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11 miles SE of St Andrews
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Old Tom Morris
Visit Golfbreaks.com for a golf holiday at Crail (Balcomie)
Twelve miles from St Andrews, on the easternmost tip of the Kingdom of Fife, lies the Balcomie Links. It's laid out on a narrow promontory, often blasted by North Sea gales. There are magnificent views across the beach to the Firth of Forth. Nearby stands Balcomie Castle, which is said to be haunted by the ghost of a boy who was starved to death inside the castle walls nearly 400 years ago. In 1538, Mary of Guise stayed at the castle on her way to marry King James V at St Andrews.
Balcomie is the relatively modern home of the Crail Golfing Society, the ninth oldest golf club in the world, which was formed in 1786 at a meeting in the Golf Inn at Crail. In the early days, the Crail Golfing Society played their golf on an 8-hole course at Sauchope, located closer to the pretty fishing village of Crail. According to early club records, failure to show up for a match resulted in a fine of "a half mutchkin of punch". In the mid-19th century, a local farmer laid out a nine-hole course at Balcomie and in 1894, Old Tom Morris redesigned it. He returned four years later to extend it to 18 holes.
Measuring a mere 5,922 yards from the men's medal tees, Balcomie is by no means a championship course, but with a lowly par of 69 and the ever-present wind, the yardages are often meaningless. The opening hole falls away from the clubhouse towards the sea and the next four holes hug the shoreline – it's a thrilling start. The next nine holes are a little less dramatic – inland in character, but nevertheless enjoyable. A return to the shoreline concludes the round.
You'll want to play Balcomie more than once because there's a great deal of variety, not least in the balance of the two nines - six par fours on the front and only three on the back. We suggest you buy a day ticket and play Balcomie twice. Or, if you are feeling up to it, perhaps you'd like to emulate those who play in Crail's annual tournament, the Ranken Todd Bowl. It's contested over 54-holes on a single September day.
Four and five both necessitate driving over the edge of the North Sea, but the 5th is by far the harder and is aptly named ‘Hell’s Hole’. It is very difficult to know how much of the corner to take on with your tee shot. The long second shot is made more difficult by the requirement of great accuracy into a green that slopes from left to right and from front to back.
The 13th is a par three where you may well need driver into the wind. Thirteen is uphill heading back to the clubhouse. It is unusual to have par threes back to back but the two holes are very different. The 14th, ‘Cave’, frequently features in photographs. The tee is high on a hill just below the 1st tee. Distance is hard to judge but you must carry a large sleeper-faced greenside bunker at the front.
Fifteen is a short par four with few problems unless you hook badly to the sea cliff on the left. The 16th, ‘Spion Kop’, is a par three of 162 yards up a steep hill. The 17th is the longest par four at 462 yards and is rated index number 2. Eighteen is a long par three that may need driver some days. The tee shot looks more difficult than it really is due to the large bank of gorse that you must carry.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.