Golf in the Kingdom of Fife
SCOTLAND - It's one of the wonderful things about golf - you can play in the footsteps of the game's greats: Tiger, Ernie, Arnie and Jack; then there's Ben Hogan, Harry Varden, James Braid all the way to the grandfather of the game, Old Tom Morris.
It is quite easy to get connected with golf's great heritage and nowhere more so than in the land where it all began: the Kingdom of Fife on Scotland's east coast.
Fife is where the game of golf, as we know it, took root and developed. The sandy links by the sea were ideal for a new-fangled sport adapted from the game of Kolfen then played in Holland and Belgium.
Kolfen took place on ice with a puck but the rolling Scottish linksland, used mostly for grazing, lent itself to an adaptation using lighter clubs and a round ball.
Fifteenth century Fife was a major trading partner with the Low Countries so it easy to imagine Scots merchants and sailors trying their hand at Kolfen and adapting the game to their own sandy, seaside environment.
The rest, so they say, is history. Golf is now a worldwide sport enjoyed by millions with courses springing up in every conceivable corner - China hopes to have 400 golf courses by the end of this decade.
Meanwhile there are desert courses, Arctic courses, mountain courses; they've even played golf on the moon.
For many golfers it is hugely interesting to come to the Home of Golf to sample its heritage and atmosphere. St Andrews is of course the game's Mecca but other towns and villages around the 'Auld Grey Toon' were instrumental in golf's foundations.
Recently, four of the oldest courses in the Kingdom came together to maintain this interest in golf's heritage as well as making it easier for the golfing public to enjoy their esteemed courses. Crail Golfing Society, Scotscraig Golf Club, Ladybank Golf Club and Lundin Golf Club are names long associated with the game's past.
Three of them are Open Championship qualifying courses and under their collective marketing scheme, Links with History, they offer a centralized booking system, discounted green fees and can recommend the most suited local accommodation. Arranging tee times is simply a matter of phoning one number and letting the Links with History office make all the arrangements. They can also suggest accommodation best suited to your schedule and price range.
The Kingdom of Fife is well used to accommodating golfers and offers everything from exclusive castles to wonderful family-run hotels overlooking the links. The hotels associated with the Links with History group offer fine lodging and excellent dining as well as a very golfer friendly attitude.
At the top level is the 'exclusive use' Myres Castle in the village of Auchtermuchty, an outstanding 16th century fortified house. To stay at Myres is a unique experience! Set in its own 44 acres of spacious gardens - including its own herd of Highland Cattle - all the comforts of a Scottish castle home are on offer along with outstanding cuisine.
A stay at Myres might be considered expensive but the best often is. We also sampled two other excellent hotels associated with the Links with History group, the Old Manor Country House Hotel overlooking Lundin Links and, a couple of miles inland, St Andrews oldest coaching inn, the Inn at Lathones. Both were sterling examples of comfortable golfers' accommodation with a particularly emphasis on their kitchens which provided admirably.
Scotscraig Golf Club is located to the north of Fife of the shores of the River Tay. The club was established in 1817 when there were only 12 other golf clubs in existence.
The clubhouse and course emanate a strong sense of tradition and hospitality, but at the same time are exceptionally friendly. Scotscraig is not long, but there is a weight on placement of the ball especially off the tee in order to avoid the ubiquitous gorse bushes which line many holes, as well as allowing for better approaches.
This is an excellent test, mostly links terrain with one parkland section at the 12th, a long, interesting par 5 that combines water with green-protecting trees.
Many consider the 4th as one of the most testing holes in Fife. Scotscraig is a worthy final qualifying venue when the Open is held at St Andrews.
Crail Golfing Society and its two 18-hole courses occupy the easternmost tip of the East Neuk with a spectacular position overlooking the Firth of Forth and the North Sea. The Society was formed in 1786 with its original links sited closer to the village of Crail.
The Balcomie Links was opened by Old Tom Morris, who stated 'there is not a better course in Scotland'. Pot bunkers, beach and seaside breezes are just three of the testing elements with which the old links defends itself and any golfer will feel thoroughly examined on this time-honoured track.
The adjoining Craighead Links was opened in 1998 adding USGA specification greens, wonderful sea views and a tough challenge to Crail's ample existing attractions.
