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WOULD I like to take up an offer to spend a week playing golf in and around
St Andrews, wondered my sports editor. Does Tiger Woods make ends meet?

An added incentive was that the invitation included entry into the 72-hole Drambuie Fife Classic. As far as I was aware, Woods had not been afforded the same honour. One up to me.

So who would my competitors be at the Home of Golf? Anyone looking to play in the second of five such events held from May to October and visiting, as well as Fife, the Highlands, East Lothian (June 29-July 3), Ayrshire (July 6-10) and Speyside (September 28- October 3).

Run in association with visitscotland.com, the Classics provide the chance to play competitive yet sociable golf over four different courses. The cost, which includes five nights' hotel accommodation plus a Scottish banquet prizegiving, ranges from between £420 to £685, depending upon the level of accommodation, or £220 for the golf only.

That in itself represents a saving of £41 on normal green fees while also offering the prospect of entrants picking up daily prizes, including for longest drive and nearest the pin, as well as 72-hole aggregate stableford prizes. Entrants came from all over Britain plus two from Germany and one from Switzerland, lured by the prospect of tackling two Open championship qualifying courses (Ladybank and Scotscraig), the world's seventh oldest club (Crail Golfing Society, established in 1786), and a course which made its bow this millennium, the Torrance at St Andrews Bay.

Now I'm willing to bet that when Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance first grew a moustache it was initially untidy in patches and in need of constant appraisal. The same could be said of the Torrance Course.

The setting, with views of the North Sea and the town of St Andrews, is breathtaking and facilities - including a five-star hotel - superb. But stray slightly from the fairways on a few holes and you find yourself on ugly, barren, bone-hard ground which offers little but the possibility of scuffing an iron during a recovery shot.

Stick to the close-mown stuff and the course has challenges which are all to do with limiting damage to your score rather than your clubs, none more so than the 434-yard par-4 17th, Sam's Favourite. Here the fairway hugs the rugged coastline tighter than a Liz Hurley dress, and the approach shot with a long iron, normally into a breeze, has to be played over a ravine guarding the green. A beautiful hole looked back at from the sanctity of the green, but unnerving when viewed prior to the tee shot.

Scotscraig, where the club professional is Stuart Campbell, formerly at Shipley, has had a little more time to bed down than the Torrance Course. Okay, enough bedding down time to satisfy Rip van Winkle, having been established in 1817. The yellow-flowered gorse which nestles against the trees makes for a scenic but demanding course, as befits its Open qualifying status. The fairways are not as ribbon-thin as they appear from the tee but still require impressive driving for good scores to follow.

It is easy to be distracted by the picturesque surroundings, but complete attention is particularly demanded at the 366-yard par-4 fourth where, once a tight drive is negotiated, an approach shot with a short to mid-iron onto the plateau green has to traverse a ravine on the right-hand side.

This hole encapsulates Scotscraig's charm, providing immense satisfaction to anyone who plays it well and the solace of being cocooned from the rest of the world in splendidly-wooded surroundings to those who don't. Golfing paradise.

While Scotscraig casts a protective arm around its golfers, shielding it from the full effects of the wind with its dense woodland, Crail Golfing Society offers its visitors up to the mercy of the elements. Here is links golf, the way nature - and its original creator, Old Tom Morris - intended the game to be played. Someone may have erred when they positioned the lifeboat house beside the second tee (somewhere nearer the 18th lest any poor souls should be tempted to throw themselves into the sea at the sight of their scorecard might have been more  propitious), but it is a minor quibble.

Where there was certainly no error was in the naming of the 459-yard right-hand dog-leg par-4 fifth, Hell's Hole. Low handicappers have to decide how much of the beach to drive over to shorten the approach shot.

The rest of us pick a far more circumspect target and still swing with a prayer (which often goes unanswered, hence all the

footprints I found when retrieving my errant drive from the sands).

Crail may include six par-3s, but this is a course which still demands respect, as is evidenced by the fact that when the Open is at nearby St Andrews many a golfing great takes time out to pay his respects to a course almost 220 years old.

And so finally to Ladybank. Should I have to choose a course on which to play my final round, this would be a major contender.

Also touched by the hand of Old Tom Morris, albeit only its original six holes, this is a heathland course to which every golfer should pay a visit. As with Scotscraig, the fairways are tight but not claustrophobic and the feeling of being embraced by a golfing gem lasts from the first hole - just stop on the green before you putt to look back at the hills which provide a magnificent backdrop to the clubhouse - to the last.

Its secluded setting adds greatly to its charm and, as at Crail and Scotscraig, can be played at a discount price outside of the Fife Classic week as part of a Links with History package.

Given the fact that each day's golf - plus hugely enjoyable après-round socialising - takes up a fair chunk of each day, participation in any of the Classics needs the indulgence of a partner who either plays golf, can busy themselves with the many non-golfing attractions Scotland has to offer, or makes the ultimate sacrifice of staying at home to deal with day-to-day matters (thanks, Shirley) while you visit the Home of Golf.

But whatever it takes - arm-twisting or a trade-off - the Classics are well worth checking out.

Of course, with 45 courses in the Fife area you needn't restrict yourself to visiting purely as a Classic competitor, but for those who like to explore new golfing horizons with a competitive edge to the play, these events offer fantastic value for money.

The Fife Classic,
Scotland

Published: November 12, 2005

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