When commencing play over Leven Links the committed golfer should recognise that he or she will be playing, in part, over one of the oldest pieces of golfing ground in the world. There is no doubt the old Leven G.C. began to play as early as 1846 amongst the “bents, sandhills and windlestraie”, west of the Mile Dyke. For a time only 9 holes were in being all maintained by the golfers and their families (a paid Keeper of the Green did not appear at Leven until 1876). They were joined in 1867 by members of Innerleven G.C. who, in the guise of a component in the merger with Leven G.C. to form Leven Golfing Society, lays claim to the title of the world’s eleventh oldest club. It had been holding competitions on the now defunct Dubbieside links, across the river Leven, since 1820. Formed in the same year (1867) was Leven Thistle G.C. which has played over the links continuously since that time and is rightly recognised as one of the strongest playing clubs in Scotland today.
The extension to 18 holes, brought about by crossing the Mile Dyke and continuing to play east in the sandhills of Lundin Mill, took place in 1868. The inaugural competition over 36 holes played on Oct 2nd 1868 was won by “Young Tom” Morris with a score of 170. 85 shots to get round a golf course is, by today’s standards of top competition, a lot, but when one looks at the first plan of the extended course, drawn up in 1878, one finds a par of 72 or 73. This then was a big course for the time.
It retained its then layout until 1909 when pressure of players forced a division at the Mile Dyke with Lundin G.C. extending the eastern section by decanting the playing ladies to a new ladies course and renting further grounds north of the then railway line and the Leven Clubs taking over the football grounds, north of the bowling green.
The following is an excerpt from “The Leven Advertiser & Wemyss Gazette” of the 27th January 1909 giving a brief description of the then new proposed course along with an indicative sketch layout.
“A glance at the sketch which we are able to publish today shows that Nos. 1, 2, 3 holes remain as at present; No. 4 goes to the south corner of the Mile Dyke; No. 5 is a short hole, running south and north from the southern boundary to the present Mile green; No. 6 is in Silverburn park; Nos. 7,8,9,10 and 11 are on the ladies’course or ground immediately adjoining; No.12 on Silverburn; Nos.13,14,15,16,17 and 18 on the course and football field of to-day. The course works out a total of 6176 yards as against 5463 yards at present”.
This is the area of ground that the present day player uses, though not strictly in the layout that was originally planned. If one draws a ball off the third tee, round the large sandhill known as the Pipers Knowe or Coortin’ Brae and over Nellie Peattie’s valley, one can still see traces of the original line of the hole played between 1868 and 1909 with the “Canteen” bunker still visible and evidence remaining of the “venomous Tar-Pat” bunker which lay adjacent to the now disappeared third green.
The strength of Leven Links lies in its succession of “less easy” holes and the fact that one turns at the 13th into the prevailing west wind with a lot of work still to be done. At the end is the Home Green, now known as Scoonie, which prior to 1893 was small and square but is now a large putting surface fronted by the “demonic” Scoonie burn. This wide natural water hazard had been described in the past as “yellow as Pactolus; as black as Styx, the colour of ketchup and the density of pea soup all accompanied with the smell of Gaol fever”. Not quite as challenging today it will still take two superlatively struck shots to reach the putting surface in regulation.
The Editor of Golf Monthly has described the older parts of Leven Links as “being one of the best stands of bents and fescues in Scotland – the place in summer to put away the solid ball, leave the wedge in the locker room and hone your chip and run approaches because this is where the real game is played.
The ongoing “Alterations to counteract technology programme” commenced in 2003/4 with the revisions and additions to the course bunkering and the construction of new tees to give more playing area and a slight increase in length.
Leven Links has hosted many national and international competitions as well as hosting local final qualifying for the Open Championship in 1978, 1984, 1990, 1995, 2000 and 2005.
In April each year the links host the Lindsay Shield. An interclub singles matchplay competition of 50 a side (25 home and 25 away) between Leven, Carnoustie and St. Andrews. The roots of this event can be traced back over 150 years.
Played every year in August over the links is the Standard Life Assurance Company’s Amateur Champion Gold Medal gifted by them in 1870 and as such lays claim to being the oldest open amateur strokeplay championship in the world.
Whether you are a good, bad or indifferent golfer you will always find a warm welcome at either Leven Golfing Society or Leven Thistle clubhouses both of which are steeped in the game’s true traditions yet offer modern comfortable facilities, with spectacular views!
Whatever one’s proficiency at the game when playing over the links course, Allan Robertson’s famous dictum definitely does apply: “Tak it Easy”.