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.
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.
Holes 1 – 3 are quite tough. The blind drive at the first, the second, which looks quite straightforward until you stray of the fairway and the 3rd, a long par 3 which is well guarded with a sloping green, not easy. Before you strike your ball on the third I urge you to take a bit of time to have a look at the magnificent vista that confronts you. You will not be disappointed. Take holes 4 – 9 as your breather. I am not saying that they are easy, far from it, there is still plenty of trouble to be found, but it will prepare you for the stretch between 10 + 13 which is as good as any group of holes in Scotland, the 13th in particular, is a masterpiece. You finish with four stringent par 4’s with 17 and 18 making sure that you will have earned any good medal score.
I am not saying that Elie is the best course that I have played it might not be in my top 10 but, what I do know is if I had to choose just one course to see out my golfing days Elie would be right up near the very top and I would consider myself extremely fortunate. There is nothing really that I can add, look at the other reviews, we can’t all be wrong. Elie just has a magic which is almost tangible. You can’t explain it, it is just there. It is a simple but stunning track that you just must sample, at least once, before you hang up your sticks. Roll on 5 June 2010. MPPJ.
I returned today to play in yet another Earlsferry Thistle GC John Smith/ James Braid Gents Open and – despite the heavy showers throughout the opening nine holes – loved every single minute out on the course.
I’d never really inspected the greens closely before; they are enormous and well protected with some lovely bunkering and plenty of severe slopes and cunning undulations to give the protection to par that length off the tee doesn’t provide.
And to think that only one of these putting surfaces (Braid’s favourite at the 13th) is elevated – the others just lie on the land like a series of green silk scarves between the 1st and the 18th. If you cannot putt on these greens then you cannot putt, full stop.
Elie is understated links golf at both its simplest and at its very best, with holes that just fit the landscape perfectly – I love the place to bits. The only question I have to ask myself is why I did not award the course 6 balls when I last reviewed it?