It is convenient to get to North Berwick by train from Edinburgh. The train journey takes 40 minutes, passing places such as Musselburgh, Wallyford, Prestonpans, Longniddry and Drem - as well as about ten links courses - before arriving at the small town of North Berwick of 7,000 souls, a holiday resort that has thrived on its beauty ever since the days of Queen Victoria.
It may not be saying much, but the city's tourist office claims that North Berwick is the city in Scotland that has the most hours of sunshine per year. The relatively abundant amount of sunshine combined with wide sandy beaches and a breathtaking hilly landscape, shaped by centuries of hard wind, makes the city a timeless tourist destination.
“North Berwick is St. Andrew's cousin. The cities are reminiscent of each other and are just four miles apart”
Both cities are heavily influenced by golf and they both have courses that are older than anyone can remember. But while many dream of playing St Andrews and touching history, one rarely hears anyone mention North Berwick. It is a pity, because it is just as rich in history and tradition.
To the east lie the East Links, where golf has been played since the 17th century. In the early 18th century, people moved to West Links where the world's 13th oldest course is today, surrounded by The Hills of Fife and Firth of Forth.
In addition, there are many courses just outside the city that are completely unique - Muirfield, Dunbar, Gullane (three courses!), Luffness New, Kilspindie…
Many of Edinburgh's more affluent residents have houses or apartments in North Berwick where they can spend the weekends and holidays. Most attractive are the houses on Beach Road, Forth Street, Melbourne Road and Marine Parade - they all face the ocean and the views from them are mesmerizing. It's a city for the flaneur. You can walk around for days, not because the city is big but because it is so irresistibly beautiful and made for strolling.
The houses, built in stone, look as if they have been there for many hundreds of years… which they have. It is crowded on the city streets, which are not built for cars but are well suited for the flaneur. In the afternoons, you go down at the beach, if the wind and weather allow it, either to walk your dogs or to putt on the municipal green with 18 holes on it. When walking in the sand, make sure to watch out for any lousy approach shots to number one’s green, as you’ll be within range.
Not far from North Berwick, the world's oldest golf club has its origins, originally named The Gentlemen Golfers of Edinburgh before being renamed The Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. The members initially played on Leith Links and later on a course in Musselburgh before moving to Muirfield at the end of the 19th century.
20 of the North Berwick Golf Club's original members were also members of The Royal & Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews and The Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. In North Berwick they played at West Links - the track that is usually implied when one says “North Berwick”, although there is also an “East Links” which is Glen Golf Club.
“The course itself is only 150 years old but golf has been played there for far longer”
That’s a known fact, since in 1728 the inhabitants were forbidden to play golf there during the summer months, and one was never allowed to play over Castlehill without a forecaddie.
Many of the people we read about in golf history books have either been born in North Berwick or have made indelible imprints in its history sometime during their career. Arnaud Massy came here when he was 21 and returned six summers in a row to teach the art of swinging a cleek with an open stance and a baseball grip.
Willie Andersson was born in North Berwick but moved to America and won the US Open in 1901. Fred McLeod, who won the US Open in 1908 and played in the match between England and the United States, which later developed into the Ryder Cup, was born here; just like Philip Mackenzie Ross was, the man who designed Ailsa at Turnberry. Jimmy Thomson and Jack Forrester both emigrated to the US and made their careers over there…
And it was actually in North Berwick that Young Tom Morris received the telegram that would be his death. He was in town to play a show match with his father and Mungo Park. The telegram told that his pregnant wife had fallen seriously ill.
So the father and son took the fastest way home, by boat across the strait, Firth of Forth, but that still wasn’t fast enough. It was only four miles to St Andrews, but when the boat docked Young Tom's wife was already dead. Tom never got over this and died on Christmas Day the same year, 24 years old.
“The city is a myriad of narrow streets and exciting stories”
Like the one about The Famous Foursome - the match between Robertson / Morris and the Dunn brothers at West Links. Those who had come to see the match expected a sensation, and that’s just what they got. When eight holes remained, the Dunn brothers were four up.
On the 16th hole the match was all square. But Allan Robertson's drive on the 17th did not find the fairway. Three shots later, and Robertson / Morris found themselves in a bunker short of the green while the brothers Dunn's ball was to the right of the green in two. But - the brothers' ball had ended up against a stone.
The brothers Dunn considered that they were in their full right to move the stone and sent a man to pick up a shovel. But Sir David Baird, the referee, ordered that the ball be played as it lay.
Twice, the brothers swung at the ball without budging it. They lost both their temper and the hole. For such a seasoned pair as Robertson / Morris, the last hole was merely a formality. Of course, for us mere mortals, not so much.