Elie, The Golf House Club
Elie is a hard course to write-up. The sum provides far greater enjoyment than the parts might otherwise suggest.
The course on the score card seems short at 6,235 yards but the par is 70. There are nothree shot holes and just twoone shotters. Yet, there is no attempt by the members to make the course longer or to conform to a more standard ‘par’. In fact, the course has resisted change since 1896 when Old Tom Morris stretched it to 18 holes.
What there are par fours – sixteen of them to be exact. A couple of them are very long, three of them may be drivable by the low marker, and the rest are in the pleasant medium range. The highest compliment is that a player does not appreciate the inordinate number of two-shotters until someone points it out to him.
Elie highlights the differences between Scottish golf and golf elsewhere (particularly the United States). Look no further than the first hole. A thirty foot hill looms some fifty yards directly off the tee and there is a periscope from an old submarine so the golfer can tell when all is clear. A blind shot of such magnitude is unheard of elsewhere, especially for the opening tee shot. And yet… what a satisfying start to see your ball sail over the hill!
Except for the first and last several holes, the holes are laid out on a broad plain that slopes gently down to the sea. There are no sand dunes to speak of; rather the holes have a clean simplicity to them. However, there are plenty of small-scale undulations, such as the excellent crumpled fairways of the 4th and 5th, to hold the player’s interest.
Holes to Note:
Third hole, 215 yards; A well regarded par three, this elevated tee takes in the view over the golf course and out to sea. The drop in elevation creates confusion in the golfer’s mind, especially with two bunkers fronting either side of the green and out of bounds just a few paces behind it. Judging the effect of both the wind from this exposed point and elevation change demands a lot of the player.
Ninth hole, 440 yards; The hardest hole on the course, this longtwo shotter heads directly toward the Firth of Forth and generally plays into the prevailing wind. Four bunkers crowd in the fairway at the 240 yard mark. A good drive is imperative as two other bunkers lie on either side of the fairway 80 yards short of the green.
Twelfth hole, 470 yards; This hole wraps around the rocky shoreline along its left side, with the tee perched in the dunes. Old Tom Morris frustrates the player by placing a bunker at the awkward position of the outside of the dog-leg on the right. With the wind blowing from the left off the firth, the player is tempted to save time and just go ahead and drop a ball in the bunker as avoiding it from the tee seems unlikely. Conversely, on a still day, the bunker serves as the ideal directional target to hit a draw off the tee.
Thirteenth hole, 380 yards; ‘The finest hole in the country’ according to James Braid. While the authors disagree (it’s debatable whether it is even the best on the course), it is quite good and features a rarity in early designs – a diagonal green. The green sets on a shelf some fifteen feet above the fairway and is angled away from the golfer to the left. The green is by far the deepest on the course at 44 yards. A drawn approach shot can hit in the right portion of the green and release all the way to a back left hole locations.
A hole by hole review is distinctly not what Elie is about. The course and its setting promote man vs. nature. One day the wind is howling across the links and a single marker is glad to break 90. Other days the golfer may find the course on a calm summer night and have a flattering round. And then there is the majority of rounds in between when you have to judge the pitch and run of the ball, how to handle a few awkward stances, and how to best flight the ball for those given conditions.
In the end, the simplicity of the challenge leaves the golfer more invigorated and inspired than hundreds of more conventional, longer courses.