Scotland Trip Report, Volume 2Tuesday
: Awoke at the Renaissance Club incredibly hung over from our foolishness the night before. Tuesday was to be our marathon day...the only day we had 36 holes pre-booked. I am of an age and ability where I require some measure of warmup before I hit the first tee. Our host had informed us the night before that the practice facility for North Berwick was some two miles away and that our best bet would be to hit balls at Renaissance before driving over. That morning though we were doing good to simply get dressed and grab a quick bowl of cereal before heading over. Once there we knew we were in for something special. North Berwick is what I'd always been told links golf was supposed to be. We parked in our host's driveway and carried our clubs across the street to the starter shack. We saw this sign and knew we weren't in Kansas anymore:
Our host was very excited for us to see the course. He described it as 'quirky'. And it was certainly that. We did the best we could warming up. We putted. We chipped. We swung to loosen up. But any feedback from hitting shots on the range would have to be done on the course instead. Fortunately, the first hole, much like The Old Course shares a fairway with the 18th to the left, so there was plenty of room for error. So naturally I hit my first tee shot onto the beach on the right (which is in play I found out). Things only got worse from there. I didn't manage to find the center of any clubface until about the 7th hole. By then any semblance of a score was gone, and my only solace was to try and play well on the back nine.
In the meantime though the entire setting was spectacular. North Berwick has been essentially the same golf course since 1832 and lists it's course architect as 'God'. There is quirkiness, but it isn't manufactured quirkiness, which is the charm. Like The Old, the course goes out and back, but unlike The Old does so in a figure-8. About the 8th hole I began to settle down and decide to focus my attention on really playing the back nine, since I hadn't broken 50 on the front (I'm guessing...after taking 8 and 7 on the first two I stopped keeping score). I made my first par of the day on 8 and then a respectable bogie on 9 and felt like I was beginning to play.
After 3 holes on the back side I only had one bogie and felt I was more in control. Beginning on 13 is where the true quirkiness of North Berwick begins to kick in. The hole is a modest par 4 with two bunkers down the left and an ancient stone wall that bisects the fairway at a steep angle from left to right. The green sits immediately behind the wall and is long and narrow such that the best tee shot is one that hugs the left side (near, but not in the bunkers) to give the best angle into the green. A shot on the right side of the fairway has to be extremely precise. Here's a picture of the hole we took from behind the green:
And from the fairway side
My tee shot was to the right. My second shot was heavy and imprecise but somehow hit short of the wall and bounced over (don't ask me how) and settled on the back of the green from which I was able to make par. A par on 14 and a birdie on 15 left me at even on the back.
Sixteen is equally quirky with a 100 yard deep green made up of two huge, raised putting surfaces with large run offs and separated by a huge 'valley of sin' in between. Our pin was on the back surface and my second shot wound up on the back fringe 15 feet away. I drained the putt for a second birdie in a row. I bogied 17, but still came to 18 tee at even on the back. 18 is a drivable par 4 (290) with a parking lot on the right and the first fairway on the left. I managed to make a par giving me a score of 50+ on the front and 35 on the back.
The course was a pure delight to play. You couldn't build this course today. If you did it would be called 'tricked up' and 'gimmicky'. As it is, it's a classic. It's a consensus top-10 in Scotland pick and is used as a qualifying venue for Open Championships held at Muirfield just up the road. Playing it was a highlight of the trip.
Our host had business in Edinburgh and had to leave us, but made arrangements for us to play Renaissance in the afternoon. We made a few purchases in the North Berwick pro shop and then headed over for our second round of the day. As we walked in, an American named Jerry walked up to me and introduced himself and started talking to me. The place was so exclusive that I began to get an "I'm not supposed to be here" vibe, even though I was. Turns out that Jerry is the owner of the club and, for whatever reason (maybe our host...who is a minority owner as well...had told him we were coming) Jerry joined us for lunch. He was amiable and we got to hear lots of stories about the founding of the club. Eventually we needed to go, although Jerry assured us that there were no such things as tee times at the club ("Just go whenever you're ready").
We met our forecaddy that had been reserved for us and went to the range to re-loosen our tired muscles. I won't go into a lot of details about the round because neither my play nor the course will be a standout of the trip. Don't get me wrong, the course is nice...great, even. It is a Tom Doak design that sits on a piece of property that shares a fence with Muirfield. It is a modern interpretation of a links course and was immaculately conditioned. But of the courses we played this week, it had the least true memorable character (IMHO).
The most memorable thing for us was that as we were coming up the 4th fairway, Michael Jordan's group was coming up the 18th next to us. The 18th at Renaissance also has an ancient stone wall that bisects the fairway. While cool, it doesn't have (or didn't for me anyway) the same character of the 13th at North Berwick.
We ate dinner that night at the Old Clubhouse Restaurant in Gullane on the way back to St. Andrews (recommended) and then drove back to St. Andrews.
36 holes (hungover), a Michael Jordan sighting and 1 1/2 hours of navigating the highways and byways of East Lothian and the Kingdom of Fife had made for a very full day.Edited by Mark from Plano - 9/26/14 at 4:14pm