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North Berwick’s West Links: Enduring Allure of a Seaside Gem

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The ancient seaside links at North Berwick have charmed golfers for centuries with their memorable holes and spectacular coastal setting. Located along the Firth of Forth in Scotland, the historic West Links originated from a 6-hole course in 1832 before expanding to 18 holes. As I researched this post, I found the word “quirky” used to describe North Berwick more than any other, and I was surprised to learn that only St. Andrews has played golf for a longer period of time on the same land.

From stone walls crossing sweeping seaside fairways to the famous template “Redan” par-3, North Berwick’s West Links embodies Scottish golf at its finest. The renowned course overlooking Bass Rock has challenged champions since 1894 while retaining its old-world charms across two centuries. North Berwick hosted golf’s oldest championship in 1894 and retains its classic character today.

In this post, we’ll explore the West Links’ origins, tour its unique holes, and highlight why it remains a “quirky,” yet quintessential Scottish golf experience. We’ll trace its history from humble grazing land to hosting The Open, detail the template-setting 15th hole, and showcase why North Berwick delivers an exhilarating mix of quirks, beauty, and shotmaking that every golfer should experience. Finally, we’ll review its rankings and critical acclaim, take a walkthrough of the course, suggest further reading, and show some videos to bring the course to life. As always, the images are simulated to provide context and set the scene.

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Origins of North Berwick

The North Berwick links have a long and storied history dating back over 400 years. Located on the southeastern coast of Scotland along the Firth of Forth, the land was originally used for grazing animals and drying fishing nets. Golf began to be played on the location as early as the late 16th century.

The North Berwick links became more formally established after the North Berwick Golfing Club was founded in 1832. They set up an official 18-hole course, which was later redesigned in 1877 by acclaimed golf architect Willie Park Jr. Willie Park helped cement North Berwick’s reputation by introducing the famous “Redan” par-3 15th hole, which is considered a template for strategic golf hole design. The course hosted The Open Championship in 1894, establishing it as one of Scotland’s important early golfing destinations.

Over the last century, North Berwick has retained its classic seaside links character. Its unusual stone wall obstacles and ocean vistas overlooking Bass Rock continue to challenge and delight golfers today. From its informal beginnings to hosting championships, North Berwick has cemented its legacy as an integral and iconic Scottish golf course. Until 1957, the course was not open on Sundays, as golf was not permitted!

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Notable Events

North Berwick has hosted several prominent events over the past century. Most notably, the West Links hosted the Open Championship in 1894, helping to establish North Berwick as an important part of Scottish golf history. The course hosted many Scottish amateurs and future professionals in the annual Boys Amateur Championship from 1935 to 1975.

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Redan

The 15th hole at North Berwick’s West Links, known as the “Redan,” is one of the most famous par 3s in golf and has been widely copied by many top courses over the years. “Redan” comes from a military fortification term meaning a defensive structure with two parapets forming a salient angle. This shape is mimicked in the green, angled diagonally from front left to back right. A deep bunker also guards the front right of the green. The hole plays as a mid-length par 3, though its unique green contours and positioning pose a strategic challenge for players.

The Redan has been frequently imitated and is considered a “template hole” due to its brilliant design and influence. Similar template Redan holes can be found at National Golf Links, Swinley Forest, Shinnecock Hills, Chicago Golf Club, and more. But the original at North Berwick remains the most acclaimed.

The Redan fits seamlessly into the spectacular closing stretch at North Berwick, which is regarded as “one of the finest three-hole stretches in the world.” The Redan’s green contours, bunkering, and angle of play demonstrate masterful design that brilliantly incorporates the seaside landscape. It remains a highlight of any round at this storied Scottish links.

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Acclaim

North Berwick has gained an almost cult-like following among knowledgeable golfers worldwide who make pilgrimages to play the course. The design and setting of the West Links have earned high praise. Graylyn Loomis calls it “one of the funniest golf courses of Scotland,” saying, “The experience of playing North Berwick is very memorable.” He says that after playing most of Scotland’s revered courses, his rounds at North Berwick stand out as some of the most memorable. The course sits at number 30 on Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Courses in the World and 11 in Great Britain and Ireland.

In “Sand and Golf,” George Waters singles out the second hole, the par-4 “Sea,” as a great example of how a player’s potential stance and lie might affect their strategy on naturally undulating, sandy ground. The hole plays along the beach, and the player faces a decision off the tee. Taking the beach out of play and risking a small dune known as “The Ice Cream Scoop” or other uneven lies that make for a tricky approach is one strategy. The other is to aim toward the right side of the fairway, taking on the beach. Waters differentiates the mindset difference between the average and expert player, where the average golfer will likely aim for one half of the fairway or the other, while the expert will focus and hone in on a flat spot in the fairway that is a few yards wide.

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The Course

North Berwick West Links plays to a total yardage of 6,464 yards from the medal tees and has a par of 71. The layout features various holes incorporating “quirky” elements like extremely short par-4s, blind shots, shared fairways, stone walls, and more. The course is routed along the coast and further inland through open countryside. The signature Redan par-3 15th highlights a spectacular closing stretch from 13-18 right next to the beach. 

The outward nine features a diverse variety of holes that incorporate both seaside and inland terrain. Elements like the short par-4s and the shared 1st/18th fairway add to North Berwick’s charm and uniqueness. It also demands solid shotmaking, with holes like the 450+ yard 2nd and three consecutive 400+ yard par 4s from 6-8.

