If ever the phrase ‘less is more’ applied to a course it would be here at The Golf House Club, Elie in Fife. It’s a course that goes about its business in an unassuming manner, has many unique features and ultimately succeeds because of its brilliant use of the natural features of the land. The harmony between golf and nature is at its beautiful best here and a joy to experience. It's a hugely underrated golf course.
The uniqueness begins before you even tee-off. That is if you are invited by the starter to peek through the submarine periscope in his office that not only ensures the group in front is out of the way, beyond the summit of the blind opening drive, but also a view of virtually the entire course and glimpses of gently undulating linksland.
The gradual falling approach to the 420-yard first is not easy to judge so early on in the round whilst neither is the superb skyline shot to the shorter second. Meanwhile, the third is as exquisite as it is simple; a downhill 200+ yarder that just begs the approach to be shaped and run in from the right.
From here you cross a narrow lane to a section of the course that houses the remainder of the holes save for the 18th which itself is a fitting closing hole to a joyous round of golf on this timeless links.
Holes four, five and six edge you towards the sea but seven, eight and nine make you wait a little longer before you reach the water’s edge and play alongside the beautiful golden beach. Ranging from 252 to 440 yards all six of these holes are par fours, all of these holes are different, all of these holes are delightful. Bunkering is light but expertly positioned and using the contours of the green-surrounds to work your ball towards the pin allows the golfer to be as creative (and risky) as he wishes to be. Holes six and nine stand out on this glorious stretch but it is the collective that really gives you a flavour of Elie.
You then get to enjoy the most dramatic part of the course, not just in terms of the terrain and location but also in the holes themselves. Played closest to the Firth of Forth the next four holes, the final three hugging the curvature of the shoreline, are sensational.
The tenth is a driveable par four with a green out of sight, the next is a short hole played semi-blind to a green that tilts significantly from right-to-left whilst the next two, 466 and 380 yards respectively, sweep round the coast.
Twelve is a fine hole but it is the 13th that is the crowning moment. Described by the famous son of Elie, James Braid, as ‘the best hole in golf’ some will find it hard to disagree with him. The ideal drive must negotiate a centre-line bunker that can be laid-up short of or skirted on either side. This then leaves you to contemplate your second to a wide, angled and narrow raised green that is defended by a cunning ridge and hollow at the front. Do you go the aerial route or try and run it up? Either option must be executed perfectly to attain a short birdie putt. It really is a superb hole on so many different levels.
The run for home is not as exhilarating but just as exacting, especially if played into a headwind. Each of these stern two-shotters require sound hitting with only the 15th offering a realistic chance of a birdie, and then only if you get a good drive away over the crest of the hill. The total yardage at Elie is just 6,273 and par is 70 but GPS devices and range finders are not really needed here, you just play the shot you see.
You will want to reflect on your round here, that is for sure. You will want to savour the delights it has produced, the variety it embodies and the joy its pure, undiluted golf has given. And it may not be until this point that you look at the scorecard and realise that you’ve played 16 par fours, just two par three’s and not a single par five. There is no other course that could pull this off and it's in large thanks to its many half-par holes.
The game has been played across this historic links since the 15th Century and given the superb setting it is little wonder the course is so highly regarded. I only wish there were more golf courses like Elie, although maybe the fact this type of course is so rare is what actually makes it so special.