Father, son & Scotland: Previewing North Berwick

By Ron Bellamy | Golf, Scotland |

Our trip in Scotland ends at a wonderful, favorite golf course

I fell in love with North Berwick Golf Club when I was lucky enough to play it three years ago, on a trip with good friends and colleagues Blaine Newnham, Tom Cade and Rob Perry, courtesy of Visit Scotland.

I loved the history of the place – dating to 1832, this is the third-old course in the world played on the original links. I loved the views, across the Firth of Forth with Bass Rock and the islets of Fidra, the Lamb and Craigleight, and the way the course began and ended in the village that seemed frozen in time.

I loved the quirkiness of the place — the stone wall that separates the sunken 13th green from the fairway; the renowned par 3 No. 15, considered the original Redan hole, inspiring holes across golf; the narrow No. 16 green, with a gulch separating the front and back plateaus.

A stone wall separates the 13th fairway from the green at North Berwick Golf Club (West Links).

Wrote James W. Finegan:

“For well over a hundred years the best holes have been very little changed. Like Prestwick, the West Links is, if you will, a museum of the game, taking us back to the latter half of the 19th century.

“For pure golfing pleasure — a pleasure bred of diversity, challenge, unpredictability, proximity to the sea, and the satisfaction of true links shot-making — few courses can equal North Berwick’s West Links. Is it a candidate for the one course to play, day in and day out, for the rest of your life? Oh my, yes.”

When Jason and I booked our trip, I knew that this place, and Machrihanish, were two places that I had been that I wanted him to experience.

And so for our last day of golf in Scotland, we will wake up at Clevenden House in St. Andrews and the drive the hour here, past the driveway to Muirfield, as I recall, trying not to think as we pass Edinburgh that there our home flight will await the next day.

As recounted in “True Links” by George Peper and Malcolm Campbell:

“The famous West Links at North Berwick is a relic of the earliest days of golf on the east coast of Scotland. It’s the classic example of the sea receding from the land and leaving in its wake sandy wastes broken and divided by channels into which the tides ebbed and flowed and where, over the centuries, a new ecology developed. These links, on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth, belong to what Sir Guy Campbell described as the ‘Primitive Age’ of golf, that period from the very beginning of the game up to the arrival of the gutta percha ball in 1848. …

In “The 500 World’s Greatest Golf Holes,” No. 15 was was listed, with this note:

“Generally regarded as the most copied hole in the world, North Berwick’s Redan was perhaps the first the present a specific formula of defense against a player making par. The green is set at a 45-degree angle, with the back left angled away and set behind a deep bunker. Except for the bunker, its elements of defense are largely invisible from the tee and are obscured by a ridge about 40 yards short of the green.”

The current head professional at North Berwick, Martyn Huish, was appointed in 2009, taking over from his father David after 20 years as assistant; David Huish held the job as head professional for 42 years, from 1967 through his retirement. When I interviewed Martyn Huish three years ago, he mused that he couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. I hope to see him again.

North Berwick is ranked No. 25 in the world by Golf Digest. Greens fees are 140 pounds ($187), or 195 pounds for a day pass ($260).

Our lodging here is the stately stone-faced Macdonald Marine Hotel. As I booked it, I wondered if I would ever stay another night in Scotland, on a golf trip, let alone a trip with my eldest son. I mean, the reality of this journey is to mark a 70th birthday, and my father, the English gentleman who loved golf and respected the game dearly, never got to celebrate a 71st.

I hope in advance to have cherished every moment of this adventure, bad shots and all; to have valued every second of a trip with Jason, whom I love dearly, and of whom I am so proud.

And I chose this hotel with a purpose. From our room, for the remaining hours of daylight and the morning hours before leaving for the airport,  we will have a view of North Berwick Golf Club, one last look at golf in Scotland to imprint in my heart.

The first green at North Berwick Golf Club.

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