Glen Golf Club: North Berwick’s “other” course feeds this part-time Texan’s soul

Glen Golf Club: North Berwick’s “other” course feeds this part-time Texan’s soul

Stunning Start -- Here's the view from the back of the first green looking toward the clubhouse and, further out, the town of North Berwick.

Stunning Start -- Here's the view from the back of the first green looking toward the clubhouse and, further out, the town of North Berwick.

The Dallas experience continues. The highlight so far? Hands down, that has to be Hutchins BBQ. Say what you want about Texans, but these people sure as heck know how to smoke meat.

Also noteworthy: As part of the McKinney Classic Film Festival, I watched a screening of “To Kill a Mocking Bird.” It was preceded by a Q&A with Mary Badham, who as a 10-year-old girl played the role of “Scout,” daughter of “Atticus Finch,” played by Gregory Peck. More than 50 years have passed since the groundbreaking movie was made. But for Badham, her childhood memories were still just as fresh and the story’s race-tinged themes were still just as relevant.

Memories, unfortunately, are all I have to work with when it comes to golf. I left my sticks back in Kelso. And, until recently, daytime temperatures here have been in the 95-100 degree range. So perhaps it’s high time I plunged back into the gray matter and attempted to relive my round at the Glen Golf Club in North Berwick, played about a week before this forced exile in Texas.

Fact is, the Glen—or as it’s also known, the East Links—has been on my short list since I played the more renowned West Links in North Berwick during my first trip to Scotland in 1997. I’d heard good things about the Glen, but the stars had never quite aligned to allow me set foot on it. That changed on a quiet Monday when my wife was away on business and my day-job clients were fast asleep back in the States. So I loaded up the car, dialed up the sat-nav and made the pleasant hour-plus journey under sunny skies to this charming East Lothian town.

Castle with a View -- I snapped this shot while standing on a ladder adjacent to the 8th tee. Its main purpose is to provide an unobstructed view of the fairway down below, ensuring it's safe to fire away. But turn back toward the tee and you'll get an eyeful of Tantallon Castle, or at least what's left of it.

Castle with a View -- I snapped this shot while standing on a ladder adjacent to the 8th tee. Its main purpose is to provide an unobstructed view of the fairway down below, ensuring it's safe to fire away. But turn back toward the tee and you'll get an eyeful of Tantallon Castle, or at least what's left of it.

Akin to St. Andrews

In many ways, North Berwick is akin to St. Andrews. The town and its golf courses are inextricably linked, both geographically and spiritually. And, like the Old Course, the West Links is drenched in history. Take, for example, its 190-yard 15th hole, better known as the Redan. There is, perhaps, no more emulated par 3 in all of golf.

Another distinguishing fact: The West Links was the location of an epic match in 1875 pitting Willie and Mungo Park against the father-son duo of Old and Young Tom Morris. It was during that tussle that Tommy received an urgent telegram that his young wife had given birth to a son, the couple’s firstborn, but that both of their lives were in peril. A ferry was pressed into service to get him across the Firth of Forth and then on to St. Andrews. But somewhere along the way, both mother and offspring perished. Young Tom, heartbroken, passed just three months later at the tragically young age of 25.

For these and other reasons, North Berwick is very much a golf town. And while the West Links is its primary calling card, the East Links/Glen Golf Club does nothing to diminish the allure. The game has been played on these grounds since at least the 17th century, but the club wasn’t founded until 1894 with the construction of a nine-hole layout. In 1906, the members engaged James Braid and Ben Sayers to extend it to a full the full 18 we know today.

Rock On -- The 12th green overlooks North Berwick's iconic Bass Rock. Used as a place of imprisonment during the 15th century, it's now home to a vast population of gannets. Wildlife specialist David Attenborough rates it as "One of the 12 Wildlife Wonders of the World."

Rock On -- The 12th green overlooks North Berwick's iconic Bass Rock. Used as a place of imprisonment during the 15th century, it's now home to a vast population of gannets. Wildlife specialist David Attenborough rates it as "One of the 12 Wildlife Wonders of the World."

Go for the Views...

At a maximum of 6,275 yards and a par of 70, the Glen is not of championship caliber. But for run-of-the-mill amateurs like me, it’s plenty challenging and thoroughly entertaining. In large part, this track’s appeal is its location, perched along a raised bluff that overlooks the town and Firth below. No matter the state of your game, your state of being will be well served—as long as you remember to look up and gaze around.

On this particular day, I was blessed with partly cloudy skies and a modest breeze. The course was also lightly populated, so I was able to go from the car park to the first tee without delay. I flew solo off the first tee, which starts on the flatland adjacent to the clubhouse before rising to an upper shelf on the approach to the green, from where all but the majority of the 18th hole flows.  Also distinctive: the playing field is tilted. So be prepared to hit shots from side hill lies, with the ball either below or above your feet depending on which direction you’re pointed.

In short, don’t be fooled by the numbers on the card. The Glen is no pushover.

As fate would have it, as I walked up to the second tee, the two-ball in front of me was just making their way to their tee shots. And a single from behind was scaling the hill to the first green. So I made the conscious decision to cool my jets on the tee and give my fellow solitary sole a chance to join me. He readily agreed so we played the rest of the round together, more or less in sync with the games ahead. Better yet, he turned out to be a member—and a most gracious one at that. During the round, he offered tips on how to approach each hole. Afterwards, he invited me into the clubhouse for lunch—including an offer to look him up if my travels should ever circle back to his friendly club.

Lucky 13 -- This short par 3, considered by many to be the Glen's signature hole, reminds me of the 7th at Pebble Beach. Fortunately, I got to play it in little to no wind and managed to knock my tee shot onto the right side of the green.

Lucky 13 -- This short par 3, considered by many to be the Glen's signature hole, reminds me of the 7th at Pebble Beach. Fortunately, I got to play it in little to no wind and managed to knock my tee shot onto the right side of the green.

...Stay for the Golf

I have a hunch they will. The Glen was simply great fun, with more than a handful of truly memorable holes. Tops among them were: the 7th, mid-range par 4 with a spectacular view of what’s left of the mid-14th century Tantallon Castle; the 12th, a long par 4 set against a backdrop dominated by Bass Rock; the 13th, a short par 3 that reminded me of the iconic 7th at Pebble Beach; and the 18th, a solid par that offers a stunning aerial reentry to civilization.

One important point of clarification: the Glen isn’t really a true seaside links that winds its way amid windswept sand dunes. Rather, it’s more of a links in the same way Pebble Beach or Old Head in Ireland call themselves links. But with scenic vistas like this, who am I to get hung up on technicalities?

Looking back, I can’t believe it took me 18 years to make my way just a short distance down the coastline from the West Links to experience it. Rest assured, I won’t let 18 months pass before I return.

Meanwhile, just eight more days until I can resume my normal programming. Not that I’m counting!

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