The outward nine at the West Links begins right along the beach, with the par-4 1st playing towards the Firth of Forth and a large shared fairway with the 18th hole. The aforementioned 2nd then turns inland as a demanding par-4 at over 450 yards, while the two short par-4s at the 3rd and 4th measure under 300 yards. The 3rd tempts players to drive the green but brings a burn and bushes into play, and the 4th doglegs around a hill. After these (don’t call them quirky) short holes, the par-3 5th heads back toward the water, one of the course’s prettiest holes.

The course then ventures further inland through the countryside for several holes. The three consecutive two-shotters at the 6th, 7th, and 8th play in the same direction and measure over 400 yards each. The 6th is straightaway, the 7th doglegs right around a hidden bunker, and the 8th bends slightly left with bunkers lining the ideal driving zone. The outward nine culminates with the long par-5 9th, which gently climbs uphill and bends right on the approach to a well-bunkered green.

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Inward Nine

The inward nine begins playing inland through open countryside, with the par-4 10th doglegging left around a hill and the par-3 11th playing slightly downhill to a plateau green. After the straightaway par-4 12th, golfers return towards the coast for a world-class closing stretch; this run starts with the short par-4 13th, playing from an elevated tee to a green in a dell below, with a green that sits along the Firth of Forth adjacent to a stone wall. At the short par-4 14th, called “Perfection,” only a perfect second shot will be rewarded. The highlight of any round, the famous par-3 15th “Redan,” follows, with its large green angled diagonally left-to-right on a hillside.

The 16th hole is a demanding par-4 of over 400 yards that plays right along the beach. It finishes at an elevated punchbowl green with a stone wall cutting diagonally across the fairway. The par-3 17th requires a forced carry over the stone wall and rugged dunes to reach a plateau green. The closing par-4 18th heads slightly inland but runs parallel to the coastline, sharing a fairway with the 1st hole and allowing players to soak in North Berwick’s seaside charm.

The closing holes feature North Berwick’s most famous design (the Redan) and a spectacular stretch along the beach. Ancient stone walls, rumpled fairways, stellar sea views, and “quirky” (last time) greens define the unique personality of the West Links’ inward nine. It’s easy to see why many call North Berwick the most charming and fun course in Scotland.

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North Berwick Today

The West Links remains one of the most renowned and enjoyable in Scotland, presenting as much of a challenge today as it did when hosting the 1894 Open Championship. The club takes pride in maintaining the course’s traditional character and is open to visitors on all days except Saturdays. 

While the course has undergone routing changes over the decades, the ethos remains true to North Berwick’s golfing origins. Golfers at the West Links today still experience the same exhilarating coastal Scottish golf that luminaries like James Durham enjoyed when hitting shots there as early as the late 16th century. With scenic views of Bass Rock and North Berwick Law, it’s a living piece of golf history. 

Visit North Berwick online at https://www.northberwickgolfclub.com.

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Further Reading

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Classic Golf Links
by Donald Steel

Summary: Classic Golf Links of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland by Donald Steele is a guidebook featuring 75 spectacular links golf courses in the British Isles, covering their history, design, and challenges. The book includes scorecards, hole maps, photos, and playing tips for each course, providing key information for golf travelers while celebrating these revered seaside tests.  With writing by Donald Steel and photos by Brian Morgan, Classic Golf Links is considered an essential reference for experiencing the best of links golf.

This book is a must for anyone with an affinity for links golf. I bought this book years ago and still return to it often. The pictures are amazing and they alone will make you fall in love with these courses.

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Sand and Golf
by George Waters

Summary: “Sand and Golf” explores how sandy terrain uniquely suits golf, studying similarities and differences between courses worldwide with sandy features. It examines all aspects of the relationship between sand and golf, from the sport’s origins in Scottish coastal dunes to its global spread onto sandy sites. Written by golf architect George Waters with a preface by renowned designer Tom Doak, it details through examples and illustrations why firm, rugged, windy sandy terrain makes creative shot-making integral to the game. The book appeals to knowledgeable golfers interested in course design and architecture, analyzing the art and science behind why golf belongs on sand.

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The 150th Open
by Iain Carter

Summary: The 150th Open is the official book celebrating the sesquicentennial (seriously, that’s a thing) of golf’s oldest major championship, produced in partnership with The R&A and capturing the history and stories that make The Open unique.  From its 1860 origins in Prestwick to today’s iconic venues, the book chronicles The Open through archival images and interviews with past champions, reflecting on characters, courses, and moments that have defined this revered event over 150 years. The comprehensive narrative and visual history in The 150th Open commemorates The Open Championship’s illustrious past and enduring prestige as golf’s most beloved tournament.

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True Links
by  Malcolm Campbell & George Peper

Summary: True Links by Malcolm Campbell and George Peper profiles over 240 of the world’s top links golf courses across the British Isles and beyond, examining their history, design features, and status as an authentic “true links.” Organized geographically, the book offers photos, maps, scorecards and playing tips for renowned seaside tests like Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Cabot Links, Barnbougle Dunes and others that meet the authors’ criteria.  For links golf aficionados, True Links serves as an illustrated guidebook for experiencing the unique joys and challenges of the game’s most revered coastal courses.

Videos

Every Hole at North Berwick
5 Things You Didn’t Know
North Berwick West Links
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