Kingsbarns became something of an overnight sensation. Opened in 2000 it was built to a pseudo links design with many expressing doubts as to whether it could be done, yet alone having the audacity to do it in the shadow of St Andrews. On completion it quickly established a world top-50 ranking prompting Tom Doak to say “as piece of construction work, Kingsbarns is one of the best projects I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t have believed it, if I hadn’t seen it for myself”. The par five, 12th, played around an arching bay, and the par three 15th, played to a promontory green on a rocky outcrop are the two signature assignments
Dumbarnie is Scotland’s newest links, opening in 2020. It’s probably fair to say that if there was no Kingsbarns, there might not have been a Dumbarnie. The course makes extensive use of the escarpment on which its built to offer commanding sea-views. Hopes remain high, (and justifiably so) that it too will quickly be allocated a prestigious world-top-100 ranking when the next lists are published
Image courtsey of Dumbarnie
There are four ancient old links on the south Fife coast that have historically been used as final Open qualifying venues
There’s no established hierarchy amongst them, but equally there’s a body of opinion that perhaps Lundin consistently records the most favourable reviews and remains largely laid out as it was by James Braid a century ago. Play on a raised beach the course naturally undulates allowing green to sighted on the rise of a ripple or sat down in a bowl. It’s a complex links course with open burns, an internal out of bounds (the old railway line), and strategic bunkering, which presents a challenge for the thinking golfer. Position from the tee rather than distance will yield just rewards on the scorecard.
The Crail Golf Society is the seventh oldest in the world, and always popular. It’s a short, fun course defended by hazard rather than yardage, making it a thinkers track. You have to play shots over rocky bays, hit long par threes with greens perched atop vertical cliffs, and then hit a return drive from an elevated tee into fairways laid out invitingly below. Shots to greens seemingly engulfed by gorse, and curving par fours round sandy strands, all dare the golfer to cut off too much. Beware the fifth, no lesser an authority on Scottish golf than Sam Torrance regards ‘Hells Hole’ as the most difficult par 4 in Scotland. If all this wasn’t enough, Crail sits on the eastern tip of the Fife Peninsula and so adds ‘exposure’ to the garrison.
Crail's 5th, Balcomie Links
Twenty minutes from St Andrews, Elie sits between two headlands affording players sensational views. Five time Open Championship winner Peter Thomson, summarised Elie thus: “It’s quirky and it’s the most enjoyable course I know. If I had my way I’d build Elie’s all over the world.” Indeed, the first tee features a genuine submarine periscope that allows the starter to peer over a blind hill to the fairway yonder before inviting you to “play away” once it’s clear. Elie is not a course that gives up good scores easily. The patient player who crafts their way around these cultured links will always fare better than the thoughtless bludger who tries to overpower them.
Leven Links is steeped in history, one of the oldest links in the world. As you might imagine of such a relic of the early days, Leven is an archetypal links course with fine bents and fescues, humps, bumps, hollows and “wispy” rough and of course a snarling burn! If we were to look for the most quintessential links course in Scotland, Leven would expect to the in the conversation. It’s a bit more than just this though. Leven has long been held in high enough regard for it to have hosted Final Open qualifying on behalf of St Andrews, as well as a number of national championships
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