Few regions in the world capture the imagination of the golfer as much as the "Kingdom of Fife" where Elie sits within a small seaside village facing south across to Edinburgh and East Lothian. Golf at Elie can be officially dated back to 1589 when a royal charter was passed granting the villagers official permission to play over the ancient links. But in reality, golf was probably played here much earlier, as a competitor to archery. In 1832, the Elie and Earlsferry Golf Club was founded and, after the clubhouse was built in 1875, the club changed its name to the Golf House Club.
A number of clubs have playing rights over the Elie links and, at the age of fifteen, James Braid joined one of them, the Earlsferry Thistle Golf Club. Writing in Advanced Golf, Braid declared that a man in Earlsferry who did not play golf, unless for good and obvious reason, was a crank. So it will come as no surprise that the game is taken very seriously here in the hometown of the illustrious James Braid, son of an Elie ploughman, prolific architect and five times British Open Champion.
Initially nine holes, eleven, fourteen and then, Old Tom Morris stretched Elie to eighteen holes in 1895. There are so many great courses in the Kingdom of Fife and Elie is certainly one of them, but it’s also an unusual course, which is apparent right from the off. The opening drive is blind and there’s a vintage submarine periscope located at the starter’s hut on the 1st tee – salvaged from HMS Excalibur – to see over the hill to make sure that the group in front is out of harms way. A quiet spell follows until the sea views open up at the 6th after a drive over the hill.
The round continues with views over the Firth of Forth to North Berwick, Muirfield and Gullane, though beware concentrating on the views in the tricky mid section of the course. The inevitable wind from the Forth ensures the golfer is well aware of its seaside character. Playing to handicap will be challenging because the holes run in all directions so the wind plays an even more pivotal role.
With no par fives and only two par threes, you would expect many monotonous par fours, but Elie is actually an exciting course. It’s also very strong, with six holes measuring more than 400 yards. The most memorable holes are those that run alongside the Firth of Forth. The 12th is the longest hole on the course, measuring 466 yards, and it follows the curvature of the golden sandy beach. “The best hole in golf” was how James Braid felt about the 13th hole, sheltering beneath the cliffs of Kincraig Point. Setting out for home from the 14th, the course continues to present the challenge of undulating fairways, and a variety of shots to subtle greens. The closing two holes take you back into the middle of the town in a similar vein to the way in which the Old course concludes at St Andrews.
If you are interested in history and you want to play an exciting but challenging links course, then look no further than Elie. You will not be disappointed.
Ellie has been described to me as a “hidden gem” in Scotland. I had been eager to play it for over five years and today I had my opportunity. We had a day of limited sun with clouds and a slight chill. The wind was calm to low.
The course plays “longer” than it’s length of 6273 yards as there are no par 5’s and only two par 3’s of which one is short at 131 yards.
The course feels nearly as quirky as North Berwick West due to a high number of blind shots requiring guide poles as well as terrain changes near the greens that sometimes disguise the entry points and particularly the slopes of the greens. Many will admire and enjoy the characteristics of the course while others might find too many of the holes to be gimmicky, even if natural.
One thing I found interesting is that the first twelve holes can feel cramped, yet there is a significant amount of unused land within the middle of the course. The course was worked on and adjusted for hundreds of years but likely not much since Old Tom Morris reworked it. I felt as if the routing could be changed to improve the course.
As to the course we found the course in excellent condition even if the greens were slow, ranking among the slowest I have played. I very much admired the green surrounds as well as many of the surfaces of the greens with small shelves and slants. The greens are of various sizes appropriate to the length of the hole.
The bunkering is okay although the bunkers appeared a bit deeper on the inward nine.
The fairways are wide with the exception of the finishing hole. One really should not miss many fairways here.
There is a lot of land movement on the first three holes and then the tenth up a steep hill fallowed by a falloff to the sea.
It begins with a sharp uphill that should be easily carried to a large green where coming in from the left side is preferred.
The second is a short par 4 uphill to a green placed on the same dune that you have to carry on the tee shot of the first.
The third is a long par 3 of 214 yards but playing downhill to a terrific green with a lot of inner movement.
The fourth plays uphill and is one of. the lesser holes on the course.
The fifth has perhaps the most interesting series of rises and falls in the land beginning about 90 yards before the green. The final dip is about ten feet deep fronting the green creating a false front.
