Leven Links is located just off the promenade, about 10 miles south of St Andrews. Two clubs play over the course, the Leven Golfing Society and Leven Thistle Golf Club. Keeping watch over them is the Leven Links Committee. The course was originally laid down in 1846 as a nine-hole layout, so the Leven Golfing Society is one of the world's oldest golf clubs. In 1870, the Standard Life Assurance Co. gifted the club a medal, which is still annually contested. This competition is now thought to be the world's longest running amateur stroke play championship.
Old Tom Morris was called in on 4th August 1865 to advise on the re-positioning and addition of new bunkers. Again in 1868, Old Tom was brought back again to extend the course from nine to eighteen holes, and to mark this occasion, an inaugural match was staged, which was won by Young Tom Morris. The status quo remained until 1909.
"Leven, a truly charming course, has, alas! ceased to exist in its old form," wrote Bernard Darwin in his 1910 book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles. “Nine of the old holes now belong to a new and reconstituted Leven, and the other nine belong to Lundin Golf Club. It is a sad pity, but the difficulty of two starting places made it in these crowded times inevitable.”
Today's Leven hasn't changed much since the division occurred in 1909. The course measures a modest 6,551 yards from the medal tees against a par of 71, but the wind often laughs in the face of the yardage figures. The best were tested at Leven in July 2005 when the course was used for Qualifying for the Open which returned to the Old course at St Andrews.
Leven is blessed with some fine holes and the first four run parallel with the delightful Largo Bay. But our favourites are the closing two par fours. A decent drive down the left of the 17th fairway will leave a short iron to the green. If you hit your drive down the right, you'll be faced with a tricky blind approach shot.
Bringing the round to an end is a truly memorable closing hole, measuring 455 yards. The wind will dictate the level of difficulty in terms of the length of approach shot. But whether it's an approach with a wedge, or with a long iron, it's certainly a nerve-jangling shot. A wide burn, called "Scoonie" (also the name of the hole) coils its way like a serpent around the front of the green, which seems to be supported in mid air by a myriad of railway sleepers. The green is positioned magnificently underneath the historic turreted Leven Golfing Society clubhouse. What a great finale.
There are many fine courses to play in the Kingdom of Fife, but no trip to this fabled part of Scotland would be complete without a round over historic Leven Links, host to Open Qualifying on numerous occasions, most recently in 2005.
Leven Links, home to the Leven Golfing Society and Leven Thistle Golf Club, is just about as genuine a Scottish links as you can get. This old fashioned layout goes somewhat under the radar in Fife but it is a course you should seek out if heading to the Home of Golf.
The present day routing, which came into force in 1909 and plays to a par of 71 with a yardage of 6,551, takes us straight along the coast for four excellent holes with the shoreline never more than a lob wedge away on our right. We tee off close to the Promenade and the sound of coins clanging and crashing out of the penny slots in the nearby amusements before we pass a caravan park and then finally the landscape becomes more unspoilt and the beach and sea of Largo Bay can be seen in all their glory. The fifth tee is as lovely a spot as any in Fife.
The frantic opener introduces us to undulating broken ground before you play over sand to a green that falls rapidly away from you on a ridge. The second is a sublime hole with the option of playing down one of two fairways - your choices are the easy route to the right but you’ll be left with a blind approach or a carry of 200-yards over a pair of bunkers down the left for a better angle and visibility into the green. Meanwhile, holes three and four serve up more classic links golf and take us to the boundary wall shared by Lundin.
This opening quartet of holes is nothing less than superb and a wonderful introduction to the delights of golfing at Leven.
With its fine bents and fescues, its humps, bumps, hollows and wispy rough Leven could be well used as the very definition of a true links. And if you like this rustic type of golf it will be hard not to appreciate what this endearing course has to offer.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Interestingly, the short 5th runs parallel with the short 5th at Lundin on the other side of the fence. The next is by far the longest hole at 569 yards. Out of bounds by way of Silverburn Park on the right is a popular resting place for errant second shots.
The 12th should be an easy par five from the championship tee but it is a very difficult par four of 476 yards from the normal men’s tee. If you are playing Leven for the first time then beware of the burn at the back of the green.
The 18th at Leven is the hole you will most likely remember. It is a tough par four of 457 yards with the wide Scoonie Burn running right in front of the apron of the green. The green is on a raised area supported by wooden sleepers. If you are unlucky enough your second shot might clear the burn, hit the sleepers and rebound back into the water.
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.
I revisited Leven today after an absence of two and a half years but that short span of time had only made my heart grow fonder for a course that I really love. The opening four holes make brilliant use of the sand ridges and hollows to route the fairways and site the greens en route to the Mile Dyke that separates the course from Lundin next door.
Three excellent par threes are then faced before the turn, each of them played in a different direction to heavily bunkered greens. Be sure to make your score on the front nine as the inward half is 470 yards longer and a lot tougher – as witnessed by back to back par fours at holes 12 and 13 which measure 476 and 471 yards from the regular yellow tees!
The loop of three holes at the end of the round are as demanding as you will find anywhere and a par four at the brilliant last (456 yards from the whites, 457 yards yellows!) will be one of the most satisfying you could ever hope to mark on a scorecard.
The severity of the challenge never lets up from start to finish; switch off and you’ll run up big numbers, stay focused and you’ll be engaged in a thrilling joust with the course over each and every one of its 18 holes. Leven offers superb winter 4-ball tee times where they even throw in a 2-course meal – an invitation to fill your boots, surely?
Leven Links may appear to be the poor relation when compared to Lundin Links, the more manicured neighbouring course on the east side of the Mile Dyke, but don’t let its apparent lack of TLC (or relative position in any rankings) fool you into thinking it’s an inferior course – that's absolutely not the case!
Its SSS of 72 against a par of 71 tells you all you need to know about how tough a track it is as I found out when returning to play in the Leven Golfing Society Gents Open six years after I first tramped the fairways here in 2003.
Only four of the eleven par fours are more than 400 yards from tee to green (with the best kept ‘til last) but Leven is not about length – it’s about keeping your ball out of trouble as many of the fairways are tight, with rough and gorse waiting to snare anything offline.
Anticipate a stiff examination of your golfing abilities here but also expect to enjoy every single minute of your time out on the course as it’s a great example of traditional Scottish links golf.