Fife is bursting with courses, but any golf-loving visitor to the region is magnetically drawn to St Andrews like a moth to a flame. Following the pilgrim trail when golfing in Fife, your journey must start in the “Auld Grey Toon.”
Think golf in St Andrews and you’ll probably picture: The Swilken Bridge, Hell Bunker and the Road Hole. It’s not surprising; the Old Course is the most famous in the world. But the town is blessed to have six further tracks to choose from. The New Course is perhaps the best of the bunch after the iconic Old. It may not have the status of elder brother, but the quality of the layout is certainly comparable.
The New is, of course, not so new. Designed by the legendary Tom Morris, it was opened for play in 1895. It’s a traditional out and back links with classic gorse-lined holes, narrow fairways, pot bunkers and undulating greens. Quite simply, it’s one of the best links layouts in Scotland.
Golfing in Fife – Inland
Just a couple of miles from the links, looking down on St Andrews from within the boundaries of beautiful Craigtoun Park waits a totally different golfing in Fife experience. Owned by the Old Course Hotel – one of the most luxurious in Scotland – The Dukes has a heathland feel. Originally designed by Peter Thomson, the course was recently re-modelled by American architect Tim Liddy. He lengthened a number of holes, softened the edges of the bunkering and changed the finishing stretch. With spectacular views of the town and across the Firth of Tay towards Carnoustie, The Dukes provides an excellent alternative to the links courses on the edge of West Sands.
Looking at a map of East Fife, St Andrews appears to be the region’s heart. Roads run like arteries from it into the countryside. Each one sends those golfing in Fife in different directions to explore the myriad of courses the Kingdom of Fife has to offer. Head down the A91 through Cupar and you’ll reach Ladybank.
With springy turf, heather-lined fairways, pine trees and beautiful greens, this is a heathland course reminiscent of the great heathland layouts of the Home Counties. For many, Ladybank is, along with Blairgowrie’s Rosemount and The Kings at Gleneagles, one of the very best inland courses in Scotland.
With the trees encroaching on a number of holes, accuracy is crucial and you’ll likely find yourself attempting numerous Seve-style recovery shots during a round here.
Golfing in Fife – Back to the Coast
Take the A917 south along the coast from St Andrews and within 10 minutes you’ll be at Kingsbarns. Kyle Phillips is amassing an impressive portfolio of course designs, but Kingsbarns still remains his finest achievement. Making use of the incredible natural golfing terrain, (golf has been played on this land since 1793) the holes cross the undulating links, many clinging precariously to the edge of the sea. Standing on the tee of the monstrous par five 12th or the striking par three 15th, the outlook sends a tingle down the spine.
Continue round the coastline of Fife’s East Neuk past Crail, Anstruther and Pitenweem and you’ll come to Elie. Golf was played on the Earlsferry Links as far back as the 15th Century and five-time Open Champion James Braid grew up playing here. The course is marvellous and full of character. From the old submarine periscope on the 1st tee (used to check the fairway is clear) to the testing 18th with a ridge running down the centre of the fairway, Elie is unique.
Golfing in Fife – Towards the Forth Bridge
Further down the coast back towards the Forth Bridge, there are plenty more opportunities for golfing in Fife. Lundin Links can be divided into distinct sections. The first four holes forge out along the seafront. All played into the prevailing wind, it’s an uncompromising start. Turning away from the sea, a short par-3 precedes three short par fours still on the narrow coastal plain. Then, at the start of the back nine, you make your way up the hill to a stretch that’s more parkland than links with spectacular views across the Firth of Forth. The par-3 14th takes you back down to sea level and the run for home. The approach to the 18th is one of the most intimidating in UK golf – a long shot to a narrow target with the clubhouse looming behind.
Even closer to the Forth Bridge, Burntisland may not be one of the most well known in Fife but it’s a layout of some quality. Although it offers views of the Forth it’s really a parkland course with trees and shrubs lining the fairways rather than heather and gorse. The terrain is undulating and the holes varied.
On the other side of the M90, just south of Dunfermline, Pitreavie offers the chance to play a fine parkland course designed by Dr Alister MacKenzie. It’s not long at just over 6,000 yards, but with very changeable terrain plus trees and streams to negotiate, the layout requires concentration from start to finish.
Fife may cover less ground than Greater London but it’s packed to the gunnels with golf courses of quality and renown. It will always be most famous for the links of St Andrews but there’s an enormous amount of golfing opportunity to be taken advantage of along the coast and further inland. It’s well worthwhile to make the pilgrimage to go golfing in Fife.
Fancy golfing in a bit more sizzling surroundings? Check out our previous ‘Playing Golf in the UAE’ blog.