The sixth plays up then down and one feels they should land short to allow the ball to run onto the green. Yet the left side has a shelf that extends nearly halfway into the hole. If one stays on the shelf then they will face a speedy putt downhill and then likely up again. It is perhaps the best green on the course. Off to the left of the green are several mounds, bunkers and a trench. There is good fairway bunkering as well.
The seventh is a short par 4 that is drivable although a blind tee shot. It is not a good hole and finishes the quality of the course.
Eight is a slight dogleg left but offers a wide fairway. It is listed as the number one index although there are six holes more difficult.
Nine is a good long par 4 with a huge falloff at the green which for most players will be a blind approach shot.
Ten is a short par 4 climbing up a steep hill. If one does not make it they will have a blind approach shot of perhaps 100 yards playing 15 yards shorter due to the steepness f the hill down to the green. I felt this green should be located in the corner where the artificial turf is for the short eleventh. I did not care for this hole.
The eleventh is a short par 3 of 131 yards that without wind is boring.
The twelfth is a good hole at 466 yards playing as a dogleg left over the elbow of the coastline. It is a good hole.
The thirteenth is one of the best par 4’s I have ever played. The hole is 380 yards but the green is elevated and angled right to left. We had a back left pin and felt as if the hole plated 40 - 50 yards longer. There is a lot of land movement on the left side near the green. It is a remarkable hole.
Fourteen plays from an elevated tee but is a somewhat benign hole.
Fifteen is a short par 4 of 338 yards with another blind approach shot.
Sixteen turns back to the clubhouse and has perhaps the third best fairway bunkering.
Seventeen is a long par 4 with a green that has a more pronounced slope to the right than it appears, much like fourteen.
The eighteenth is short but the back tee offers an interesting angle as a dogleg left. This hole has the best bunkering of any hole, good land movement, and a very large green, although disappointingly flat.
Elie, The Golf House Club, is a course that is fun to play, offering several strong holes but obviously not in the league of the better courses near it. I do hope that more layers will discover it as they make a stop to Dumbarnie or up to the bigger names at St Andrews. I likely will not rush back to play it although I put it in the same category at Crail Balcomie or Brora. In particular I will remember the thirteenth.
Proper links (in comparison wth near neighbours Lundin and Leven, where there is also a parkland/heathland feel). Lots of quirkiness (which 8 love). Holes 11 to 13 are special, particular 13 where there is a magnificent escarpment as a backdrop to the green. One suggestion on what is a otherwise a wonderful golf course is that the excellent par 3, 11th is a better and certainly more scenic hole from Astro turf tee at the far left of the teeing area.
Its always nice to mark a personal centenary by playing a marquee or more recognised golf course, and the attraction to play on the course where James Braid learnt to play for me was good enough to put some extra effort in getting a few more courses in than planned in recent weeks. I am fascinated by the great man and have read many of his references and thoughts to his home course over the years, and how it shaped his own course design.
Formed in 1875, the club is criticised by many I have spoken too for still upholding certain traditions regarding, but personally I respect the values and for one round of golf can't see any problem with the standards expected.
Onto the course and its clear from the get go that Mr Braids love of blind tee shots on his courses had to be influenced by Elie, the theme runs throughout the course with a number of blind approach shots littered throughout.
The fairways have natural contours and roll off areas that demand respect and I can see if we had not played on one of the calmest days possible how impactful they would be. The greens were surprisingly undulating for such an old links course, putted nicely and had good protection from the numerous bunkers surrounding each complex.
The second hole not the longest par 4 is a great hole for me, when the wind is more harsh I could imagine the difficulty in hitting a long iron into a small well protected uphill target, as it was on the day we played it was a flick with a wedge. Hole after hole delivered natural rugged links golf holes, as you get to the turn the wonderful sea views become more abundant and adjacent with the 10th (a short risk reward hole) being a flavour of the next couple of holes. The 11th is a great short par 3 that truly hugs the shoreline, thankfully for me the tide was low and I was able to chip out of the hazard, and again I can see the severity of the hole could be more extreme in a higher wind.
Next up 12 and 13 are my favourite holes on the course not only due to the natural beauty of the shoreline but the shape of the fairways and green complexes, 2 strong holes that are a joy to have played. As you come into the home stretch there are not too many opportunities to make birdies, and the importance of distance control becomes apparent with the green complexes being 2-3 club differences in length.
Overall a thoroughly enjoyable course and one great to tread the footsteps of the great Mr Braid.
