I think the part of Episode 2 that rings the most true for me is the part about keeping score. It’s the absolute last thing you want to do while you’re at North Berwick.
I think NB is quite possibly the greatest match play course in the world and the only thing that can screw that up is worrying about whether you shot 85 or 84. The entire back nine is full of hero shots. If you’re successful with these shots, there’s nothing more fun than pulling them off. If you fail – and you take a few more cuts from the horrible place in which you missed – there’s nothing more fun than picking up your ball and heading to the next hole with your head held (relatively) high.
North Berwick was the first links course I ever played in Scotland, which set my impression for golf outside of the U.S. unfairly high. But it’s a place where that impression still remains today. And I think it’s also single-handedly responsible for exploding the portion of my brain that cares about keeping score. I can’t tell you what I shot the first time around (or anytime since), but I can tell you exactly what it felt like to try to hit over the wall on Pit or feed the ball down the slope on Redan or hold the green at Gate.
When you get done, you want to talk about the golf shots you were able to hit (or not hit), not the score you were able to put up. And luckily, the bar upstairs is absolutely perfect for doing so.
Of the courses that I’ve seen, it’s the one that most perfectly sums up what golf in Scotland means to me. There are no rules on how you have to play a shot, apart from those set by nature and physics, who happily laugh at you if you aren’t able to pull it off.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday (10:09 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.)
Tuesday, Thursday (10:09 a.m. to 4:09 p.m.)
Sunday (12:36 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.)
Between 60 and 140 pounds, depending on time of the year
I know it’s a cliche and I know it’s the most famous hole, but No. 13 (Pit) is as good as it possibly gets for me. It may not be the most subtle example of strategy in the world – as a giant stone wall guards the green and gets increasingly harder to navigate the farther you play from it – but it is probably my favorite example. My second answer would be The Entire Back Nine.
What to do Before:
Before heading to the golf course, we hit up the Drift Coffee Shop just outside of town. It has to be among the best views of Bass Rock and North Berwick and has an incredibly good vibe. It’s made up of recycled shipping containers (shout out to the Sobotka family), which brings a good hipster vibe to the old world. And, of course, the coffee was great.
Like a lot of clubs in Scotland, there are actually multiple “golf clubs” that call North Berwick home. For instance, we got a look inside the nearby clubhouse of the Tantallon Golf Club, which was founded back in 1853. These clubs host all sorts of different medals and championships for their members and also create these (mostly) friendly rivalries with other clubs at the course or in the area. It’s not only a fantastic rabbit hole to start reading about how and why all of these were founded, but it’s also a good example of why the Scots are so passionate about golf. Imagine having a group like this constantly inviting you to play in tournaments for the sheer sake of beating the club down the road. It’s something that can and should be emulated more in the U.S. – clubs for the sake of golf, not swimming pools.
Cutting Room Floor:
One of the things I found most interesting that was hard to translate to video was how the membership feels about their (relatively) newfound “must-play” status. The course has obviously been around for hundreds of years, but over the past 20 or so, the place has grown massively in worldwide popularity. This has left some members and locals that we spoke with feeling a little conflicted about what their course has become. We heard stories of members leaving NB for other lesser-known clubs because it’s gotten so crowded with excited tourists (you know, people like us).
It’s an extremely understandable concern on the part of the membership – you join a club to be able to play whenever you want. But it’s a tough balance for the club to strike. As we’ve said in this series and on the podcast, part of what makes the Scottish model of golf so affordable for locals is the ability to subsidize their memberships by charging high prices to visitors. As they figure out that balance, I wouldn’t be surprised to see prices go up and public tee times go down in the next few years.