If my wife ever throws me out of the house and they won’t let me move into the Crow’s Nest at Augusta National, I’m going to hide out in North Berwick, Scotland, just a few miles along the coast from Muirfield Golf Club. I’ve played North Berwick pretty many times over the years, and it’s probably the course I think about the most, except for my home course. Among the many permanently memorable holes is the thirteenth, a par-four, on which the green is on the far side of a very old stone wall:
On a visit in 2004, I missed the green to the right and tried to chip through an opening:
I missed the gap, and then l was really in trouble. During two of my most recent visits to North Berwick, I stayed in a small hotel overlooking the course, called Blenheim House. Sad to say, the young couple who owned it, Milton and Ailsa, gave up last year and sold it to someone else. I don’t know if it’s back in business.
One of the great things about that hotel was that you could get to the golf course simply by walking through a gate in the back garden:
Here’s the gate, viewed from the golf-course side. The people in the windows are eating breakfast:
During the relatively few daylight moments when I wasn’t playing golf, I gazed at the golf course from the window in my room. Here’s what I saw:
The cylindrical stone building at the far right is the starter’s shelter; the semi-subterranean white structure just to the left of it is the golf shop. The eighteenth green is at the far left, and the clubhouse is out of the picture to the left of that. The opening tee shot at North Berwick usually calls for something like a five-iron, and the second is essentially blind, and several of the other holes are almost as unusual. When I looked out my window one morning, before breakfast, I saw a guy walking a dachshund just east of the course:
Here’s what my room looked like. As you can see from the size of the suitcase, this was before I had realized I could cram all the clothes I need for an overseas golf trip into a carry-on bag:
One afternoon in 2007, when I was in Scotland on a Golf Digest assignment, I teed off at North Berwick by myself. After a few holes I was joined by an old man, who had come through a gate leading to one of the houses overlooking the course. He had lost his wife sixteen years before, he said. He walked along with me and asked me questions and held the flag while I putted, and I played really well for as long as he was there. He said that if someone offered him a plane ticket to New York he would go in five minutes, and I briefly considered trying to work out a temporary life swap. He said that he had once been to Chicago, and that while he was there a shoeshine man had asked him if he was French. He said no, Scottish, and the shoeshine man said, “You speak English very well.”
On the fourteenth hole, the old man and I caught up to and joined three Swedes. He knew them already, because he had run into them the night before, in the bar at the Blenheim. They were part of a group of six, and they had played Muirfield the previous day, and they were going home in the morning. One of them said that the flight from Edinburgh to Stockholm was just an hour, and that he would be going straight from the airport to his office—a thought that made everyone temporarily adopt a grim facial expression. The old man walked along with us until he got back to his gate. It turned out that he was very interested in Swedish girls, and other girls.
That night, I stayed not at Blenheim House but at the Mallard Hotel, in Gullane. Incidentally, “Berwick” is pronounced BARE-ick, and “Gullane” us pronounced GILL-en. There are three golf courses in Gullane: No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3. Muirfield Golf Club is virtually next door and can be seen from the top of Gullane Hill, and a caddie at Gullane once described it to me as Gullane No. 4—although Muirfield members don’t think of themselves that way.
I ate dinner that night at a pub called the Old Clubhouse. Directly across the street from both the pub and my hotel was the Gullane Golf Club’s six-hole children’s course, which costs nothing to play, as long as you’re not an adult. As I walked to dinner, I saw a man and his nine- or ten-year-old daughter. He was teeing up balls for her, and she was hitting the most gorgeous draws with a driver. She was hitting from a tee toward a green, but she was using the hole as a driving range. What a swing! And beyond the children’s course I could see Gullane No. 1 and No. 2.
The next year, I went back to Scotland with eight friends from home, and we spent the first two nights of the trip in North Berwick. On the second day, we saw this:
And that evening we saw this:
I almost feel picking a fight with my wife, to see if I can’t tempt her to give me the boot.