Crail (Balcomie) - Fife - Scotland

Crail Golfing Society,
Balcomie,
Crail,
Fife,
KY10 3XN,
Scotland


  • +44 (0) 1333 450686

  • Golf Club Website

  • 11 miles SE of St Andrews

  • Welcome - book in advance - not before 10am or between 12 & 2pm

  • David Roy

  • Old Tom Morris

  • Graeme Lennie


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.

The sea views are simply stunning - photo by Anthony MunterMeasuring 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.

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Reviews for Crail (Balcomie)

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Description: The Balcomie Links is the relatively modern home of the Crail Golfing Society, the ninth oldest golf club in the world, which was formed in 1786. Rating: 4.6538461538462 out of 6

During our second golf trip to Scotland, we visited Fife. After we met the ultra nice head pro Graeme Lennie and his assistant David, we decided to play both Crail courses that day: Crailhead in the morning and Balcomie in the afternoon.

It was a bit of a grey and busy day at Crail, and the pace at the Balcomie was pretty slow, which did not add to the enjoyment.

After a nice down-hill opener, the second hole is almost surreal: when playing my second shot I had no clue where to aim for (yes, I was still on the fairway.....). I will remember that shot for a long time!

The remaining holes at that side of the clubhouse offer a wide variety of links holes: both short & long, uphill & downhill and two holes testing your knowledge of your driver carry distance, since you can/must cut the corner over the beach. After playing the funky uphill/ downhill combo of par3's in front of the clubhouse there is a little loop of holes waiting for you near the coastline behind the clubhouse, offering some very links type closing holes.

Despite the course being relatively short, I still enjoyed the course since it offers you the typical quirkiness that links golf is all about.

Excellent condition, excellent greens. When checking the scores after the round, I found out that - despite the lack of length - Balcomie can still put a decent dent in your golf pride if your short game is not firing on all cylinders.....

During our day at Crail, we felt welcomed by all staff, both in the clubhouse as out on the course.

If you decide to travel up to Crail to shoot some golf, I can recommend to play the Crail combo in this order: it will give you a decent golf test in the morning and a links adventure in the afternoon. You will not be disappointed.

I hope Mr. Lennie is not offended to much by my reviews of 'his' courses at Crail....

OCB

June 16, 2017


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We played Balcomie this April on a grey morning when the wind was just starting to blow. All seemed well as we teed off the straightforward par four opening hole but as the sun came out the wind got up.On the fourth, off the yellow tees, is just 315 yards and you have to skirt the beach to get onto the fairway, but our pro who was playing with us hit driver and a career five iron and still came up short! The holes may not look that long on the card but they punchway above their weight.Some par fours we reached in one, others were out of range in two. The par threes set up on what looked like dune tops were no pushover either. But what was most memorable was the quality of this famous old track. Strangely it does not seem to figure on many tourists radar, especially the Americans.This might be seen as a blessing in some circles but they are missing a treat. This is a very fine course indeed and should be on any golfing pilgrimage to the Royal Kingdom of Fife. It is great value too1
June 16, 2015


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Dr J Taylor Hill
November 15, 2015
Balcomie ranks in Scotland as one of the easiest courses for girls and ladies. It is officially rated in the top 30 easiest courses from the ladies tees and makes a pleasant and less taxing course.
Becky Holder
December 07, 2015
Really? A six-star course? That puts Crail up there with Muirfield, Turnberry, Royal St Georges etc etc etc. It complete nonsense to rank it any more than a 4-ball rating. The course is short from either the men's back tees or the ladies tees; in fact I played with three other category 1 ladies and we murdered the course from the back tees. The fact that the whole of the front nine can been seen from the 1st tee tells you just how short it is - fine for holiday golf or for high-handicappers but it's not a great test even when a 2 club wind was present. Sorry, but members submitting silly 6-ball reviews is pure comedy!
Until relatively recently it was a rather odd layout with one par three on the front nine but five on the homeward nine. The balance is now slightly better with two on the first nine but there is still the problem of four par threes in the last six holes. Don’t let that deter you because the Balcomie is a fun experience with some tricky holes due to some steep hills and the ever present wind.

