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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

World Class Golf in the North Berwick Area

I'm back from a week in the East Lothian region of Scotland and truly outstanding golf, hospitality and, somewhat surprisingly, weather. Every day of our trip was 55 to 65 degrees and sunny. Sunscreen was the order of the day and not a drop of rain fell. We based ourselves in the delightful town of North Berwick, around 45 minutes east of Edinburgh and played some of the best true links golf courses in the world. The pilgrimage to St. Andrews is a must, but once you have that out of your system, there are better golf courses in and around North Berwick than St. Andrews. We paced ourselves with one round a day, except for our opening day at Muirfield and were fortunate to be playing with members every day. This saved us a considerable amount on green fees as the member guest rates at all of the courses was between $14 and $20 - yes, you read that right! In addition to walking each course, I spent every morning on North Berwick beach with stunning views of the four small islands in the bay, Fidra, Lamb, Craigleith and Bass. I recommend taking some time off the golf course and strolling on the sand and rocks. It is a very special place.

Day 1 - Muirfield
Our weeks golf began with 36 holes at The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (Muirfield) and two delightful members, Jack and Sandy. They had the dubious distinction of being our foursomes (alternate shot) partners for the day. The course was as magnificent as ever and it’s one of those courses that the more you play, the more you appreciate the architecture, the routing and the views. The clubhouse is being renovated at present and on Monday the kitchen was closed. Sandwiches and Kummel were the order of the day and it’s not an exaggeration that lunch took around the same time as 18 holes. We played 36 holes of foursomes in 4 hours and 50 minutes!

Day 2 - North Berwick
Established in 1832, North Berwick has Ben Sayers credited as one of several architects who has a hand in the West Links. It’s hard to think of more natural land being used for a golf course and I would argue there is no better closing six hole stretch of golf than North Berwick. From the 13th “Pit” with its famous stone wall tight to the green, the blind second shot aimed at Bass Rock to the 14th green, through the original Redan hole at the 15th, the best and craziest Biarritz green on the 16th, the Alps at the 17th and then back into town with the drivable but potentially treacherous closing hole. The West Links at North Berwick has slipped into my Top 10 in the world - it’s playable, scorable and downright fun!

Day 3 - Gullane Number Two
There are three courses in the town of Gullane (actually there are five if you include Muirfield and Luffness!) and one of the joys of the golf courses here are how they start and finish in the town. Number Two was laid out in 1898 by Willie Park Junior and is a joy to play.

Day 4 - Gullane Number One
And so onto the best of the Gullane courses. Number One is hosting the Scottish Open prior to The Open Championship (minus a couple of holes from Number Two) and it is a gem. Like Number Two, the first holes play over the top of Gullane hill and the vista that presents itself is nothing short of spectacular. The Firth of Forth stretches out before you all the way to Edinburgh, down to Muirfield and beyond. It was built in 1884 and oddly, the architect is listed as unknown.

Day 5 - Dunbar Golf Club
Originally built in 1856, Dunbar is another course you must play. Many of the holes play next to the sea wall or the sea and both play on your golf mind on the way out and way in. Major changes were made to the course in the 1920s by James Braid and North Berwick’s Ben Sayers. There is more change on the way for Dunbar with the golf course and a new clubhouse and course routing planned for 2019. The greens at Dunbar were incredible and we discovered their relatively new superintendent came from The Old Course - clearly, he knows what he is doing!

Day 6 - North Berwick
Back to majestic North Berwick and another perfect Scottish Tourism day. The West Links gets better every time I play it and with that mindset, I always play well there. For the last three rounds of our trip we played with a former mini tour player, Clark, and he can straight out play! He broke 70 every day with very little links experience. Coming up the 18th at North Berwick into a three club wind he opted for the driver. It’s a brave choice with the out of bounds and car bonnets lurking right. He thumped a driver and somehow pitched and stopped it on the green - the ball made a sound with which I am not familiar! And then he holed the putt from 25 feet - perfect pace, center cut! What a way to finish a glorious week in the one of the great golf towns in the world.