Moving further down the coast, the Lundin Golf Club was founded on May 8, 1868, playing over land that was described at that time as being 'benty, tussocky and ripe with whin'.
In 1908 the legendary James Braid, five times Open Championship winner and native son to the area, came to Lundin to plan out a new route, creating pretty much the course you will find today. "Lundie", as the locals call it, is a superb example of links golf along with a three-hole parkland section where the route climbs on to higher ground.
We were delighted with the conditions; linksy swells and firm ground call for particular skills that you can only achieve playing these truly original golf courses.
Again Lundin's unique course is a participant in the final qualifying stages of the Open prior to its staging at St Andrews.
Ladybank Golf Club is the only non-links course in the group but many might say it is their favourite. Set in the sheltered Howe of Fife with the Lomond Hills to the southwest, Old Tom Morris was responsible for arranging Ladybank's initial six holes.
Since then the course has risen to become one of Scotland's finest inland tracts consisting of heathland avenues delineated by Scots Pine, Silver Birch and swathes of heather. The standard of presentation is exceptional. Red squirrels inhabit the trees in a quiet and peaceful place where you can play without distraction.
There are many holes worth mentioning but the 9th springs to mind, a superb dogleg with a deep dip just before the green in front of the newly-refurbished clubhouse. Par here is a particular pleasure.
Ladybank is yet another venue for final qualifying rounds before the Open when held at the Old Course.
Along with four such venerable courses there are other elements available to visiting golfers to the Kingdom of Fife.
Try spending a morning at the National Golf Academy, a few miles north of St Andrews, where coaches help prepare you for the peculiarities of links golf. The teaching facilities here are probably the best in the UK and well worth visiting before your Links with History rounds.
Or you could arrange a session with the PGA pro at Crail Golfing Society, Graeme Lennie, an enthusiastic proponent of the use of hickory-shafted clubs. Graeme will arrange instruction and even the opportunity to play with hickory clubs over the old Balcomie Links.
Finally, on a trip of this nature, St Andrews itself, the receptacle of golf's inheritance must be honoured. The 'Auld Grey Toon' reeks of easily-absorbed history, such as Old Tom Morris' grave, his old shop opposite the 18th green of the Old Course and many other aspects of the game's progression.
All this and so much more are presented at the British Golf Museum behind the veritable symbol of the game itself, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club.
The Old Course at St Andrews will remain the venue every serious golfer must play during their career, but the four clubs now associated in Links with History surely rank next on that wish-list.
The initiative is bringing together and helping to preserve the wonderful heritage and traditions this great game has to offer. Their booking initiative makes it easy (as well as slightly cheaper) to play the courses and the reception and atmosphere at each of the clubs makes it an honour to play such fine courses.
Links with History Tee Time Booking Information
Golfers may choose to book either two, three or four rounds at a discounted green fee rate, playing each club once. Links with History is happy to assist in recommending hotels in the area.
For further information contact Links With History on (0044) 1333 451429 or email: email@example.com Web: www.standrews.com/fife/4clubs
To arrange a teaching or playing session with hickory clubs contact Graeme Lennie on (0044) 1333 450960
National Golf Academy Drumoig, Leuchars, St Andrews. Tel: (0044) 1382 541144. Web: www.scottishgolf.com
Myres Castle Auchtermuchty, Fife, KY14 7EW. Tel. (0044) 1337 828350. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web: www.myres.co.uk
The Inn at Lathones By Largoward, St. Andrews, Fife, KY9 1JE. Tel: (0044) 1334 840494 Email: email@example.com Web: www.theinn.co.uk
The Old Manor Country House Hotel Lundin Links, Near St Andrews, Fife KY8 6AJ. Tel: (0044) 1333 320368 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.oldmanorhotel.co.uk
For Further Information on the Kingdom of Fife contact - St Andrews TIC, 70 Market Street, St Andrews, KY16 9NU. Tel: 01334 472021; Fax: 01334 478422. Email:email@example.com
More detailed information about Golf in Fife is available at www.fifegolf.com
A guided walk is an ideal way of learning more about St Andrews rich history. June Riches of St Andrews Guided Walks is contactable on (0044) 1334 850638 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are also a number of other guided walks in St Andrews including Guided Walks on the Old Course - Tel: (0044) 1334 466666, or email: email@example.com and a self-guided audio tour of St Andrews which is available from St Andrews TIC.
November 11, 2004