Playing North Berwick
By Peter Hellman, Classic GOLF Tours
"Hit it low and let the ball roll," said Peter in his distinctive Scottish brogue. "That's right! Put the ball a wee bit more back in your stance laddie and hood the club face a bit more."
My son, Reid and I were approaching the green on the third hole of the North Berwick West Links with a friend and colleague Peter Craigon. Reid and I were living out a dream, if not for him, for me. At age 19, Reid was ready and eager to learn how to play Scottish golf and he was doing it with me.
Our playing companion Peter, a former college golfer at Edinburgh University, is our man in Scotland. With the help of his delightful and organized wife, Fiona, Peter attends to the details that turn a golf trip into a memorable Scottish golf experience for our clients.
North Berwick West Links, the second oldest continuous golf course in the world has hosted golfers for over 400 years. It's a British Open qualifying course and one of hundreds of Scottish courses that American golfers know little about and we call the "hidden gems". Located in the East Lothian area 30 miles east of Edinburgh, North Berwick has many great holes with gorgeous views of beaches and rocky islands of the Firth of Forth. Two of the most memorable are number 13 the "Pit" and number 15 the "Redan".
The "Pit", a par 4, could be called gimmicky were it not for the Scottish tradition of leaving the land as it always has been. Even an excellent golfer like Peter approaches the second shot with caution and lays up. Why lay up you ask? North Berwick is laced like a golf shoe with strings of 3 foot stonewalls or fences originally used to keep herds of livestock contained. On the "Pit" the fence runs along the left side of the fairway and as the fairway cuts to a dogleg left just before the hole, the stonewall positions itself along the length of the green like some medieval castle wall protecting a virgin princess. A shot from 150+ yards has little chance to hold the green and a big chance of hitting the wall. Reid listened to Peter's advice and came away with a boogie. I didn't and you can guess my score.
The "Redan", a 195-yard par 3, is one of the most difficult holes I have played. Not only is the wind a huge factor but the green slopes from front to back and it's above the tee box and protected by the prow of a dune that deflects anything but the perfect shot. I was pleased with my boogie.
The East Lothian area is the part of Scotland where the famous jewel of the British Open (Muirfield) is located. Muirfield, the exclusive home of the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, is a course where status, wealth or being female has no influence on rules and traditions. Some people cal it unfriendly. But, outside the princely gates is the town of Gullane, which boasts some of Scotland's finest courses such as Gullane No.1, 2, and 3.
Also in Gullane is the Golf Inn, a great base for your East Lothian golfing adventures. It's charming rooms, cozy fireplace bar and delightful owners are only overshadowed by its terrific restaurant. It's a wonderful retreat after a day of golf. Other courses you might play in the area include Luffness, Kilspindie, Dunbar, Longniddry, Royal Musselburgh, Royal Burgess, Dalmahoy and East Links to name a few.
You may play these and many other fine courses in Scotland on virtually any day. So, don't think of Scotland only in terms of the Open Courses: St. Andrews Old, Royal Troon, Muirfield and Carnoustie. They are great but rarely available. Instead, think about the hundreds of other courses, many of them unknown but equally fine, and think about the experience that you can have with your son, daughter, spouse, friend or buddies in Scotland. It's just as much fun to "keep it low and let it roll" on the "hidden gems."