NORTH BERWICK, Scotland — Does heaven exist?
Let’s leave that one aside and talk about golf heaven instead. Oh, we know it exists. The question is, which part of Scotland is most sublime?
Some will say St. Andrews, or maybe the wild west coast or elemental northeast. My vote at the moment is for the area just east of Edinburgh, centred around the seaside village of North Berwick.
I’m standing on one of the world’s oldest (and best, and most underrated) golf courses, which might have something to do with it.
North Berwick West Links was laid out early in the 19th century, and despite playing almost exactly as it did at the turn of the 20th, still challenges top players while giving less-than-top ones like me the round of a lifetime. This is golf before the game became pasteurized and homogenized.
One green is guarded by stone walls, another has a two-foot-deep trench running through its centre. The par-three 15th — “Redan” — may be the most copied hole in the game.
And North Berwick West is just one of roughly a dozen seaside links stretching along the south shore of the Firth of Forth. Muirfield is in the Open Championship rota, and Old Musselburgh lays claim to a hotly contested title of the oldest golf course still extant, its origins in 1672 predating the current layout at St. Andrews.
(Moreover, Mary Queen of Scots was known to have knocked a ball around here a century before even that, so there.) Throw in Dunbar and North Berwick’s Glen course, to name just a couple, and this is easily one of the finest arrays on the globe.
I could go on, but the appeal of North Berwick extends even beyond its courses. The town is mere minutes from Edinburgh by commuter train, and the Scottish capital has a thing or two going for it from a tourist’s point of view.
For another, North Berwick puts the lie to the idea that eating in Scotland is a less than pleasant adventure. That commuter train figures in again.
Most of the traffic is in fact the other way around — carrying prosperous executives back and forth from their jobs in the city to their seaside homes in charming North Berwick — and the town’s eateries reflect this reality.
Fast food outlets have been outlawed, humble pubs feature chef-driven menus, and good white-tablecloth restaurants abound. The town and immediate area are also home to a couple of prominent tourist attractions: the Scottish Seabird Centre, its telescopes trained on the puffins that inhabit a nearby island, and the National Museum of Flight, complete with a now-grounded Concorde.
Oh, not everything is perfect here in golf heaven — my shot here on the Redan, for example. Going against all wisdom, I’ve attempted to fly the pin from 180 yards, and my six-iron has come up inches short.
Given that my next shot will be out of the bunker from hell, the true question this moment is, why am I so content?
For more information on the courses mentioned visit the Golf East Lothian website at www.golfeastlothian.com.
For information on travel in Scotland go to the Visit Scotland website at www.visitscotland.com.