Tuesday, August 18, 2009

North Berwick and Home

In hopes of finding more hospitable weather, we departed windswept and soggy Troon early Friday morning and made for North Berwick back on Scotland's east coast. We had a realistic hope for more favorable conditions since this area of Scotland receives about half the rain that drenches the west. North Berwick is a great golf town. It ranks a close second to St. Andrews. But with its bustling and attractive downtown hard by the Firth of Forth and flinty Bass Rock in view just off-shore, it is a wonderful place to visit even if you never set foot on its courses. And its so close to everything- just over a half hour drive from Edinburgh and even less by rail into Edinburgh's Victoria Station! We recommended North Berwick to our non-golfer German Village friends Stephanie and Dave Connor, and they enjoyed the town very much on their recent rail trip through the U.K.

Bass Rock

view from West Links 18th tee

On route, we stopped for coffee and tea at the Village Coffee House in Gullane, just minutes west of North Berwick. Gullane is an attractive village with an impeccable golf pedigree; it is the home of many time Open Championship venue Muirfield, Gullane Golf Club's three fine courses and Luffness. While devouring our delicious scones, we read in the paper that Arnold Palmer, while playing at the Roayl and Ancient's Spring Meeting at St. Andrews had walked off the Old Course Thursday after playing only six holes in the fierce winds. Arnold allowed as how this "old horse would not be able to make it all the way around," in such horrible conditions. www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/golf/article6334680.ece Granted that old Arnie is nearly 80, Lisa and I still felt some pride in having completed the Ayrshire Golf Classic in like conditions.

Arriving at North Berwick just past noon, Lisa began to have second thoughts about playing. While the skies were clear, the wind was still out of control. But the lure of playing historic North Berwick West Links was strong so we paid our greens fees and headed for the first tee.

Bill and Lisa at the West Links ist tee

The North Berwick Golf Club, founded in 1832 is the world's 13th oldest golf club and was the first to admit ladies. We were apprised by the very personable starter that the women have much to say about club and course affairs. The West Links is, like Prestwick, a charming antique that still is a great test of golf. Ancient stone walls traverse several fairways and one guards the approach to the 13th green, a famous hole called "The Pit." The Firth of Forth and Bass Rock are in view on most of the holes. The par 3 15th "Redan" has been reprised by many of the great course designers. http://www.northberwickgolfclub.com/ After four holes of seeing shots blown far far off line, Lisa followed Arnold Palmer's example and declared that her golf was done for the day. The aforementioned friendly starter happened by and took her trolley and bag back to the clubhouse. Lisa watched me soldier on the rest of the way. Oh yes, it rained again on the back nine and the wind continued to rage, but fortunately it was behind us down the stretch. This is the second time we have played the West Links, and to be honest, our first time around was more pleasurable. Nevertheless, North Berwick's West Links as well as the other course in town "The Glen" (it has fabulous sea views) are must plays. I did manage to card two birdies including the closing hole back into town.

Bill's deadly pitch setting up his closing birdie on 18

We collapsed back at the Glebe House http://www.glebehouse-nb.co.uk/ , our digs for Friday and Saturday night. This is a wonderful 1780s Georgian manor house, tastefully appointed by the innkeepers Gwen and Jake Scott. Gwen served us tea to take away the ever-present golf chill and then we slipped into slumber in our four-poster bed. Awaking at 9 PM, we gave some thought to foregoing dinner, but thought better of it and were glad we did. We had an excellent Italian repast at Osteria. The wine added to our drowsiness and it was quickly back to Glebe House.

We had a game scheduled for Saturday afternoon at Longniddry, but even I was ready for a day off. Instead, after our gourmet breakfast, Jake gave us a lift to the North Berwick station where we caught the train to Edinburgh to see the sights.

Advocates' Close

We two lawyers climbed up the many-stepped Advocates Close and then ambled down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace, the Edinburgh home of Queen Elizabeth. http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/ The ancient palace was once the home of Mary Queen of Scots. Much Scottish and English royal history revolves around her. We were shown the quarters in which Mary's secretary David Riccio, was killed by a band of conspirators led by Mary's jealous husband, Lord Darnley.

abbe ruins at Holyrood Palace

Edinburgh is worthy of a three day visit. For my money, the city is an architectural and historical feast. Our last night in North Berwick was spent at a local pub "The Auld Hoose" and a seafood restaurant "Bass Rock Bistro." The Auld Hoose was a great local hangout with the nice touch of whisky barrels on top of the bar. The Bistro was top-notch with great service.

. . .And so our trip ends! This was by far the most grueling of our six U.K. golf trips. I guess it still can be said that we have never actually been rained out of any of our Scottish rounds. But for sure we would not have seen fit to play in Columbus, Ohio if confronted with the type of conditions we endured on this trip.

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