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.
March 30, 2015


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Played Balcomie in really difficult conditions in late-October. Very high winds and occasional heavy rain interspersed with bright sun produced a series of stunning rainbows against dark skies, green turf and slate sea. As a high single-handicapper I liked the course a great deal and it is well described in other reviews. What I would like to comment upon is that this is a course that is fantastic when played in wind as its location and exposure makes it an acid test of swing technique, ball striking and visualisation. This is golf where you could feel you were walking in the footsteps of the originators of the game. The Par 3 third... into the teeth of a gale using a low 2/3rd length drive with draw to 15 feet? 'Hell's Hole' with any hint of fade on the ball sending it unerringly to the beach. Just great and another world from compute and launch.
October 22, 2014


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Played April 28 and April 29, 2014. Had a wonderful time playing the Balcomie Links! Played with a large group the first day and then a re-play the next day with a small group. Wind was completely different from one day to the next -- changed the course in so many ways. The course is fun and in good condition. There are some holes that get a bit confusing as to whether players from another hole are on your hole or theirs, etc. but a thoroughly enjoyable round of fun golf! As a mid-handicapper, shot an 84 one day and a 92 the next. Also, I MUST mention how absolutely delightful it was to chat with the pro (Graham Lennie) and his staff - we all commented how gracious they were and fun to talk with! It was a great "break" after playing Carnoustie and before we played the Old Course. And the views, on a sunny day, are stunning!!13 Index
May 07, 2014


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Played Crail Balcomie Links today (11th February), after an absence of 6 years. Crail may not be the hardest course in Scotland, but it is a special place, with stunning views over the sea from the course and the fantastic clubhouse. Holes 2 through 5 are the pick of the bunch with tee shots at 4 and 5 tremendous. And if you avoid the sea at 5 with your tee shot, then you are not safe yet! If you push a lengthy second shot just a tad, then you will be on the beach!One of the best par 4's in the country. The fairways are fairly wide but the turf is great to play on. 14 is a fab little par 3. A very good course in good condition. If you want to play Scottish links golf in its purest form, then Crail is a must play course. Great value for money.
February 11, 2014


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After a period of almost 6 years I made a return visit to Crail to play the celebrated Balcomie Links. It was with some anticipation that I made my first visit in 2005 but the day, at the 7th oldest golf club in the world, left me with a slightly lukewarm glow. Sure it was nice, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations which were admittedly high. Fast forward to November 2011 and now perhaps a bit more worldly wise in golfing terms, I enjoyed and appreciated the course so much more. Holes 2 through 5 are as good as you find anywhere with the drives from 4 and 5 over the beach, like Machrihanish, both tee shots being natural golfing laxatives. This is followed by the par 3, 6th which, isn’t a bad hole but perhaps it suffers due to the brilliance that precedes it. It is the next group of holes which stop me elevating the Balcomie to a 5 ball review as I found them fairly uninspiring which I thought was also true of holes 15, 17 and 18. Undoubted stars of the inward half are the back to back par 3’s at 13 and 14. On my first visit I found the 13th a brute and I didn’t enjoy it one bit. It is still a brute wiyh the wickedly undulating green making it one of the toughest one shotters in Scottish golf. The beast is followed by the beauty. A short, dainty par 3 from an elevated tee to a split level green fortified by a sleepered bunker, simple but brilliant. So my new impression of Balcomie is uplifting and no longer lukewarm and although I don’t think that it is quite a 5 ball course it is still a wonderful golf course. I will respectfully disagree with my commanding officer’s view in his review below mine and now state that Balcomie is now my favourite over the Craighead but there is not much in it. Either way, I would happily play any of the these two courses any day of the week. MPPJ
November 29, 2011


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AMc
November 29, 2011
Nice review but I disagree with your synopsis of the middle section. Aside from the magical 2nd, I think 8 is my favourite hole on the course. A superb sweeping right to left fairway to a stunning skyline double green with wonderful undulation.
HCA Macinytre
November 09, 2015
7th oldest CLUB is a lot different from 7th oldest COURSE as those of us less-prone to being fooled by the marketing know. Crail has to have a USP to draw in the unwary visitor and the 7th oldest tag is what they've chosen. I agree with your 'lukewarm' comment but I'd rank it no more than a 3 star/ball course. It's too short for me and in August 2015 my 15yo daughter playing off 3 handicap skated round in gross 2 under par without having to use her driver at all; I imagine that the local ladies should all play off scratch here but 10 handicap elsewhere!! Holiday golf would be the best way to sum it up.
Calling Ally McIntosh!!! You commented on my review from 6 years ago, wondering what I’d make of the Balcomie 5 years later. Well, I played the course again today and must say that I really enjoyed my run out in the winter sunshine, especially as the greens were in absolutely tip-top condition.Crail Golfing Society (Balcomie Links) - photo by Jim McCann Last time in the winter, when they were in such bad condition, I paid scant attention to the wonderful undulations that characterize many of them. Today, the greens demanded close examination because they were so firm and fast. The opening five holes are very good, playing away from the clubhouse, but they’re followed by a couple of relatively dull holes (even if one of them is a short par four, normally my favourite type of hole). Holes 13 and 14 are as good a pair of contrasting par threes as you will find anywhere in Scotland and they’re the real highlights of the back nine. The final four holes are played out on a separate wee parcel of land on the other side of the clubhouse and - excepting the terrific par three 16th - they conclude the round in rather disappointing fashion. Real “fun” courses for me might include the likes of Machrie, Kilspindie or Shiskine but here at Crail I still prefer the new Craighead layout to the old Balcomie. Jim McCann
November 22, 2011


