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!
What a luscious jewel. The new holes will be stunning. Looking forward to reading and hearing more about Renaissance Club.
Thank you for the review.
The course looks amazing as it is – but I am sure that the addition of the new holes will make The Renaissance Club even more special.
Steffan and Sheena, Thank you guys for the positive comments! The course was amazing and will only get better with the new holes and routing changes… Can’t wait to get down to play it post-changes.
While I think that the Renaissance Club is a fantastic golf course, As someone who has played golf in Scotland I can say that the “Members and Guests” only policy is not very popular in the UK. Here, golf is for the people, not for people who can afford an expensive membership. How hard would it be to allow visitors to play during the week? I think the Renaissance Club does not represent what golf in Scotland is about.
I had the opportunity to play as a guest of members back in the arly summer of 2015 and I was intrigued to see quite what all the fuss (and negative comments) were about. As has been said countless times The Renaissance is an American-style business model but there’s nothing wrong with that surely? For a start it means that the creation of this course and club with its £100,000 joining debenture is not taking members away from other clubs as is the case in so many places (in East Lothian I can think of at least one other newish course that isn’t needed). The Renaissance is unashamedly aimed at the top 1% of the population (ie: the wealthiest) and what’s wrong with that? The day at The Renaissance starts with pampering from the staff from the moment one pulls up into the car-park until the end of the superb after-round meal. As for the course itself, well as has been said before it is a monster off the black tees at around 7,300 yards; again quite rightly so but there are plenty of other teeing-ground options all the way forward to a 5,300 yard set-up for the ladies that my fifteen-year old, 3-handicap daughter found just a tad on the short side. The course was in immaculate condition and is every bit as spectacular and cleverly thought out and constructed as one could imagine. The greens were vast in some places and the danger for many higher-handicap players must be the thought whilst standing over the second shot of ‘anywhere on the green will do.’ Patently it won’t and well-played irons into the greens are well rewarded. And that’s where I’ll end; those who have been well-rewarded in their working lives are well-rewarded at The Renaissance and I’m not at all envious of that. I suspect some reviewers of this course and club are just a little too green-eyed for their own good. Patrick Muir
Thanks again Patrick for the thoughtful comment! That is a great attitude with which to visit Renaissance. Those who approach the club with expectations of a Gullane or North Berwick aren’t looking at the place correctly. Like you said, they are unashamedly aiming at the top 1% money-wise of golfers out there… it may not be for everyone, but it would appear that they do have a market with people flying into the area. It’s a beautiful golf course… Well timed on your visit after the completion of those three great holes down near the water!
Renaissance Club membership is based on the same membership model as Loch Lomond and Archerfield Links – a very American model. Growing up in the States and living in Scotland, I can see the merit of both styles of golf club, but agree that Renaissance does not represent the majority of Scottish golf clubs or the model established by the classic clubs of Scotland.
Played it today. It was STUNNING! Unbelievable really. I found myself drooling on those holes by the water. Serious fantasy land stuff right there.
One question… any thoughts on the “thick rough” I mean unplayable? Unfindable? Two in my group were struggling off the tee and it was just too penal. In my opinion.
My download is that I loved the course. And I agree that people need to hit it straight. The rough should punish, but not demoralize.
Hi Michael, Thanks for the comment! I’m glad that you had an great time at Renaissance Club – it really is an awesome place. During my last round at the course the rough was just as you described it – really penal and tough right off the fairway. Any shot that didn’t find the fairway was either unfindable or unplayable… It definitely makes for a less enjoyable day.
I wouldn’t have minded had that really long rough not directly bordered the fairway. The ought to keep those fairways very wide and not let the rough encroach too much! Such a fun course!
Just got back from a great trip last week where we played Renaissance last after playing N. Berwick, Dunbar, Muirfield and Gullane. Most of the group rated RC in the bottom portion of that group, but only because the other courses are so fantastic. I do think that if you play the RC more and more, the course will be appreciated more by the player. To me the biggest difference is at RC, you are facing so many challenges on a semi windy day. Rough is a monster (too penal in my opinion). Greens are in really good shape, but the undulations make if very tough to get up and down from 30-40 yards. This is a position you are in a lot since there are so many strong par 4’s into the wind.
Condition of course is outstanding. Views from course are tremendous. Overall experience at the Club in one of luxury and comfort. While some find that loses the feeling of authenticity, most of my guys love being pampered after a hard battle on the links. I will look forward to more visits to Renaissance Club on future trips.
Hi Paul, thank you for taking the time to write such a good comment! Renaissance has definitely grown on me over the 4-5 times that I have played the course. The rough during both of my last rounds was incredibly difficult. It ruined the experience for a multiple people in our group who lost quite a few balls…
It’s really tough to compare such a new course with ancient classics like North Berwick, Muirfield, Gullane, and Dunbar, but I think the course does justice to the term “modern links!”