Elie, Fife: course review. 'Quintessential, quirky, quaint'

Thu, 3 Sep 2015
Elie, Fife: course review. 'Quintessential, quirky, quaint'

Keen to tap into the true soul of links golf? Try Elie on Fife's south coast.

No modern “links-style” bruiser this, just a quintessential, quirky track sketched out on land where golf has been played since the 1500s.

A round at Elie is a connection with the very origins of the game, an authentic links but a contemporary challenge.  

With views over the Firth of Forth, and the distant coast of East Lothian and Edinburgh, the stretch of holes skirting the beach is a real treat. The par-four 10th over the brow of a hill to a low green teetering on the cliff edge embodies Elie’s essence.

Read: A guide to golf courses around St Andrews and Fife

The submarine periscope in the starters’ hut is another characterful feature, but it is also essential to check the first fairway, beyond the hill, is clear.

Elie, or the Golf House Club, as it is properly known, is a 20-minute drive from St Andrews and nestles on the golf-rich East Neuk of Fife (Neuk is the Scots word for corner) near the fishing villages of Crail, Anstruther and Leven.

Related: Crail's Craighead course offers a modern take on a traditional links 

A 16th century Royal Charter granted locals and visitors the right to play golf over the tract of land between Earlsferry and Elie villages, but the first mention of an official layout was in about 1770.

The Golf House Club began in 1875, with the clubhouse opening two years later. In 1974, after much wrangling and some luck, the club bought the land on which the course sits.

The area has another claim to fame - James Braid, five-time Open champion between 1901 and 1910, was born in Earlsferry in 1870.

Elie, as most people refer to it, is not long at 6,273 yards off the whites, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in spirit. 

The modern layout sets off with that funky first, originally marshalled by small boys waving red or green flags on top of the hill. Mirrors were then tried, until strong winds scuppered them.

The solution was eventually found when a periscope from HMS Excalibur was procured from the Royal Navy for £75 in 1966.

The course sets off inland but it's only a feint before the second turns abruptly back towards the coast and the heart of the Earlsferry Links, a flat, treeless tract, edged on the south and north by a ribbon of houses.

It may look nondescript, but that is missing the point. And anyway, as the round progresses and you near the sea, the views and the charm are revealed.

The teasing 10th over the brow of the hill towards the shore is followed by a corker of a par three hanging above the rocks before the 12th and 13th follow the long sweep of Earlsferry beach curving away to the north east.

The 14th turns its back on the coast ahead of a final return on 15, like a child stealing one more look in the toyshop window before beginning the gentle climb back to the venerable clubhouse.  

In that home-spun style of some ancient links, tees are often sited right next to greens, while the fairways are fast and firm and not over-generous. Fiendish pot bunkers and the often devilish rough are to be avoided at all costs, not easy with a perky south westerly.

Greens are large, undulating and slick and belie the bygone atmosphere. Old, they might be. Old fashioned they are not.

The original clubhouse has been developed over the years but the sense of history is palpable, aided by the old photos, clubs and other memorabilia on show.

Elie is raw and real, and a grower, like a favourite record that left you indifferent for the first few bars.

For a step back into history, and a contemporary challenge in splendid surroundings it is well worth including in a Fife golfing odyssey. 

Elie factfile:

Par: 70
Length: 6,273 yards
Green fee: From £77
Tel: +44 (0) 1333 330301
Website: www.golfhouseclub.org

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