“If North Berwick doesn’t tick every box for you, I will never talk to you again,” joked a fellow golf traveller.
I was delighted to assure him that it absolutely did.
On a gorgeous day on a mesmerically wonderful course, I played the best golf round of my life so far.
Yes, this was the day I finally broke 80 at a top 100 venue – 77 off a 13 handicap, including four birdies.
I was at one with North Berwick. I loved its layout, its quirks, its turf and was inspired by its staggering views.
I knew all would be well when it seemed that my drive on the second hole seemed to be heading for the beach but bounced off the rocks onto the fairway. From then on, it was one of those mornings, we all dream about.
This is a sensational venue for golf but was even more special because of our host – a jovial member who pointed out its potential pitfalls and its routes to success.
We arrived to a glorious sunrise and from then on, every moment was stellar.
Before teeing off on the first hole, we were warned that “everything is in play” including paths, walls, fences and even the beach.
The par-four ascends from left to right around a rocky chasm to a steeply sloping green with the backdrop of the Firth of Forth. It is a cracking opener.
“Beach!”, I hollered as I struck the aforementioned shot on the second, expecting to be playing from the sand before watching the ball pinball off the rocks.
This is one of the most famous holes on the course, angling around the coast on the right with humps and hillocks on the left.
North Berwick’s famous stone wall is seen for the first time on the third, a long par-four against the wind. Fortunately, I managed to steer my second shot over it and was very happy to record a five.
I think we were lucky that there had been a lot of rain in East Lothian and the greens were running slower than usual and the borrows seemed less fierce than we expected.
This was relevant at the lovely par-three fourth where my ball slinked inside a sand trap off the left to rest just wide of the green. Surprisingly, my long putt kept straight and just missed the cup.
After the fairly straightforward par-four fifth comes a dazzling short hole over a ginormous bunker.
As my compadres all found the putting surface, I watched my ball stick on the bank above the trap.
This was another sign that the golfing Gods were favouring me because any other day, it would surely have fallen back into the sand. Instead, I was able to chip to a couple of feet and take par.
They were smiling again on the seventh, a short par-four with the main threat a rather large burn in front of the green.
After a pleasing drive, I topped my ball over a hump towards the water and was incredulous when I saw that it had stopped on the downslope.
The first par-five is on the eighth, where every stroke demands avoidance of at least one of the 11 bunkers while out-of-bounds threaten down the left-hand side. I weaved the ball through the obstacles and nurdled my putt into the cup for a very welcome birdie.
It was the springboard to a startling sequence.
“When this hole flooded a couple of years ago, the captain’s wife swam in the bunker for charity,” said our host as we approached the green on the ninth.
That vision must have inspired me because I zinged my approach past the false front to six feet and sneaked another birdie.
We turned towards the town and took in more astonishing views on the gorgeous tenth – a par-three surrounded by deep pot bunkers.
Astonishingly, I followed up a handsome tee shot by sinking the putt for a two and my compadre followed suit.
The hits nearly kept coming on the par-five 11th which runs parallel to the beach with rough down the left and devilishly placed traps on the right.
Such was my luck on this day, that I thinned my approach and watched in bewilderment as it landed 15 feet from the flag, avoiding the bunker which runs almost the length of the green to the right.
I was only inches away with my putt for a fourth consecutive birdie.
But it wasn’t the end of my good fortune – as I nicked a three on the par-four 12th, another stunning dog leg towards the beach with a sloping green protected by a big bunker.
I had long imagined playing the 13th at North Berwick with its slither of green hidden behind a stone wall.
To be honest, with a gentle breeze behind it wasn’t as tricky as I would have imagined because it simply demanded a straight drive and seven-iron clip far enough over the obstacle to hit the left of the green.
Concentration is tested on every hole because each has a dramatic new challenge.
The 14th is known as Perfection – a curving par-four through wild undulations before a blind approach to a green framed by the sea. I thinned mine and nearly ended up on the beach.
“How did you get on at Redan?”, asked an East Lothian local later in the day. He meant the startling par-three 15th – my only double bogey of the round.
The hole is defended by swales and deep traps and my ball found the sand just in front of the green which slopes from front to back.
North Berwick’s burn re-emerges on the 16th and one compadre saw his drive literally go over its bridge.
If the ball stays dry there are still swales and run-offs which make finding the target a stern challenge.
I was very chuffed with a par there and especially on the 17th an undulating classic with a green perched on high above a steep incline and frightening wide and deep bunker.
And that left the 18th which has distinct echoes St Andrew’s Old Course’s famous home hole.
Because it shares its fairway with the first, there is a very wide landing area to the left but the row of parked cars on the right (including mine when we played) looks like a ball magnet.
Fortunately, I avoided my own windscreen but bodged my chip into the valley of sin on the right of the green and could only manage bogey.
Nevertheless, this was the round where the stars aligned.
I would have loved North Berwick regardless of my score – it is one of the great adventures in golf.
The fact that we had a wonderfully knowledgeable and entertaining host, the light enabled the views to be at their peak and my score was the best of my top 100 travels so far, made it one of the most memorable mornings of my life.
I would go back in a heartbeat.