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.
Never mind that Elie is not in the top 100 list, or even, incredibly, the top 200 list on this website as this course offers the traditional Scottish links REAL DEAL, believe me. It can be bracketed alongside other nearby courses such as Crail, Leven and Lundin which offer golfing challenges to satify the most demanding links golfer.
I have played in three James Braid Opens now in four years at Elie, each time as a guest of Earlsferry Thistle (whose clubhouse lies alongside the eighteenth fairway) so but I have never entered the portals of the Golf House Club who own the main clubhouse beside the final hole – not that that should concern me in the slightest as the welcome from the guys a couple of hundred yards away has always been extremely warm. This is relaxed, almost holiday, golf - even if competing in an amateur Open competition.
The main webpage feature of this course mentions six holes of over 400 yards but that then means there are ten others of less than that distance (three of which are under 300 yards) so it is not overly taxing in terms of length but there are blind drives and approaches to be negotiated – traditional golf that would not be countenanced by modern golf course architects but which endears itself to the more mature golfer who appreciates what has stood the test of golfing time for not far off two hundred years.
Elie is a must play for discerning golfers who might want to shy away from the "championship" courses elsewhere in Fife.