Elie is about as traditional a golf course as you will find anywhere in Scotland. It epitomises Old Tom Morris’s design principles and is an object lesson in what makes a golf course engaging and enjoyable to play. Curiously, there are no par 5s and just two short holes at Elie. That leaves what must be a record-breaking 16 par 4s. Yet such is the quality of the design that at no stage do you notice this during the round.
The game has been played across this gently rippling linksland since the 15th century. The village of Elie sits in the East Neuk of Fife, some 12 miles south of St Andrews. And just like St Andrews, the golf is seemingly inseparable from the community itself.
As is so often the way with these ancient courses that begin and end in a town, Elie starts in quirky fashion as it wrestles free of civilisation and heads for the coast. Actually, ‘quirky’ doesn’t cover the periscope in the starter’s hut that is the only way of knowing if it is safe to strike your opening drive over the crest of the hill in front of you.
The course proper begins in earnest after you cross the road to the 4th tee and immediately become acquainted with a succession of apparently simple but subtle par 4s, often involving greens set at an angle, or raised slightly or defended by awkwardly placed bunkers – or a combination of the three.
There is often a better angle to approach from at Elie. Especially on the shorter holes you will be scratching your head at the best way in – a high wedge that flies all the way or a running approach that embraces rather than aims to take the contours out of play.
There are a handful of short par 4s, countered by several longer ones and the par of 70 to a yardage of almost 6,300 yards is not a generous one. There are six par 4s over 400 yards and at least three that are drivable in the right conditions.
One obvious highlight is the 13th, Croupie, where you are closest to the beach and the green is raised and set diagonally from front right to back left. Do you have a running hook with a mid-iron in your armoury?
Another is the aptly named sea hole, just 131 yards, and played towards a backdrop of clifftops, beach and ocean.
Elie’s greatest strength, though, is not any individual hole, it is the cumulative effect of the way they blend together to form a course whose design principles have since been adapted all around the world.
Truly, if all golf courses were like Elie then we would all have more fun.
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