Monday, 3 January 2011

10 Best Greens - 16th at North Berwick

Approach from the left side

The approach is usually only a short iron after a good drive. The green has no bunkers and lots of short grass in front that can be used creatively. Yet this green remains one of the toughest approach shots I’ve ever seen.

The green looks like two small plateau green greens separated by a deep diagonal swale that runs in between. The front section features a small plateau, slightly hidden at the front behind a and set approximately two feet above native grade. The right and back edges of this green all slope off into the short grass around the outside which places a premium on keeping the ball in the middle since anything at the edge will run down and away from the green.

The swale in yellow, the green angle in blue
The back plateau is half the size and effectively double the height since the area immediately below the plateau has been lowered a foot to raise the grade of the plateau up. Since the back is twice as high and half the size, the premium on success is so fine that most players do not play for this plateau. Being long or wide leaves an incredibly tough recovery shot and a certain bogie (or sometimes worse).
 The key to the difficulty is the “two” angles that are in play. The green is set on 
The green surface
a diagonal to the approach shot which can be minimized by going left. This brings the swale into play as a potential backstop, but requires incredible distance control to get the ball up on either plateau since you are playing into the narrowest angle of the green.

The other option is to play to the right which requires less distance control, but a lot more accuracy. This time the diagonal swale becomes a serious hindrance since its angle cuts the front section shot and the back section becomes harder to access since the swale deflects the ball hard left. This is no easy approach either.
The green from the right
The green is all about the conflicting angles and how they combine to make this a beastly test since no matter where the approach, the effective target gets minimized by the way the two angles cross. The triangular shaped ends up top near the swale may be flat, but effectively they have become inaccessible on the approach due to limited depth. The net result is too areas that play half their “real” size when you approach.

There are hardly a handful of greens that could explain the technique of conflicting angles as good as this one, but even intuitively its easy to understand why this green is one of the best the game has ever produced.


  1. As soon as I label anything my favourite, something usually comes along to knock it off top spot. Not so with the 16th at North Berwick. This has to be the best combination of fun and challenge I've played todate. I'd guess the green speeds at North Berwick average 8, allowing us to enjoy this marvel.
    The only green I've played that comes close is the Himalayas at the Ladies Putting Club of St Andrews, where the green speeds are even lower.
    Ummmh, what can I learn from this? If all North American golfers would spend one hour on the Himalayas, there might never be another flat green built on this side of the Atlantic. Green speeds would be low. We'd mow the greens every second day and leave them at a sensible height that minimizes the need for soil additives, chemicals, and water. Play would speed up and golf would cost less.
    Great blog, Ian. Thanks

  2. Dave,

    Thanks for the comments.

    I recently looked at a completely flat site and was faced with the question about whether I could do something interesting enough with the site. The more I thought about how to handle the situation the more I began to think about holes set on relatively flat land that were still a thrill to play. I began with Kingston Heath, but soon thought of this hole and how the green alone made it fascinating. Then I thought why this hasn’t been incorporated anywhere else. This is one of the most brilliant ideas available, yet never borrowed to my knowledge.