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. Unsurprisingly James Braid later revised it. 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.
I am making my way through Scotlands Top 100 and took my father down to Elie for a game at the end of the summer in 2018. We had an excellent trip, playing on a quiet mid-week day. The course is a traditional links which provided some great and interesting shot making. As a James Braid fan it was great to see where he learnt the game and it was a scunner to bogey his favourite hole, in all golf, the 13th. Mid-way around the front nine you get clear views of the sea and you go through a great sequence of holes. The course was in good condition, the clubhouse and starter were excellent. We felt like we had stepped back in time, this is meant as a complement, I think too may courses get caught up with length and getting the 'championship' feel, this is not the case at Elie. A great fun course, which proves difficult when the wind blows.
Scotland must be full of these courses but Elie is one of my favourites. The submarine thing on the first is a bit silly but we all loved it so maybe more blind holes should have one!!! Pulled my drive left early on and it even went in someone’s garden bounced back off a window thank god it didn’t break not often you get a chance to do that. Not enough Par 3s can only remember 2? which was the only shame but all the holes are still quite different with various types flat but not too flat and all sorts of directions and it was all very natural and traditional. Wind kept us on our toes! Hardly a soul around wish golf was always like that we whizzed around. The 3 or 4 holes at the water were just perfect who needs cypress beach!!! We didn’t have time to eat there and can’t remember how much we paid but we all agreed it was great value. Cyril.
Elie is a ."Delight" to play. From the walk to the 1st tee with the "Periscope" starting house, to the raised 18th green, Elie offers every facet of Golf.
Elie might be viewed as a little eccentric by some, after all it's not often you play a course with just two par-3's and sixteen par-4's. Any concerns about the lack of variety when first viewing the scorecard are soon dispelled however as there are so many wonderful par-4's scattered throughout the round.
Uphill, downhill, blind, some driveable and others brutally long, all adds up to one of the most enjoyable rounds of golf imaginable. As interesting as the other holes undoubtedly are, I particularly enjoyed the run from 10-13 which are situated along the coastline, the 13th with a raised green angled against play and perched at the bottom of a cliff, possibly being my favourite.
Elie has a feel good factor that is difficult to quantify but the experience of playing away from town to the coast and then back in, like so many other old Scottish classics, creates its own special atmosphere. The clubhouse has had what appears to be a rather expensive refurb both inside and out, thankfully without taking away any of the old school charm. Brian W
There is something about Elie that puts you under a spell. It is a truly magical links that, after just one round, has won a place in my heart and mind forever.
If ever the phrase ‘less is more’ applied to a course it would be here at The Golf House Club, Elie in Fife. It’s a course that goes about its business in an unassuming manner, has many unique features and ultimately succeeds because of its brilliant use of the natural features of the land. The harmony between golf and nature is at its beautiful best here and a joy to experience.
The uniqueness begins before you even tee-off. That is if you are invited by the starter to peek through the submarine periscope in his office that not only ensures the group in front is out of the way, beyond the summit of the blind opening drive, but also a view of virtually the entire course and glimpses of gently undulating linksland.
The gradual falling approach to the 420-yard first is not easy to judge so early on in the round whilst neither is the superb skyline shot to the shorter second. Meanwhile, the third is as exquisite as it is simple; a downhill 200+ yarder that just begs the approach to be shaped and run in from the right.
From here you cross a narrow lane to a section of the course that houses the remainder of the holes save for the 18th which itself is a fitting closing hole to a joyous round of golf on this timeless links.
You will want to reflect on your round here, that is for sure. You will want to savour the delights it has produced, the variety it embodies and the joy its pure, undiluted golf has given. And it may not be until this point that you look at the scorecard and realise that you’ve played 16 par fours, just two par three’s and not a single par five. There is no other course that could pull this off.
The game has been played across this historic links since the 15th Century and given the superb setting it is little wonder the course is so highly regarded. I only wish there were more golf courses like Elie, although maybe the fact this type of course is so rare is what actually makes it so special.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Elie was the last course we played on a recent trip in Scotland at the end of March, and in some ways the most pleasant surprise.
I had seen it from the village end previously when unable to get on and it seemed quite plain, but the course was in great running condition, and the holes had more variety than one would expect from looking at the yardage and card. The highlight are predictably the holes at the sea end of the course, but on the way out and back the golf was great fun and one always seemed to need an extra club than expected. Add in a very friendly staff (contrary to reputation) and an already nice club house currently undergoing significant refurbishment, and the surprisingly good value and quiet game was excellent and not to be missed amongst the more obvious Fife highlights.
From the 6th hole you are closer to the sea although there is no real dune land here. The 10th is a short par four of 288 yards to a hidden green near the sea and down a steeply sloping fairway. If you don’t quite get your drive to the downslope then you have a very delicate pitch in order not to run through the green.
‘Sea Hole’, the short 11th is only 131 yards but beware if the flag is left of centre. If you are only a few feet left of this green you ball will be heading down the bank to the beach. The demanding 466-yard par four 12th is a wonderful hole which doglegs left along the seashore. There is more room than you think if you drive right of centre.
The run home is all par fours with the 17th providing the first views again of the clubhouse. The finishing hole is a medium length par four with a very well bunkered fairway that contains a swale which seems to always kick the ball to the right. A straight drive that avoids these hazards will leave just a short iron to the green.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.