Top 100 courses under £100: No 1November, 2013
We've reached the end of our list with a thoroughly worthy champion in North Berwick
North Berwick was founded in 1832 and little has changed since the 1930s when the local clubmaker Ben Sayers refined the existing layout. So if you are looking to visit a links that exemplifies this form of the game and is rooted in the game’s history then North Berwick would be a good place to start. From the clubhouse that bears more than a passing resemblance to that of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews to an expanse of uneven and rippling linksland, it is simply a classic.
North Berwick is quite a test of your skill, as anyone who has tackled it when the wind is blowing – which is more often than not – will be able to testify.
But it is not quite as fearsome a prospect as, say, Muirfield just down the road and one of its great appeals is that you can play here as a golfer of average ability and not be humiliated. At least not until you get to the infamous 16th green, at any rate.
All of the essential links elements have aligned themselves here.
There are romantic views of Bass Rock, Fife and the Firth of Forth – maybe even from the beach if you should slice your tee shot at the 2nd to find a rather natural and expansive bunker.
There is a sense of the quirky and the unique, where the land demands the occasional hole that simply could not (and should not) be imitated elsewhere. For example, on the 12th hole here a stone wall divides the green from the fairway and means you can be 10 feet or so from the hole and have to play backwards.
There are features of architectural genius, the fundamentals of which have been re-created all around the world.
In short, so much of North Berwick is memorable, and for all the right reasons. The famous par-3 15th is called Redan and derives its name from a Russian fort that British forces captured in the Crimean War. The raised green is set diagonally across the line of play. The further to the left you go, the longer the carry over a pair of fearsome bunkers. The temptation is to aim over these hazards at the flag but a better idea is to play slightly to the right, ideally with a draw, and allow the contours to gather your shot back towards the hole.
Finally, there are also several great holes – by anyone’s standards. Take the risk-and-reward nature of the long 9th, where two centrally positioned bunkers split a wide fairway in two. Drive to the left near the out-of-bounds fence and the green might just be within range in two. The safer, but longer, route is to head right.
In short, so much of North Berwick is memorable, and for all the right reasons.
All the while, the turf is perfect – firm, pale and a joy to strike iron shots from. The greens are true, even-paced and mainly flat, with a couple of egregious exceptions.
You play the first nine away from the clubhouse and then the 10th, called Eastward Ho!, marks the beginning of the homeward stretch. By the time you reach the 17th green, much like at St Andrews, you can feel yourself returning into the town.
North Berwick is thought to be the 13th-oldest golf club in the world. Not many are older, and not many are superior.