The history of Leven Links is, suffice to say, long and complex. Now is not the time to delve deep into those annals but effectively Leven and neighbouring Lundin Golf Club originally shared 18 out-and-back holes with two starting points at each end of the links. The course became overcrowded and inevitably the course was split; each club took nine holes and both added a new nine.
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.
I wasn’t a big fan of the blind, short fifth but with it being the only hole that runs at right angles to all the others it does mean a different wind direction is to contend with.
We now embark on a run of holes that although are further away from the sea unusually have tighter, more natural links turf. If the wind was at our backs for the opening stretch then three of the next four will be straight into your face and it is the sixth which is the best of the bunch. It’s a mammoth par five of 569-yards with out-of-bounds clinically running most of the way down the right-hand-side of the fairway; a little too close for comfort. However, there is plenty of room to the left but several bunkers complicate matters for those who choose the safer route.
At the start of the back-nine we switch direction again for three holes in a row with the tenth being my favourite of the trio. At only 338-yards this should be a birdie opportunity but the complexity of the undulating hogs-back fairway, which continues in an angled manner all the way to the green, ensures decisions must be made throughout and your execution flawless.
Then we turn again at the 13th and play another four holes which make for an excellent run of golf. A cluster of three bunkers 60-yards short of the par-five 13th largely dictate the strategy whilst the next hole, the 14th, is truly exceptional with a green complex that effectively starts 100 yards short of the green and merges brilliantly with the raised putting surface that has an angled gully not only running though it but also another larger one mimicking it on the approach; holes like these are very special, provide a battle of wits to the golfer, and can only be created by mother nature. The fine par-three 15th and the curving two-shot 16th are both stellar holes too.
Making yet another 180 degree turn and the 17th is no less grand with more accuracy required the longer you drive at this narrowing hole.
And then we come to the iconic last hole, “Scoonie”, which has a couple of routes to choose from off the tee split by the same rough, broken ground that we encountered at the first a few hours earlier. At 456-yards, and most likely into the wind, there will be few who get home in two because it requires a mighty carry for your second shot over the unique Scoonie Burn which winds its way around the right and front of the green with wooden sleepers guarding far side. The green itself is also a magnificent, sloping affair right under the shadow of the clubhouse windows. Undoubtedly one of the grandest closing holes in Scottish golf.
Many of the holes at Leven run through shallow valleys, lined by modest sand dunes and patches of gorse. But what I enjoyed most about the course was the mini-stretches of holes that run in the same direction. Many site the routing at Muirfield as being superior because you never play a hole in the same direction but here I really enjoyed the challenge of playing a few holes with or against the wind in a row; with a tailwind you knew you had to make hay whilst the sun shone but into the teeth of the breeze it was a case of hanging on and grinding it out waiting for your next U-turn.
The greens ran true and quickly just as good links greens should! They are contoured gracefully and although they are not undulating many have some serious slopes, particularly towards the end of the round.
There are many bunkers dotted across the links; deep, revetted and penal just as good links bunkers should be! Some can be seen, others are hidden. Some are there to tempt whilst others are there to deter.
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.
Eyemouth is an easy-going, golf course with many different sections but mostly plays along the clifftops of the beautiful coastline close to the England-Scotland border.
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.