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John Taylor Hill
January 20, 2016
Played Crail, Balcomie in August 2015 in a one-club wind which the locals claimed was just a breeze. I'd have to say that across the Firth in East Lothian they'd call a two-club wind at Dunbar, North Berwick or Muirfield 'just a breeze!' But I digress. Balcomie frustrated me I have to say. The fact that it's squeezed into a smallish parcel of land isn't necessarily the problem (although virtually the whole of the front nine can be seen from the first tee and that's annoying as I prefer surprises). However what is fussy and fiddly are things such as the 14th tee being to the right of the 1st fairway and frankly being in the way if truth be told, the back nine having a couple of decent par fives followed by four, yes four, par 3s in the last six holes. And finally there are the hills and climbs: there are no place on true links courses for these - again go and ask Dunbar, North Berwick and Muirfield how it's done. Sorry it's a very generous 3 balls from me for Balcomie.
A short, old fashioned course with better views than the adjoining Craighead links. At least that’s what is apparent at first sight. Some of the par fours are eminently driveable but with the (out of bounds) beach on one Crail (Balcomie) Golf Course - Photo by reviewerside of many of the holes the nerves can be set on edge when deciding to be brave. From the yellow tees the 2nd is a par five in all but name, and the 11th is no pushover either. The dogleg fifth is a real belter forcing the player to decide how much to cut off with a dunk in the North Sea awaiting the pushed or greedy drive. The 207 yard uphill par three 13th over a high bank covered with rough shows how short overall course length does not necessarily equate to pushover. The final four holes are located in what feels like their own little course with a par three finish over what looks like a sea of bushes under the gaze of the welcoming clubhouse. One of the most enjoyable and best value courses I have played in Scotland.
September 14, 2011


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Mystery to me why this course is not rated higher. Perhaps it's because it's not all that long for the big hitters? I managed to go round in 6 over, much better than my handicap, but really the course is spectacular and much, much better than it is rated. The adjacent Kingsbarns is also magnificent, but in my view this comes a close second. Beautiful.
May 12, 2011


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HCA Macintyre
November 09, 2015
Aah, personal opinions; we all know what is said of them and I'd have to reply by saying it's a mystery to me quite why Crail Balcomie is rated as high as it is! Just because a course is short shouldn't be a reason to criticise but having been round Balcomie a few times from my teenage years to now in late 40s I've never warmed to the place. Sure the views are wonderful but nothing like as good as at Dunbar, North Berwick or Elie for that matter but quality golf is about the challenge of the course not how pretty the views are. And quite how Kingsbarns can be suggested as being inferior to Balcomie is beyond laughable; clearly 12 May 2011 review was written by a Crail member! As a test of golf it's too 'fiddly' for me; irons off tees in places to save running through the fairway on par 4s isn't in my mind quality golf. Sure the greens are nicely shaped in the main but I can't imagine too many low-handicap overseas visitors choosing Crail ahead of those courses named earlier or even Scotscraig, Ladybank and other more worthy, quality courses in Fife and the adjacent counties of Scotland.
Patrick Muir
December 19, 2015
For me it's a mystery why Crail IS rated by reviewers as highly as it is. It's so short that the front nine can all be seen from the first tee. I'd imagine a 5-handicap member whether man or boy, woman or girl would struggle to play to single figures at other full length courses. There's even a 200 yard par 4 for the ladies for heaven's sake! Having played it with my 15 year old, 3 handicap daughter in September 2015 in a two club wind we both beat the gross par which being 72 for the ladies is surely a printing error on the scorecard! Par 68 and SSS68 for the ladies and Park for the men is nearer the mark. I can't say fairer than that!
Ian Muir
January 08, 2016
Sorry, for me it's a mystery why Balcomie is rated as high as it is! A 6-ball rating can only be reserved for courses on The Open roster such as Muirfield, Royal St Georges, Royal Troon and other great tracks like Royal Dornoch, Sunningdale and RCD. The bias of members plays havoc with proper ratings and for me Crail Balcomie can be no more than a 3. Sure the views are good but Crail only gets attention due to its location near to St Andrews - put it anywhere else and it's just another pretty but short and less than challenging course. The ladies par is surely wrong for starters: a par 72 of barely 5200 yards is nonsense, this should be a par 68. There are only a handful of proper par 72s for ladies in Scotland as follows:- Scotscraig (5,800 yards), Dunbar (5,700 yards), Castle Stuart (5,700 yards). Any lady playing to low single figures at any of these courses is a proper player. I won't even comment on how daft the par is for the men at Balcomie; sorry but I can't recommend it.