Great Courses of Britain & Ireland: Elie

Here is proof that, even today, a course does not have to be long to be great

Elie is almost certainly the only golf club in the world where a large submarine periscope protrudes from its starter’s hut. Salvaged from HMS Excalibur back in 1966, it is now used to give the starter a perfect view over a hill and to determine when it is safe for the next group on the tee to begin their round.

That periscope is almost always the first thing golfers mention when Elie crops up in conversation, but it is by no means the only lasting memory they will take home following a visit to this outstanding little course nestling on classic links terrain 12 miles from St. Andrews in an area known as the East Neuk of Fife.

The late five-time Open champion Peter Thomson was just one of its large group of admirers. “It’s quirky and it’s the most enjoyable course I know,” he wrote. “If I had my way, I’d build Elies all over the world.”

What the Australian meant was that a course does not have to be long to provide a challenging test of golf, and at a mere 6,273 yards from the back tees Elie is the perfect example of that. Golf was first played in this corner of Fife—“neuk” is a Scottish word for corner—as far back as the 15th century, but it was not until 1895 that four-time Open champion Old Tom Morris created the current 18 holes.

3rd Hole (Photo by Mark Alexander)

The course starts with that blind opening tee shot to a fairway protected by an out-of-bounds wall all the way down the right-hand side. The 284-yard 2nd, with its green perched on top of a hill, is the first of an outstanding set of short par fours, while the downhill par-three 214-yard 3rd would not look out of place on any of the Open rota.

Elie is unusual in that it features no par fives and just two par threes. The 378-yard 4th starts a sequence of seven consecutive par fours ranging in length between 252 and 440 yards and culminating with the memorable 288-yard 10th, where the tee shot has to be hit up and over a hill and down to a green that slopes dramatically from front to rear all the way down to the edge of the sea.

That 10th hole also begins one of the most picturesque stretches of golf found anywhere in Scotland. It continues with the delightful 131-yard 11th, where water also laps onto the edge of the green, and the formidable 466-yard 12th, which is the longest hole at Elie and requires a drive over the beach to a fairway protected by a bunker on the right.

10th Hole (Photo by Mark Alexander)

Arguably the best hole is the 380-yard 13th, where the approach has to be hit exactly the correct distance in order to hold a slender green protected by a deep hollow at the front.

Not surprisingly, what follows is something of an anti-climax, although the 359-yard 18th, with its well-placed bunkers and green hemmed by OB, is no pushover. It also serves as a final reminder that this wonderful old layout continues to withstand the test of time.

Have you played golf at Elie?