TAYPORT, SCOTLAND - A links course, contrary to popular belief, does not need to be located next to water. Neither does it need to be lacking trees. The main feature of a links course is the sandy soil upon which the holes are laid out, and the vegetation that normally grows on such soil, including fescue, heather, and gorse.
As such, a number of fine Scottish links layouts that are somewhat removed from the sea and lined with trees are often passed over by visiting foreign golfers, who want to spend their time playing "real" links courses. While this is a pity for them, it's a treat for those of us who are always on the lookout for those "hidden gems" which offer up pleasurable rounds at reasonable rates.
Within a 20-minute drive of St. Andrews, golfers willing to do their research will find a memorable and inexpensive round of inland links golf at Scotscraig Golf Club in Tayport, Fife. Founded in 1817, Scotscraig is the 13th oldest golf club in the world. And its legacy of aristocratic leisure is palpable from the fully stocked pro shop to the understated but very comfortable grillroom to the superb layout, which owes its present look to golfing legend James Braid.
Even though the Scotscraig Golf Club is the sixth oldest private club in the world, the members, head pro Stuart Campbell, and assistant pro Chris Marrs welcome visitors, especially visitors from abroad.
"We get lots of play from the U.S. in particular," reports Mr. Marrs. "The course has served as a final-stage qualifier for the [British] Open. It really is one of the hidden gems of Scottish golf."
As an Open qualifier course, the 6,669-yard, par-71 Scotscraig represents a tremendous value - with green fees of only 25 pounds - as well as a stern test of all aspects of one's game. "Your whole game should be up to scratch," admonishes Mr. Marrs. "You've got to keep it in play, although you should be able to get away with a hook off most of the tees. There is more trouble on the right."
Perhaps the reason why there are so many good golfers in Scotland is that every course punishes a slice. Scotscraig's holes number 1 and 14-16, each with OB immediately to the right, are no exception.
No. 1 (402 yards, par 4) is one of the trickiest opening holes in all of Fife. The fairway is completely bisected at 280-290 yards out from the tee, but the last 30-yard stretch of fairway before the break narrows to where one practically needs a laser-guided ball to find the short grass. The long approach then must traverse some intimidating gorse-covered mounding to a partially hidden green, the actual distance of which is deceiving because players cannot see it all from the first half of the fairway.
Partial occlusion of the putting surface is a recurring theme here, also found on Nos. 2 and 7, among others. The break in the fairway, calling for self-control off the tee, is also a feature on the 366-yard 4th hole. This little beauty is not only the hardest on the course, but also perhaps the prettiest. A tee shot of no more than 250 yards is required to avoid running off the moat-like ridge and rough protecting the elevated green. Your second shot must carry the raised putting surface, and hold it as well, since there is trouble right, left, and long.
The 401-yard 7th features another break in its fairway. This time, though, the fairway forks before dissolving into a trench of long fescue. This hole presents a full range of risk-reward choices: Something less than a drive off the tee should find a level plateau from which a long iron or fairway wood must be played into the green. If you go with a long drive, the approach will be far shorter, but even if you find the short grass off the tee, you could discover a miserably uneven lie.
The 523-yard, par-5 14th features not one but two breaks in the fairway, the first caused by a road about 255 yards from the tee, and the second caused by a ditch at about 125 yards back from the green. Here your second shot - most likely a lay-up - will need to keep to the left side of the rapidly narrowing fairway because the green is blocked from the right side by a stand of brawny beech trees.
During our visit to Scotscraig, the leaden skies opened and released a torrent of cold rain, lasting about half and hour. But because this is true sandy linksland, the greens drained astoundingly well, and lost no speed or firmness whatsoever. A few stretches of fairway trapped some standing water where the soil was loamier. Perhaps these were the sections of the course that got temporarily plowed up in 1834 (during a 50-year golf-free period at Scotscraig).
According to Mr. Marrs, Scotscraig has recently hired a new greens keeper, "and he's made a wonderful difference." Indeed, the conditions were second to none in Fife, despite the cloudburst.
Beside the fine conditions, the track distinguishes itself with the aforementioned forced carries to some of the greens - a rarity on links courses - and the fact that both the ninth and the eighteen holes play back toward the clubhouse. This more American-style layout, as opposed to the typical out-and-back routing of most links courses, makes Yanks feel especially at home.
As a further bonus for those American visitors who may have scheduled too much Scottish golf for their feet to take in one short week, there is a golf cart (the quaint local term for which is "motorized golf buggy") available for an added fee. (Oh, you should have seen the eyes of two of my playing partners light up when they found out about that cart!)
Scotscraig is a venerable links, and easily ranks as one of the better values in all of Scotland. Even the logo apparel in the loaded pro shop is reasonably priced: A golf cap featuring the club seal of the Thane of Fife mounted upon his charger will set you back just 12 pounds. Be sure also to treat yourself to a meal in the wood-trimmed grillroom, where the grilled baguette sandwich cannot be beaten.
But please, remember that this is the sixth-oldest private golf club in the world, and take off your hat. Authentic links, authentic club, authentic rules. What more could a visiting golf aficionado want?
Scotscraig Golf Club
Tayport, Fife DD6 9DZ
Tel: +44 (0)1382 552855
Yardages: 6669 (par 73), 6550 (72), 6310 (71), 5791 (72)
Green fees: 28 pounds
Misc.: Superb pro shop next to first tee; motorized golf cart available.
February 5, 2004
Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Illinois. Read his golf blog here.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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