part of town. There is no pro shop, just a guy taking money who seemed more interested in closing than having two more groups pay to walk around the shabby golf course. We opted to play with hickories, which were real but in poor shape. It's all a bit sad, because this place should be treasured and promoted. The commercial possibilities could be huge, but it's clearly run by a local council who have no interest in its upkeep or knowledge of what they have. There was no merchandise available, not even a shirt with "I played the Oldest Course in the World and all I got was this shirt!" So, it was fun, but could have been so much more.
Green Fee -  £50 - including the use of 5 basic hickories, golf balls and a bag
Pro Shop - 2/10 - basically a counter at the race track. Huge opportunity missed by the owners
Condition - 5/10 - it's likely the way it was 400+ years ago, but could be better
Fun Factor - 6/10 - wow, what an opportunity missed, though making a two on a 240 yard par 3 with a hickory shafted wood was fun!

Day 4 - Gullane No.2

Dating back to 1898 and course architect, Willie Park Junior, No. 2 is a joy! The first seven holes are close to No.1 before the courses diverge. The views from the top of the hill are stunning overlooking Aberlady Bay. The course is relatively short, but none the worse for that and birdies were few and far between in our groups!
Green Fee -  £53
Pro Shop - 6/10 - should be so much better and they make a big deal about being the shop for Muirfield as there is no pro shop down the road at The Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. But, the lack of merchandise and the rather ordinary Muirfield logo don't make for good shopping. Maybe it was the end of the season and I do them a disservice, but with pretty much every American golfer going through this shop they are missing a trick and oodles of revenue.
Condition - 9/10 - firm and fast, great shape, perfect greens
Fun Factor - 7/10 - it's short, but that doesn't detract from a great walk, views and playability

Day 5 - Gullane No.1
A truly outstanding golf course built in 1884 and the host of the 2015 Scottish Open won by Rickie Fowler. We played it in a three club wind and a smattering of showers, but it never stopped being fun. The views across to Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth and Muirfield (or Gullane No.4 as one member called it!) are breathtaking. The top photo is of my favorite hole on the golf course, the par 3 13th - a world class golf hole with a demanding tee shot.
Green Fee -  £110
Pro Shop - 6/10 - The three courses at Gullane all share the same shop located across the road from the first tee on No.1. See my comments from No. 2 about how it could be so much better.
Condition - 9/10 - great shape, perfect green speeds for the conditions
Fun Factor - 9/10 - with the drivable 17th and 18th it's a course that makes you want to hurry back

And one final gorgeous view of North Berwick Beach to sign off - a magical place!