LEVEN, Fife, Scotland -- Few golf courses have a history as complex as what can be found in the nearly 200 years at Leven Links.
Even for Scottish standards, where the game is older than anywhere else, Leven has enough wrinkles on its links to require a second or third read through the history books.
Stepping out onto this championship-caliber, pure-links course -- with views across the Firth of Forth to the Bass Rock in the distance -- is just half the fun.
Spend some time learning about the many chapters of golf at Leven, and it offers a window into the game's early years.
Innerleven Golfing Society was formed here in 1820 and later merged with the Leven Golf Club in the 1950s, forming today's Leven Golfing Society, which stakes claim as the 11th oldest golf club in the world.
Beside its clubhouse is Leven Thistle Golf Club, a newer club at the tender age of nearly 150 years. The two clubs operate entirely separately, yet share the links to this day.
Leven Links: mergers, separations and alterations
The first four holes play out along the sea from the starter's shack. When you arrive at the fourth green, only a stone wall separates you from a green on next-door Lundin Links. Originally, Lundin Links and Leven Links were the same golf course, until overplay led to the expansion of both courses in 1909, creating two separate, 18-hole courses.
The golfers at Leven will gladly tell you who got the better deal. While Lundin Links is now a mix of pure links and parkland holes, Leven Links has 18 pure, consistent links holes. Lundin has in-course out-of bounds, where a railway formerly cut through the course.
That same line once ran through Leven, too, but the only white stakes here are on the perimeter. Evidence of the railway at Leven will be hard for visitors to spot, but members can point out just exactly where it ran through.
Today's routing of the links is mainly in tact from 1909. The golf course is laid out so tightly that once I made it to the back corner of the course on the sixth tee, I was certain there had to be another piece of land. I didn't see with the back nine on it.
But sure enough, an efficient routing in the shape of three horseshoes succeed. The first horseshoe, holes No. 1 - No. 9, wrap around the exterior of the property, followed by a smaller horseshoe within it, culminating with the side-by-side 17th and 18th holes.
This didn't go unnoticed by Mark McNulty, who set a course-record 62 at the Open Championship qualifying round in 2000.
"I don't know how you fit 18 holes into such a small area," he said. "I'd like to roll it up and take it home with me."
Qualifying for the Open was last staged here in 2005. But the club still hosts a prestigious amateur event, the Standard Life Amateur Champion Gold Medal. The award predates the Claret Jug by two years and was won by such names as H.S. Colt and most recently Lee Westwood in 1993.
Each year, the cutoff is usually in the plus-handicap range. Top golfers still find the course, at 6,506 yards from the medal tees, more than enough golf.
Leven Links: The verdict
About 15-20 minutes by car from St. Andrews, history buffs and links lovers will want to stop by for the day at Leven Links while in the Kingdom of Fife.
The clubhouse for the Leven Golfing Society dates back to 1894 and is filled with memorabilia to peak at after your round.
The bar and restaurant has a great viewing perch of the infamous 18th hole. Thanks to a burn in front of the green and the prevailing winds into your face, it's one of Scotland's toughest closers.
Stay and Play at Lundin Links Golf Hotel
If you're priced out or can't find a room in St. Andrews, quieter Lundin has a historic golf hotel in its town center, the Lundin Links Hotel.
The hotel is footsteps from the golf club and offers better bang-for-the-buck than most St. Andrews properties that charge a premium for their location in the home of golf. The Tudor-style house features 21 guest rooms, a restaurant with three meals a day and free WiFi.
Golf packages through the hotel are also available including many of Fife's better links.
From here, it's about a five-minute drive to Leven Links. But be sure to ask for directions. If you follow signage to the "golf course" in Leven, you'll wind up at municipal Scoonie Golf Club.
Like other golf courses with multiple clubs using the course, you'll want to check in at the starter's shed next to the first tee and not the clubhouses themselves.