SOME GOLF COURSES are not only spectacular to play they are also enormous fun. Situated on the Firth of Forth with stunning views across to Craigleith Island and Bass Rock, North Berwick West Links most certainly falls into this category.
The West Links club prides itself on making visitors ‘members for the day’ and the first thing the green fee payer will appreciate is the extremely warm welcome one receives on arrival at the portico of the old stone clubhouse. A full time greeter is on hand to make sure that everyone has an enjoyable day and knows the dos and don’ts of this historic old club.
With golf having been played here since 1832 North Berwick is the 13th oldest golf club and the third oldest in the world still playing over its original fairways. This is a classic links and no mistake with springy fairways, humps and hollows and slick greens with some treacherous run-offs, none more so than the 16th hole where a three feet deep gulley is cut two thirds of the way back. Phil Mickelson, when playing here as an amateur, walked off with a five-putt.
And whilst the rough is generally benign, in order to speed the pace of play, there are ancient dry stone walls to tantalise, tease and occasionally infuriate and the beach that comes into play in this wonderful figure of eight links and which is not out of bounds. If you hit a big slice off the first tee you can scramble down onto the sand and play your second from there.
Although relatively short by championship standards, at 6,446 yards off the back tees, this is still a stiff test of golf. With the prevailing wind blowing from the north- west the front nine can still be severe, hitting into the wind for the first eight holes before turning back towards the coast.
The back nine has some famous and often imitated holes, and none more so than the 15th, known as the ‘Redan’. A redan is a military term for an arrow shaped embankment, forming part of a fortification. And that arrow shaped embankment is the green some 190 yards away on this wonderful par three hole. With the green sloping steeply from right to left, even landing on the target may not keep you there.
The 428 yards par four 17th is the last tough test coming home with its great sloping strand of a bunker that runs at the base of the the ridge protecting the green. Anything left may well see you back on the first green again!
The last is reminiscent of the home hole at the Old Course of St Andrews with its wide, open spaces and large unprotected green. This is a short par four but concentration is still crucial as anything right could clatter in amongst the parked cars and cause untold damage. So aim left and a birdie is on the cards in front of the clubhouse windows,
With a well stocked convivial bar to visit after enjoying this hugely atmospheric old course a trip to the West Links should never comprise just the one round, as there is always more to enjoy on the return visit. And if time only allows just one game then make sure that you return often to savour one of the finest and most pleasurable links to be found anywhere in world golf.