Is This Scotland’s Ultimate Must-Play Golf Course?

Spectacular new photographs by David Cannon demonstrate the beauty and subtle complexity of the iconic East Lothian links.

Scotland's must-play golf course
A stunning links
(Image credit: Getty Images - David Cannon)

As you would expect from the home of golf, Scotland is blessed with a selection of the world’s very finest golf courses, many of them found along the rugged and inspiring coastlines. There are layouts delivering pure golfing pleasure like Royal Dornoch, tradition and history like St Andrews, incredible views like Castle Stuart. There are Open venues presenting a complete golfing test like Turnberry, Royal Troon, Carnoustie and Muirfield. You’ll find characterful gems like Cruden Bay and Brora and modern classics like Dumbarnie Links and Trump International.

There’s one course though that is forever underrated that delivers an incredible combination of all these factors – The West Links at North Berwick.

North Berwick

The course, the town and North Berwick Law

(Image credit: Getty Images - David Cannon)

Like Royal Dornoch, the West Links at North Berwick is a pure joy to play. It’s largely a traditional out and back links with the sea in play on six holes. It’s quirky with walls running through fairways, raised greens, sunken greens, barmy greens like the two-part 16th and just brilliant greens like that on the much-copied 15th “Redan.

north berwick

The unusual 16th green

(Image credit: Getty Images - David Cannon)

But it’s not overly quirky and the varied holes deliver a complete test of your game, much like the aforementioned Open venues in Scotland. Strong holes like the long par-4 3rd and the back-to-back par-5s at the 8th and 9th demand powerful hitting, while shorter par-4s like the burn-fronted 7th and perplexing 16th require a more subtle touch.

It's a testing layout to be sure, but it’s not a brute that will beat you up like a Carnoustie or Troon. The course always gives you a chance, right down to the driveable 18th – one more shot at glory.

north berwick

The 15th "Redan"

(Image credit: Getty Images - David Cannon)

That 18th is reminiscent of St Andrews as you hit back into town towards the supremely welcoming clubhouse. That’s worth noting – North Berwick is a hugely friendly club that makes visitors feel like members for the day. In fact, there’s a sign outside the clubhouse that states visitors are thought of as exactly that.

North berwick

The 13th "Pit"

(Image credit: Getty Images - David Cannon)

Also like St Andrews, there’s great history to be found. Golf was played over the West Links from the early 1600s but the course didn’t properly begin to emerge until the North Berwick Golf Club was founded in 1832. Again like St Andrews, the course has evolved over time but it’s pretty much as it was 100 years ago. Holes like the 13th and 14th “Pit” and “Perfection” look like they could have been recent designs, sculpted to grace a modern classic like Kingsbarns or Castle Stuart but, in fact, they’re just as they are – golf holes laid out over the naturally rumpled links land.

Scotland's Must-Play golf course

The 14th "Perfection"

(Image credit: Getty Images - David Cannon)

North Berwick will never host a Major but it’s a track that the great players recognise as one of the very finest and will make a pilgrimage to whenever possible. After making the cut at the Scottish Open, Max Homa travelled down the road from the Renaissance Club and played another 18 holes at North Berwick. It clearly inspired him as he went out the next day and shot 66 in the third round of the tournament.

North Berwick

The 17th green with the 1st behind

(Image credit: Getty Images - David Cannon)

The West Links at North Berwick may just be Scotland’s must-play course. It just delivers a little bit of everything. With tremendous views to the Bass Rock and out to the Firth of Forth, it’s a stunning setting for golf over a characterful piece of testing yet fun links land, as David Cannon's fabulous photos demonstrate. Add to the mix the history and the wonderful welcome and you have the complete package – Scottish golf in a nutshell.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin (also of Golf Monthly)... Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?