Golf Channel's Mike Ritz, the lead voice for European Tour coverage, recently took three friends on a trip of a lifetime: six of the top links courses in Scotland in six days.ST. ANDREWS, Scotland --
"Links golf is the oldest and the purest form of the game.
Playing golf in Scotland, where it was born, is the ultimate golfing experience."
Indeed. Like most who play and embrace our game, I fell in love with Scotland the first time I visited and played there. Since that 1995 trip during Golf Channel's first year, I'd been trying to get my best friend and former junior-golf partner to come with me to the Birthplace of Golf.
Finally, we got it done.
There is a lesson for all golfers to learn here. My friend, Paul Rankin, kept coming up with excuse after excuse as to why he couldn't go, until finally his good wife, Debbie, kicked him in his backside. If you love the game of golf, you must go play in Scotland -- before you get too old to enjoy it.
Two other friends, Joe Wirth and Joe Yasharoff, joined us. Afterwards, we all agreed it was the greatest trip we had ever taken. In fact, we're still basking in the glory.
Day One: North Berwick Golf Club, West Links
After taking a red-eye from the States to Edinburgh, the West Links at North Berwick Golf Club is the perfect place to start for weary travelers. It is ranked 65th in the world, ninth in Scotland. It is a wonderfully challenging course but not so difficult as to provide too tough a test for your first round.
Golf was first played on the grounds of North Berwick more than 400 years ago. Ahh, but the current course is a mere babe. The links laid out by Old Tom Morris and Davie Strath were officially opened when Strath hit the first shot on April 23, 1877.
A new rule was adopted that day: "If a ball is driven into the grounds of plantation on the south of the course, it should be held as lost ... the player losing a stroke and distance and having to tee another ball."
Another modernization premiered that day on the teeing ground: "The provision of a box where the caddie could retrieve the necessary sand." That's right -- no tees back then, just put your ball on a small pile of sand.
So when you play North Berwick, you're bathed in history. The current course plays 6,464 yards from the tips, to a par of 71. It is friendly but certainly not a cupcake. You don't need to hit driver on many holes, but trouble in the form of steep pot bunkers, thick heather and gorse is everywhere. And then there is the North Sea. North Berwick is laid out along the Firth of Forth, and some wayward shots just might find the beach.
As my caddie said to me as I watched a pulled drive bounding across the left side of a firm, fast fairway, heading toward the sea: "I believe you've run out of Scotland."
The views are spectacular. The course is beautiful. In good Scottish tradition, expect plenty of wind. And -- especially in the summer -- expect firm and fast conditions.
Good luck trying to stop an approach down-wind. To play well here, and throughout Scotland, you must learn how to play the game on the ground.
The West Links at North Berwick has many memorable holes. The most famous would be the par-3 15th, Redan: 190 yards to a green that slopes dramatically from front-right to back-left, guarded by two cavernous bunkers. It's a design that has been copied many a time throughout the world. One of the many reasons we played here was because Joe Yasharoff wanted to play the Redan. Incredibly, he hit his tee-shot to three feet and did not choke over his birdie putt. All 6-foot-5 of him was shaking visibly.
One of the coolest golf holes in the world is the 13th at North Berwick. The 387-yard par 4 seems simple enough, until you arrive at your ball for the approach shot. The green is guarded by a four-foot-high stone wall that has been there for centuries. It's really not that difficult to avoid, but it is impossible to ignore.
It's only about an hour's drive from the Edinburgh airport to North Berwick.
When you arrive, there's a very nice locker room with shower facilities in the clubhouse. You can wash off your 12 hours of travel and refresh yourself for your first round in Scotland. North Berwick's managing secretary, Chris Spencer, and the head professional, Martyn Huish, are two of the nicest, most welcoming people you will ever meet. They go out of their way to make sure you enjoy your time at North Berwick. And make sure to leave time to enjoy the bar on the second floor of the clubhouse when your round is done.
One other piece of advice for your Scotland trip: Hire a transport service for the week, that way you don't need to worry about the stress of driving, especially on the left side of the road. And you'll never get lost.
We hired Fore Golf Travel. Our driver, Stuart Briggs, was tremendous. He got us everywhere we needed to go in a timely fashion and doubled as a travel guide. He helped make our week go perfectly smooth.
The rest of Mike Ritz's trip:
Day 2 of Ritz's Scotland golf trip at the Old Course in St. Andrews
Read about Day 3 of Ritz's Scotland golf trip at Kingsbarns Golf Links
Read about Day 4 of Ritz's Scotland golf trip at Royal Dornoch
Read about Day 5 of Ritz's Scotland golf trip at Castle Stuart
Read about Day 6 of Ritz's Scotland golf trip at Carnoustie