This review covers Renaissance Club from my first round before the clubhouse was completed all the way to my latest round, with the addition of three new holes. While the review begins with the original story, scroll to the bottom to see the three new holes!
While sitting on the train to North Berwick on my way to Renaissance Club, I fully expected to compare every aspect of Renaissance Club to its neighbor, Archerfield. On the train back to St Andrews post-round, I had come to realize that the golf at Renaissance Club offers something different to the club just down the coast. Archerfield’s two courses are there for the entertainment of the members, but at Renaissance, Tom Doak created a challenging world-class course, worthy of fighting its way into the upper half of the UK’s top 100 courses. This review looks at the evolution of the course and clubhouse, so look at the very bottom to see the finished club!
Renaissance Club opened up in 2008 with a similar ethos to Loch Lomond. Different from most Scottish courses, a largely international membership base is able to fly in and relax in a golfing haven, hidden from society, while being provided with anything of which a golfer could dream. To exemplify this, we overheard the chef asking a member, “What would you like for dinner tomorrow?” to which the member replied, “Lobster would be good…” The chef answered, “I’ll have one brought in.”
The temporary clubhouse would make most permanent clubhouses jealous. Marble floors, sinks, and showers in the locker room make me wonder what the permanent locker room will be like. I could go on about the club’s offerings and treatment of the exclusive membership, but what really stood out was the golf course.
The hole in the above picture is the 4th. After a strong first three holes, this fourth sets the tone for the round. The fairway has plenty of room to the left, but the left tree forces the golfer to favor the right side of the fairway. The green complex is something of genius with bunkers short right, and a massive backstop on the left side of the green, again encouraging the right side of the fairway for an optimal angle into the backstop.
The 7th hole is a dogleg right with the picture above being taken right at the bend of the dogleg. The green was extremely large with a tree guarding far left pins, slopes guarding the front, and bunkers guarding the right side. The 8th hole (green above) is a drivable par 4. It is also the first place that the original stone walls surrounding the course come into play. The green, like many others on the course, is massive and very undulating. None of these pictures do the slopes justice. The unfinished clubhouse can be seen in the background… It will be extremely impressive.
At the turn, a member of staff came out to offer us tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and snacks. There wasn’t a single weak hole on the back nine. The 10th, pictured above, is a long dogleg right requiring a carefully placed drive on the left side of the fairway. In another stroke of designing skill, Doak placed the last bunker on the hole at 185 yards out. How many par 5s have you seen without a single bunker around the green? Instead of bunkers, large slopes guard the green.
The 11th hole was my favorite hole on the golf course. It was an extremely strong hole, which carefully straddled the balance between too difficult and enjoyable. The picture above is taken from the tee, while the picture below is taken looking backwards from the green. The pictures don’t do the massive scale of the hole justice.
Another massive green is found at the 11th with bunkers forty yards out, thick grass and dunes left, and slopes filtering towards the ancient walls to the right. A common theme seen at the course is open, harmless entries to the greens, but miss left or right, and you’re in trouble. The 14th hole puts a premium on accurate driving. I know this personally, as I was stuck in a deep fairway bunkers on the right side of the fairway (look carefully in the picture). A “figure 8” style bunker guards the dead center, but a natural chute on the left side of the fairway will slingshot a good drive past it.
The 18th hole was playing downwind during our round and I took full advantage with a high flighted “North Carolina” style drive. The wall running across the fairway makes for a distinctive last hole that will not soon be forgotten. A shelf on the back left portion of the green makes for an interesting pin in a “make or break” situation. As you can tell from this writeup, I can only say good things about Renaissance Club. I was treated extremely well and everyone was extremely friendly. The course was in perfect condition, although the greens were slow. I can’t wait to go play again when the greens are running fast on a less windy day. I found myself wanting to write about every single hole on the course.
After reading about the course and hearing me sing its praises, you may ask yourself, why isn’t Renaissance higher in the Top 100 in the UK? The main reason is that, due to its young age and high level of exclusivity, much of the golfing world has not seen Renaissance Club. That is how the membership likes it. Another reason would be the lack of seaside views, like those found at Kingsbarns or Castle Stuart. According to my host, once the new seaside holes are finished, they will welcome the ranking panelists. At that point, I would be shocked if Renaissance doesn’t place solidly within the top 100.
UPDATE – APRIL 2014
My opportunity to revisit the Renaissance Club came nearly two years later to the day, and every promise of “just wait till _____ is completed” during my first visit has certainly come true. The attention to detail and the service at the club are excellent. Everything was first-class, from having guests’ names printed on labels in the beautiful locker room to a member of staff bringing us delicious hot snacks at the turn. The routing is slightly in flux, and during my round, the original first three holes had been taken out of circulation for the three new beautiful holes by the sea.Outside of the great Tom Doak designed golf course, the clubhouse at Renaissance Club is the most impressive feature of the club. The building is massive, with a full gym, five-star rooms to spend the night, and one of the better furnished locker rooms that I have visited (see hot tub below). The food was excellent during my visit and the service was impeccable.
Renaissance Club does not feel like other clubs in Scotland. It is built off the American model of golf club, with a high initiation fee, highly private membership, and incredible facilities. The club is closer to Loch Lomond Golf Club than to any of its East Lothian neighbors. An American, Jerry Sarvadi, headed up the development of Renaissance Club, leasing the land from the Duke of Hamilton on property from the Archerfield Estate. The land for the course lies in a “green belt” conservation area of the coast, and special permission had to be granted for the golf course. The result is a great Doak design set within naturally beautiful Scottish dunes.My camera lens broke a number of days prior to my round at Renaissance Club, so the limited photos that you see below were taken in a misty rain with my phone. I will do my best to describe the three new holes, numbers 9, 10, and 11 in the round. Brilliant photos can be found on the club website, found here.During my first visit to the club, there were no true seaside holes on the golf course. It was a feature that the owners felt was holding the course back from a higher ranking and the possibility to host the Scottish Open. Tom Doak was brought back in to design three new holes after additional land was acquired for the expansion.Two of the three new holes are par 3s. The 9th hole measures 190+ yards into a beautiful infinity green, while the 11th hole is a downhill 135+ yard par 3 with a great view. Depending on the wind, one of the holes plays into wind, while the other plays downwind. Depending on your luck that day, the one shot holes can be particularly challenging.
The 10th hole is the most impressive of the new three. The hole curls along cliffs bordering the Firth of Forth. Massive waves crashing on the beach to the left of the hole provide a nice backdrop for play. The dogleg left design has a great risk/reward aspect. Golfers can cut off as much cliff as they dare to shorten their approach to the green. The fairway runs along a hillside, and those golfers trying to play the tee shot too safe will find their ball stuck on the hill in thick grass.
I have been able to play Renaissance Club for a third time on a bright, sunny day with my camera. The round was very enjoyable, and my 73 won me a few pounds from my playing partners. If given the chance to play golf in Scotland, make sure to play the great traditional links courses. However, tacking on a round at a modern course like Renaissance Club isn’t half bad!