The last 2 days of the trip where to be in St Andrews with the rounds at Dumbarnie and Balcomie Links confirmed expecting some luck on the Ballot for the Auld Lady but that didn’t happen with the adding that no players were allowed to join as walk ins so we went there 4am for nothing …hearbreaking! Once the started arrived and told us how slim our chances where to play we drove to Dumbarnie and came back after the round for a sandwich at The Old Pavillion expecting the miracle in a no clouds sunny day with little wind … it would have been perfect but it was sad. But life and golf do not always take from you and when they give you it is in big.
We were studying courses which we hadn’t played before in previous trips and Torrance at Fairmont seemed a good one as it was close but my friend came with the Elie idea and we drove straight to it. Why I tell this? Because after the disappointment of missing the Auld Girl I played a fantastic round and made a hole in 1 on 3rd. Life takes things away but always gives you something back!
We teed off 4:20pm in a sunny afternoon to find a stunning course, pure fan with 16 par 4s and just 2 par 3s (one too easy jeje!) and a variety of lengths and angles that made it great. Blind tee shots, blind approaches, views amazing with The Glen clearly white at the back of 10th green for example.
The course plays quite generous off the tee which is good in a place where wind can be a true factor and the biggest challenge comes with the approaches as you need to be sharp to judge where to land the ball, when to go directly to the pin and when to land it 30yds short.
I would highlight many holes, really:
1st with a blind tee shot to a very generous landing area. Off the tee it seems narrower.
2nd short 4 with uphill approach, if short she can come 20yds back.
3rd … a great 3 downhill where you need to land it short and if precise you can even make a hole in 1!
7th a great short par 4 with pot bunkers making you think if worth to hit driver.
10th very good short 4 with a ridge to carry to a downhill landing area.
12th a long 4 dogleg left by the coast, stunning. 13th shorter but with the best green on the course breaking strong to the left.
14th and 17th two demanding long 4s slightly uphill, playing in unusual wind hit 4 iron both times.
18th with a small Valley of Sin short of the green is a nice finishing short 4.
Course was very well maintained, greens in very good speed and have to highlight the bunkers with very well kept borders and very tidy. Some greens had breaks tough to identify which make it a little bit more challenging, but a fair test even for scratch golfers. With no par 5s you need to tackle the short par 4s and number 3 which played very easy that day!
It was not just the Hole in 1, a fantastic old fashion Club House with great food and a very nice terrace with the ocean in the horizon makes this diamond well worth the visit.
This course shows that you can go to Scotland, stay in a nice B&B and play courses like Elie, Leven, Crail Balcomie, Lundin, Ladybank, Panmure and leave yourself some cash to play one or two of the high end ones to be quite affordable. If Climate is going to be be what we had this week Scotland will need to extend their daylight, build hotels and more courses because everybody will head straight to the Thistle!
Elie is one of the hillier links you’ll find, and that helps to keep a course with 16 par 4s incredibly diverse. The only similarities I found between a couple of holes were greens with blind approaches and fun slopes to roll your ball down. These holes are all very different in length. Pitching on to one after a trademark toed iron, it’s very much a case of chip 20 yards, watch your ball roll 25.
The fairways have some of the biggest humps and hollows that you’ll find, with lots of collection areas around greens to enjoy/endure as well. It’s a pretty wild routing, with various swoops down to the sea that peak at the short par 4 10th (pictured). Playing along or even from the beach, the long 13th finishes seaside in front of a big rocky hill that looks like something from Game of Thrones.
Elie is high on the quirk-scale, but there is also an understated class around the land that helps find a fine balance between fun and stern test. I’ve played most of the mid-price links in Fife now (not Crail), and would put this above St Andrews New, Leven and marginally above Lundin.
Despite playing Elie around 10 years ago, I can still picture the periscope on #1 - which helps determine if the blind fairway up ahead is clear. I’m sure when I looked through it I saw a lady doing something that would make Patrick Reed look like a choir boy (but perhaps I’m imagining it now). There is recall of a decent short hole sweeping downhill at #3. I also can’t forget hitting a window on #4. My heart was in my mouth but the club pro I was playing with simply laughed it off. He’d obviously seen it all before.
