Golf in Fife: Where the game began and thrives today

The Kingdom of Fife is more than just the Old Course in St. Andrews. Golf clubs both new and old, from Crail to Kingsbarns, help make this region the most golf-rich in Scotland.

ST. ANDREWS, Fife -- A drive over the Forth Road Bridge, one of Scotland's great modern marvels, leads you into the ancient Kingdom of Fife.

Each region of Scotland offers its own allure, whether it's the whisky of the Highlands or the Open Championship trio in Ayrshire. For Fife, the crystal clear reason to visit above all else is St. Andrews, where the game dates back longer than anywhere else in the world.

But look beyond the seven Links Trust courses, and the kingdom is Scotland's most robust region for golf. The Fife Golfing Association lists 44 golf courses. Thanks in part to their proximity to golf's grand town, surrounding links have all upped their game to draw international visitors.

For those making their first golf trip to Scotland, it makes a lot of sense to begin in Fife, just as the game did itself.

Historic Links Golf Outside St. Andrews

The majority of a golfer's time in Fife will be spent in the "East Neuk," considered everything east of St. Andrews on the north coast and Leven to the south.

It's home to small towns, fishing villages and a wealth of coastal scenery. Some courses, such as Kingsbarns and Crail, share their shores with the Fife Coastal Path, a 150-kilometer trek that hugs the shoreline that features beaches, jagged rocks and towering cliffs.

With St. Andrews serving as golf's hub of activity in the early years, some of the game's more impressive histories can be found in the many small towns nearby.

Head east along the A917 roadway from St. Andrews to the most exposed point of the East Neuk, and you'll eventually encounter Crail Golfing Society. The seventh-oldest golf club in the world, it's a thriving local club to this day. Guests should start at the older Balcomie Links, named after the castle overlooking the course from the nearby town and one of Fife's most scenic, traditional plays that hugs the sea on many holes.

In addition to the Balcomie, the Craighead Course was added in 1998 (designed by Gil Hanse, who also built Castle Stuart Golf Club in the Highlands). Crail also recently unveiled a new clubhouse overlooking the last four holes that makes for one of the best 19th (or 37th) holes in Fife with delicious and affordable food and drink.

South of St. Andrews on the A915, you'll come to the towns of Lundin and Leven. The two towns, and golf courses, jut up to one another. Leven Links and Lundin Golf Club, separated today by just a small stone wall, were once part of the same golf course. But overplay led to the creation of more holes, and the two clubs have been separated since 1909.

Leven is comprised of 18 true links holes, while Lundin is a links and parkland mix. Golf tours can easily play them both on the same day and decide for themselves who got the better deal on the split.

Traditional heathland golf in Fife

Minutes from St. Andrews are two Open Qualifying venues when the event comes to St. Andrews every five years.

Scotscraig Golf Club dates back to 1817 and has the same sandy, rolling fairways and greens of the nearby links, only with tall trees lining many of its narrow fairways. Nearby is Ladybank Golf Club, which dates back to the 19th century with an original six-hole course designed by Old Tom Morris. It was later expanded to 18 heathland holes.

The best traditional heathland courses in the area however are just outside Fife in Perth & Kinross: the five-star Gleneagles Resort's King's and Queen's courses. Both courses are James Braid-designed masterpieces from the early 20th century that stand today as two of the finest and most scenic inland courses in the U.K.

Modern golf in Fife

While the Old Course in St. Andrews is still the most coveted play in all of Fife, golfers who come here have plenty of other new, world-class options.

Most are accommodating to groups in the Old Course Lottery, so you can rebook rounds for a later date should you gain a last-minute spot in the Old's tee sheet.

The links that really elevated the offerings around St. Andrews came in 2000, when Kingsbarns Golf Links opened seven miles down the coast from St. Andrews. Set on land of the former Kingsbarns Golf Club, a brand new links was conceived unlike anything else in Scotland. A tiered amphitheater affect created sea views on every hole, plus big greens and deep, large bunkers.

Between Kingsbarns and St. Andrews is the Fairmont St. Andrews, set on 520 acres on cliffs high above the sea. In the resort's short history, it's undergone quite a bit of change, most recently redesigning the Devlin course to the new "Kittocks." The more-inland Torrance held Open Championship qualifying in 2010.

Between Fairmont and the town, the St. Andrews Links Trust decided to reveal its seventh course, the Castle Course, Fife's newest golf course.

The greens, laid out by architect David McLay Kidd, can cause havoc to most skill levels. But this modern links fashioned out of farmland now with nary a flat spot makes for undeniably one of Scotland's most remarkable settings.

Americans have had a love affair with St. Andrews for years. One in particular is making a major imprint on it.

Herb Kohler now owns both the Old Course Hotel beside the Road Hole as well as the Duke's Course, which is set up into the hills about a mile from town. He's made the Duke's the official course of the Old Course Hotel and offers respite from traditional links with a well-conditioned heathland course that offers multiple sets of tees and golf carts to give your feet a little rest if needed.

Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. Prior to the launch of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGA.
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