In fact it's even possible to play from the rocky beach on at least one of the holes... as I found out!
The suspenseful drive down the narrow lane to the clubhouse really whets your appetite for coastal golf.
This narrow strip of links-land takes a few holes to warm-up but once it does you will experience some thrilling and demanding shots.
Shortly before our visit in August 2013 the course had just staged Final Open Qualifying in readiness for the main event at nearby Muirfield. After the first six holes of my round I was left scratching my head slightly at why this course had been chosen to host such an important event. However, over the final two-thirds of the round it became very apparent why and I went away with no doubt that Dunbar, especially the last eight holes, will separate the men from the boys, particularly at the elite level.
Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with any of the opening half-a-dozen holes, but they just don't quite come together collectively as you might expect from a course regularly ranked as one of the best in the UK and located on such blessed terrain.
The first is either a long par four (yellow tees) or a short five (from the whites). We had a slight tail wind when we played which definitely made it a better four than a five. There are fairway bunkers to avoid but the presence of the 18th fairway to the left and second hole to the right give it a much more open appearance. The burn that runs in front of the green and more-so the pond to the left dilutes much of the 'linksy' feel to the hole.
The second, also a par five, returns to almost where you started, and is a fine hole with trouble left, a tricky green and fearsome bunker but again doesn't benefit from the proximity of the first and last holes to the right. The short downhill third is also a good hole in its own right and unusually creates a triangle with the opening two holes. It is nicely bunkered and has a wonderful green but with the first tee, 18th green, practice putting area and pro-shop all very close by it unfortunately loses some of its identity.
The walk from the third green to the 4th tee through a magnificent stone wall, that runs the length of the course and well beyond, is a real delight as you are now close to the shore and whether it is an illusion or not the breeze now feels just a little bit stronger. It's an electric feeling and the hairs on the back of your neck certainly feel a twinge of excitiment about what lies ahead.
The remaining holes, save for the 18th which is the same side of the wall as the first three, are played essentially out and back. Holes 4, 5 and 6 are a pleasant introduction to what is about to unfold.
The seventh angles delightfully around the seemingly never-ending wall before you are faced with a semi-blind approach to a depressed green that slides away from you. There's also an interesting stone building to the left that adds character.
The eighth rises slightly and is another very good medium-length par four.
The ninth uses changes in elevation well to create a wonderful hole. The drive on this par five is blind and longer hitters who hug the left can benefit from 50-60 additional yards of run if they can reach the far end of the hill. For lesser mortals the second shot is exciting with half-a-dozen or so bunkers to avoid if you are to near the green pitched well below. The view from the fairway is nothing less than amazing.
Hole ten takes you to the farthest point of the course and is an excellent par three which feeds in from the right to a green that angles away from you.
Turning for home and you are likely to face the notorious stiff 'Dunbar Breeze'. The next two holes are long par fours and run close to the sea. The 12th in particular brings the North Sea into play with the green sticking out on a tiny headland where a shot from the right-hand-side of the fairway must carry the rocky beach. Play away from the coast on your tee-shot and you will not need to carry the water but you will be playing towards it for your next. It's a superb hole and yes I did have to play my third shot from the beach, classed as a lateral hazard!
The 13th provides a breather in so much that you momentarily turn the other way. The approach is played to a green set in a bowl and is aptly named 'Pot'.
The final five holes all head back to the clubhouse but not quite is as straight a line as you might think and this makes club selection more difficult as the wind comes marginally out of a different quarter each time. The 14th and 15th are both strong par fours, the former especially, before you play the exquisite 16th. I really liked this par-three with a craggy beach to carry on the right and the wall acting as a backdrop to the hole. It sits at an unusually perfect angle and the green falls slightly away from you.
Hole 17 is not long at less than 350 yards but a small burn means that you must choose the aerial route when playing to the green.
The 18th has everything that a good finishing hole needs. It plays alongside the inland part of the wall and a drive down close to it is required to open up the green for what is bound to be a long second shot.
With so many excellent courses to choose from when visiting East Lothian this is a course that should be close to the top of your list.
It's a unique but exciting layout and is different to many other types of links golf. The back-nine provides thrill-a-minute golf.
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.
There’s very little that hasn’t been written about the golfing mecca that is St. Andrews.