THE RENAISSANCE CLUB - 16 POINTS
It takes a certain chutzpah to take a piece of land tucked between Muirfield and North Berwick - 2 of the greatest links courses in the world - and try to create a course from scratch which gets close to comparing to those great tracks. That was the vision of a wealthy American - Jerry Savardi - and he pulled out all the stops to get the job done.
The architect is Tom Doak. I have really enjoyed reading Doak's works - from his Confidential Golf Guides to The Anatomy of a Golf Course and I appreciate his philosophy for building golf courses. In the introduction to the latter Ben Crenshaw says '"It is up to the golf architect to present us with a thinking contest as well as a physical one". That's a great philosophy but I can't help thinking that Doak didn't quite live up to that ideal here.
Doak has been quite open that he was asked to design a course which is suitable for professional championship play and in the 21st century that tends to mean one thing - a long and brutal golf courses. That at the heart of it is the problem that I have with The Renaissance Club, it's just too hard for me. There are numerous long carries off the tees (playing a 500 yard + par 4 into the wind with a long carry over heavy bracken isn't my idea of fun) and both times I played it the course was set up for punishment rather than pleasure I felt. I am not alone in this view, some pros I have spoken to don’t talk about the challenge it sets them but the punishing nature of the track. Of course, others love that challenge but for me it is just too much.
The course itself isn't your traditional links setup. The ground is actually quite undulating - especially as you get down to the new holes near the water and into the back 9, and there is a lot of heavy rough in play just off the fairways. The greens are things of real trickery with some huge mounds and positioning of approach shots relative to the pin is vital. Some of the flags on the second time I played were really on the edge of acceptability however and seemed design to punish more than challenge!
Three new holes have been added - the 9th, 10th and 11th - which go down to the Firth of Forth and provide the spectacular views that the owner no doubt craved, and it would be churlish to say anything apart from that they are really good additions to the course. The par 10 4th in particular provides a wonderful setting. The course was tremendously well presented and the attention to detail is great. There are many architectural features - such as the incorporation of ancient walls - which can be really savoured.
The Renaissance Club has been very clear that it is looking to host a top professional event. Gullane 1 beat it to the Scottish Open in 2015 and a combination of the quality of the turf, 'traditional' nature of the challenge and the more inclusive nature of the club makes that an understandable decision. However, The Renaissance Club became a Final Open Qualifier course from 2018 which increased its profile more and was then rewarded with the 2019 Scottish Open. They will find a course which provides one of the very sternest tests in UK golf, but I’m not sure they will get a true links experience.
If this course were in many other parts of the the UK, and even Scotland, then it would be a 'must play' in the area. The thing is you will have far more fun teeing it up on most of the other great courses in East Lothian and for the mere mortal golfer you can feel just too beaten up. One to play once though if you make multiple visits so you can tick it off probably but if you are passing through the area once it isn't a 'must-play'.
BOOKING THE COURSE
It used to be almost impossible to get a round at The Renaissance but there is now a way, but be prepared for quite a bill. When the Scottish Open was awarded much was made of the course opening up more to the local community and visitor play. There is no evidence of this to date! However, they do offer a 'One Time Experience'. The price of this isn’t on the website but a couple of years ago if was £250 per person. OK, it's not cheap but at least you can get on now if you really want to.
They have restricted availability to Monday and Wednesdays and encourage you to stay on the property. They are also keen to point out on the website that you can only take the one time experience once in your lifetime.
The club itself only has a few hundred members and costs many tens of thousands of pounds to join so the odds are that you will pretty much have the course to yourself and be treated very well. Forecaddies are compulsory but given the difficulty of the course and thickness of the rough in theory this isn't a bad idea. Ours however was quite abysmal - gave dodgy yardages, looked in the wrong places for balls and chatted inanely all the way around. He only detracted from the ‘one time experience’.
You can see details of how to take advantage of this ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity here.
The clubhouse itself is quite something - apparently £9.2m worth of largesse. The food was good but when we were there the atmosphere wasn't overly welcoming and there were a lot of loud and drunk members but perhaps we just got it on an off day.
You are spoilt for choice in East Lothian when it comes to golf. It is possible to stay at The Renaissance Club if you are taking part in the One Time Experience but I think that North Berwick is probably the best place to stay and have a look at the tour tips here. In terms of other courses to play then Muirfield, North Berwick and Gullane Number 1 would be the top of a crop but there are many other great experiences to be had - Archerfield, the Gullane 2 and 3 and Dunbar would all work well on a trip.