Leven Links: All That is Wonderful about Golf in Scotland
The town of Leven can be found about 13 miles south-west of St Andrews in the heart of the prime golfing territory that is the Kingdom of Fife. The set-up at Leven embodies all that is wonderful about golf and the growth of golf in Scotland. The course is run by a joint committee composed of two clubs: Leven Golfing Society and Leven Thistle Golf Club. Whilst not having an encyclopaedic knowledge of golf clubs and their associated courses, I imagine this is a rare arrangement.
The original layout of the course essentially consisted of nine holes running out from Leven, parallel to the coast, down to the sandhills of Lundin Mill, and then a true inward half running back to Leven one-fairways width in from the coastline. In 1909, the popularity of the game caused the course to be split at the Mile Dyke. The easterly half was taken over by Lundin Golf Club and expanded into what is now Lundin Links; the side nearest Leven then being developed into the layout we see today under the supervision of the two Leven clubs. Annually, members of both Leven clubs and the Lundin Golf Club compete for the MacDonald Trophy, a competition played over the previous layout. Today, one can determine this layout as both courses use yellow flags on the holes that composed the original course.
The pedigree of the golf on offer at Leven Links is probably best indicated by the quality of competition that regularly occurs there. The course has acted as a qualifying course for the British Open on numerous occasions. It is the home of the Standard Life Leven Gold Medal - first played for in 1870, a tournament laying claim to being the oldest amateur strokeplay competition in the world. It has also hosted the keenly contested Fife Champion of Champions event.
The course at Leven shows links golf at its best; there are several blind shots and hidden hazards. The greens and fairways, whilst being in superb condition, offer numerous awkward challenges via their rolling contours and unexpected bumps. The sea remains visible virtually throughout your entire round, although only really comes into play on the third and fourth holes. The course has a par of 71, stretching out 6,421 yards from the competition tees. Whilst the course record may be 63, this is probably more a testament to the quality of golfers who have taken stance at Leven, rather than an indication that the course is anything less than a challenge to rival all but the most extreme layout.
The first of Leven Links' peculiarities is encountered on the opening hole. The fairway here is in part shared with that of the eighteenth. This can lead to the slightly unnerving possibility of finding yourself crossing paths with golfers finishing their round when neither of you have hit particularly errant drives. From a shared fairway on the first, the second features a split fairway and a partially hidden green. (I recommend investing in a course planner, not so much for the yardages, more so to ensure that you are playing the holes you are meant to be playing!) Things then become more conventional; highlights of the front nine include the spectacular view from the tough fourth hole along the beach and right up to the East Neuk of Fife in the distance, and the sixth hole, a challenging 564-yard par 5 rated as the hardest hole on the course.
The high standard of golf holes continues through the back nine. The twelfth hole provides a memorable challenge. Played away from the town, it stretches out to be a 455-yard par 4 from the usual tees and a potentially more manageable 482-yard par 5 from the competition tees. It is a relatively straight hole featuring ten bunkers and a green that is backed by a small burn and the Mile Dyke. A par 4 here would be a fine achievement.
The real strength of Leven Links as a venue for golfing contests of the highest calibre probably lies in the strength of its closing holes. None of the last three holes will give up par for anything less than a series of well struck tee shots coupled with approach shots of a similar standard. The sixteenth and seventeenth both feature gorse and rough of a thicker nature than is found elsewhere on the course. Both of their greens are of smaller than average size. Accuracy here is imperative.
Whoever was responsible for the layout of the course, whether nature or man had the greater impact, there is no doubt that the best was saved till last. I cannot imagine a stronger and more appropriate closing hole than that at Leven Links. The hole runs from the very heart of the course back towards the picturesque collection of varied buildings that composes the town. The final green sprawls out 47 yards from the foot of the main clubhouse. The green is protected in front by an ominous and intimidating burn. The hole is a 455-yard par 4, anything less than two superbly struck golf shots will fail in an attempt to finish with style. All in all, it is a magnificent finale to an excellent golf course.
To exhort you to play at Leven Links purely because it poses an outstanding test of golf would be understandable, as that is the case. I however encourage you to make the trip to Leven for the following reasons: To enjoy the atmosphere of this golfing town. To play a round on a course rich with character and steeped in history. And finally, to hope the weather is agreeable enough for you to stand as I did on the Promenade, looking out to sea, with an ice cream in your hand and wonderful memories forming in your head.
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Leven Links can be found about thirteen miles south west of St Andrews just off the A915.