Why this simple Scottish course was my favorite I played in 2022
At GOLF.com, our hobby is also our job. That means, just like you, we spend much of the year teeing it up high, swinging hard and trying to avoid double bogeys. But some courses we stumble upon are simply more memorable than others. Here, for the second straight year, we unveil our favorite public courses we played in 2022.
With farmland on one side and ragged Scottish coastline on the other, the nine holes of the Anstruther Golf Course sit in a peculiar spot. Gazing at the course from any angle, you can imagine a long-ago conversation that begins with, So, what should we do with this land?
On the other end of that question was not just a golfer, but many golfers: the Anstruther-based members of East Fife Golf Club who, back in the 1890s, wanted to play their golf a bit closer to home. What a novel idea. Today, it is the cutest, simplest nine holes that will also promise to drive you crazy enough to pass Go, not collect $200 and take an immediate, second spin around the track.
You may have heard of Anstruther before. It’s a mostly phonetic, a fun name to say out loud. It’s just a 20-minute drive from St. Andrews proper and the perfect warmup for a tired body fresh off a redeye. The likely reason you’ve heard of Anstruther is its 5th hole, nicknamed Rockies, which is one of the most difficult par-3s in the world. It’s a memorable one, for sure. And potentially unfair. But we’re not here to delegate that.
The real attraction of Anstruther is the feeling you get when you’re out there. To me, this thin plot of firm golfing land is just a bigger version of the backyard golf I grew up playing with my grandpa. We spent many summer afternoons in the churchyard next door making “golf holes” by sticking 2-by-4s into the ground and playing toward them. Once our balls made contact with the wood, we turned in any direction we wanted and designed a new hole. It could be any length so long as you avoided close contact with Oak Street — or the church windows.
Anstruther’s holes play back and forth, and back and forth, just like the churchyard holes I made my first birdies on. There is the fairway cut, which probably gets trimmed once a week, and then there’s the rough cut between holes, barley permissible to the naked eye. But from the sky you can tell they cut this rough with an actual lawnmower. The stripes of a back-and-forth cut pulling the grass in alternating directions stand out beautifully for the birds.
There are three consecutive par-3s at Anstruther — the 5th, 6th and 7th — and I’d challenge you to find a more different trio of 3s in the world. They call it their own version of Amen Corner. Two of Anstruther’s greens are separated by about two paces. There’s the cute 2nd where a 115-yard carry will sneak you over two greenside bunkers but a 135-yard carry might end up in the sea.
There’s a WWI monument, relics of the first two clubhouses and, on the edge of the coast, a Scottish flag whipping in the wind. The 1st hole is an uphill par-4 that feels like you’re playing into a tidal wave. The 9th plays down that wave, is longer as the crow flies but plays one shot fewer on the scorecard.
There are no yard markers at Anstruther. No sprinkler heads that tell you about the 89 yards between you and the center of the green. There are two teeing options — white and yellow — but you won’t catch anyone playing the whites unless it’s a members-only competition day. Play the yellows unless you pay your dues. Best of all, there are just nine tee boxes for nine holes. The distance is the distance. If this par-3 is too long for the female or junior in your group, play it as a par-4! Another novel idea.
Anstruther is golf, this endlessly complex game, simplified down to just the important stuff. You have a hole on a green and a fairway that runs to it. There are a handful of bunkers, sure, but none that will ruin your mood. There is really just one difficult shot on this entire property, and for that reason people will travel out of their way to take it on themselves. The rest of the shots are easy ones, or so they seem. Hit your ball 230 yards but not 245. Loft your wedge up there 105 yards but not 120. If you chunked it 20 steps ahead, try again.
When you’re done, a pint or two awaits in the uncluttered and sufficiently simple clubhouse. As most clubhouses along the coast do well, the entire drinking and eating area is surrounded by windows. You wouldn’t want to be there when a tornado comes through, but the tradeoff is sunsets pouring inward on the regular. I’ve been told the fish ’n’ chips on offer is one of the best platters in town. The only issue is Anstruther is forever a fishing town. There’s supreme competition for that claim.
Might I suggest The Wee Chippy, about a 10-minute hike from the 1st tee. Might I also suggest you discern between the sugar shaker and salt shaker. I found it difficult to amend that mistake.