Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Chad Conine is a sportswriter from Texas who spent the summer in Scotland and the town of St. Andrews. He chronicled his golf adventures before this year's British Open, held at the Old Course July 15-18.After a round of golf and writing a blog post on Lundin Golf Club, I felt it was my duty to cross the Mile Dyke and play a round at Lundin's sister course, Leven Links.As mentioned in the previous blog, Lundin and Leven shared a course for about 40 years before the volume of golfers necessitated each club completing it's own 18-hole layout in 1909. They still hold a match between the clubs playing the old layout. Levin So to write that Lundin Golf Club was enticing and fun and challenging and leave out Leven would be a cold introduction to one half of a set of twins. "This is Ben who is athletic and smart and funny, and this is his brother, Beau."While both Lundin and Leven — both of which are about a 20-minute drive from St. Andrews — sit in the shadow of Largo Law, a dormant volcano just to the north, the courses aren't exactly identical twins. Oh sure, they start the same — a straight line out from the starter's box, just a slice or hook from the beach along the Firth of Forth, then a 90-degree turn to a par-3 5th hole that's short but well-guarded by bunkers.But the differences set in pretty soon after that. Lundin climbs the hill and departs from the links land for a few holes. Leven, meanwhile, stays in links mode through the entire layout.Leven Links also seems to be the caretaker of the area's competitive history.Archie Shanks, the sports convenor for the Leven Golfing Society, showed me around, including a look at the Amateur Champion Gold Medal, which is proudly displayed in the Leven Golfing Society clubhouse and is, the club claims, the longest-played-for-stroke-play prize in golf. It's been awarded annually since 1870. Although The Open championship began in 1860 at Prestwick, the first prize offered in golf's oldest major was a championship belt, which Young Tom Morris won three times, making it his to keep. The Claret Jug wasn't a part of the tournament until 1872."Our club is rich, very rich in history," Shanks said as he showed me the gold medal and the champions board in the club's captain's room.Indeed, it was impressive to look upon a trophy nearing its 150th birthday.It was also a pretty fun romp around the links. Shanks was my playing partner and luckily his surname didn't affect my game (most of the time). Leven Links, which from the gold tees has just one par 5, throws a series of long, difficult par 4s at you. Then it comes around to a brilliant finishing hole, considered by some to be the second-toughest in Scotland behind the 18th at Carnoustie. It's actually reminiscent of the 18th at Carnoustie as it's more-often-than-not necessary to lay up the burn that protects the front of the green.Also unique to Leven Links is the concept of three important shots, which Shanks described to me. Because Leven Links is shared by the Leven Thistle Golf Club and the Leven Golfing Society, there are two clubhouses. So the three important shots are off the first tee, then off the 17th tee in front of the Thistle Clubhouse (a hole which Shanks has rechristened "Showtime") and the final shot of the day into the 18th green in front of the LGS clubhouse. I'm sure I didn't impress anyone on any of my three shots, but at least I avoided the embarrassment of sinking my ball in the burn.
(Photo: The fourth hole at Leven Links takes golfers straight toward the Largo Law, a dormant volcano, before turning back to the "new" portion of the course.)

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