Then there was the tricky undulating short par 4 #6 that heads down towards the beach, that saw my rumpled kilt thin somehow weave its way past a plethora of bunkers and mysteriously come to rest in the green. The imaginatively named #8 was another highlight that sticks in the mind for no particular reason - but maybe it was the Dutch who brought golf tonFife after all. And from a purely golfing perspective there is a lovely stretch of holes from #10-13, which would be worth the admission price alone if only the green fee was a little more friendly. A birdie at #16 confirmed that was obviously, with absolute certainly, the best hole on the course.
This place, where James Braid learned to play, is not a hidden gem - it can’t be at a £105 a round peak season. I’ve bought Ford Escorts for less. It also has a few average holes. But it’s an idyllic little corner to enjoy some golf - and the course left me with more vivid memories than you can shake a stok at.
Having heard so many wonderful comments about The Golf House, I was eager to include Elie in my Fife itinerary which proved to be a huge success. The opening two holes take you out and back before the elevated tee box on the splendid downhill par 3 3rd hole gives you a superb panoramic view of the town of Elie and what’s ahead of you out on the course as you migrate towards the sea. A string of medium length par 4s have challenging angles and bumps bring you down towards the end of the property before the drivable 7th turns you back around.
The stretch of 9 through 12 hug the dramatic coastline and present the beautiful backdrop of the famous Elie cliffs. The rugged nature of those holes is a sight to behold including the epic downhill approach into the 9th with the water in the background. I really enjoyed the short par 3 10th and the heroic 11th which requires a tee shot over the water from the medal tee. The 12th hole is arguably the most scenic hole on the inward half with the high cliffs within arm’s reach just behind the green-site. The closing 6 holes have a brilliant routing that traverse nicely across hills and are hugely impacted by the wind direction.
Elie is hugely enjoyable to play as you have plenty of birdie opportunities and really must study to land to determine where to land your ball among the humps and bumps. Great value for money, wonderful golf, commendable topography and without the hassle of St. Andrews makes Elie a must-play when you play your holiday to Fife. It’s a refreshing golf course that will certainly be a highlight.
#ElieGolfClub is exciting, with spectacular views and lots of character. Home town of James Braid....but surely he can’t have spent much time here considering how many courses he was involved in!
Located by the twin fishing villages of Elie and Earlsferry, if you’re searching for golf with charm and character when visiting Fife, then look no further than Golf House Club Elie. Routed surprisingly close to rows of seaside cottages before heading out to a breath-taking stretch along the coast, Elie is one of the most eccentric courses that I’ve played.
Starting bizarrely with the famous periscope located by the first tee and featuring double flag greens at both 9 and 18, Elie is nothing if not quirky. But there’s more to Elie than just its oddities. It’s a course that combines architectural diversity with, at times, outstanding beauty. Of the opening holes, the 2nd would be my personal pick where this modest length par four is played uphill to a raised green that marks the most elevated point of the course. After passing by, or preferably via the pub adjacent to the 4th tee, the 5th is the next most memorable hole amongst the front nine, notable mainly for how you’ll be challenged with bulges and lumps when approaching that green. Otherwise, whilst the residential surroundings make for an intriguing setting, my observations regarding the opening nine are that it can get a little fieldy in places, and the rough can be somewhat clumpy making it easy to lose your ball if you have a tendency to be a little wayward from the tee.
Elie’s qualities really begin to shine when playing the second shot into the 9th, a half blind approach shot into a sunken green that provides a taster of the world-class series of holes that’s to come between holes 10 through 13. The 10th is a big dipper of a hole that rises to a high summit before crashing back down to the rocky beach at the shoreline. A sweet little par three follows, where the tee is set back against the coastline before a curving, yet demanding par four guides you along the grassy bank beside the seafront at the 12th. The beautifully photogenic 13th must be regarded as Elie’s signature hole where a shelf-top green hangs under the cliffs of Kincraig Point at the far corner of the property. 14 and 15 then play parallel to one another before the course returns back to the clubhouse via the closing three solid, albeit less dramatic holes.
My honest assessment is that Elie is probably a little inconsistent to be labelled amongst Scotland’s great courses, but beyond the quirk and the handful of spectacular holes mid-round, there’s also a sense of wistfulness and melancholy about a round at Elie that I’ve never experienced before on a golf course, something that borders on the eerie, and it’s for this combination of factors why Elie must be included on any golfing itinerary to the region.
Another course worthy of a visit. The only time I have used a periscope !
A pleasantly strange feeling of playing through a village at certain points on the course but really enjoyed the visit.