ELIE, SCOTLAND | It was a sunny late afternoon when I stood befuddled on the first tee at the Elie Golf House Club.
The first tee at Elie offers little information. Some 75 yards ahead, there is a large hill with a stake sticking out the top. Aim at or just left of the stake, I was told. What lies on the other side is simply a mystery to be uncovered.
And how do we know when the runway is vacant? That answer is found in a detached starter’s hut with a 10-meter-tall periscope sticking out of the top that gives a clear view of the fairway. The periscope was provided to the club in 1966 by the scrapped HMS Excalibur, a Royal Navy submarine.
I found myself entranced by Elie. I’m not sure it was inherently fair – golf never is – but it was inherently fun.
Like the first tee shot, my day started with the unknown and became clearer as time went on. I had taken a bus down the Fife coast and walked onto Elie planning to play as a single. But upon getting to the club, I met two Americans – John and Drake – who were also in town for the Walker Cup. John was at the very end of a Scottish golf bonanza, and Drake had barely stepped off the plane by the time he had a driver in his hand staring at the hill before us. I was somewhere in the middle.
We got the OK to hit, hauled our golf bags over the knoll and soon discovered a gentle downwind par 4 that belied how difficult the links would become.
It would not be our last blind shot. Our threesome found another one at the sixth – my 3-iron apparently went some 280 yards into a death bunker – and then another at the seventh. It was at the 10th, a dramatic short par-4 that goes directly up a rocky landscape and then falls dramatically toward the North Sea, that I hit a solid 3-wood, thinking it would be about 80 yards short of the green. Imagine my surprise when I crested the ridge and found my ball some 12 feet from the hole (the eagle putt never had a chance).
Once the hole was finished, we found a large bell behind the green. As the birdie-maker, I got to ring the warning sound to let the game behind us know they were clear to launch.
Elie, complete with 16 par-4s and just two par-3s, wasn’t done with its tricks. After a blind wedge shot on the par-3 11th, we played a stretch of holes wrapping around the stunning coast where the sun began to set. We encountered another completely blind tee shot at the 15th, and then we came to the 16th tee, where a small ladder and platform was in place so golfers could get a better view of the mostly obscured fairway.
I found myself entranced by Elie. I’m not sure it was inherently fair – golf never is – but it was inherently fun. The three of us traveled around like a convoy, searching for balls in the fescue and taking our best guesses as to what riddle would be answered on the other side. We went in blind as strangers and found an unlikely camaraderie.
At the end, we were asking ourselves: Is there anything in golf more exhilarating than hitting a shot, pondering the unknown and then coming to the pain or pleasure of discovery?
On this day, there certainly was not.
Top: The starter's hut at Elie features a submarine periscope to see over the hill onto the first fairway.
SEAN FAIRHOLM, GGP