Ten 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 was called in to improve it. He returned four years later to extend the course 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.
A great course with some stunning holes. A member advised us to play off the whites as there are some holes where you drive over the water to reach the fairway. Well worth a visit.
A lovely quaint course just outside of St. Andrews, this is the fifth oldest golf club in the world. In general, this course is short, playing 5,592 from the medal tees, but as a par 69, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a walkover. It gets off to great start, with the downhill 1st starting a great opening stretch as you play along the coast line. This leads to the 5th, both beautiful and daunting, with the drive requiring a big forced carry over the sea. The back 9 includes a drivable par 4 (the 15th) , and finishes with a long par 3 where my partner told me the only play was a ‘three quarter driver’! An extremely fun place for a round, and you can really feel the history on the fairways set old by Old Tom Morris all those years ago. As with the Glen in North Berwick, it does however have some extreme competition being so close to a golfing mecca!
Craig is a great place to break-up a trip in St Andrews. It's less well know than its neighbours Kingsbarns and St Andrews, but similar to Lundin, Leven, Elie etc, it is a great club and worthy of a stop.
All the tees are extremely close to the greens, making for an easy walk and fun layout. Don't expect to be stunned, but worthy of a stop if in the area
I'm surprised at some of the low rankings for Balcomie. It's definitely not a championship length course, but if I think of fun rounds of golf I've had on a traditional links in a lovely out of the way location I can't think of many that beat Crail. I played again this Spring, and whilst a couple of holes away from the sea are a bit humdrum they are still fun, and the good holes are great. Add in a cave where a Scottish King was reputedly killed by vikings (he wasn't), its being the supposed home of Shivas Irons in "Golf in the Kingdom" (it might have been) and you've got a brilliant place for a game (make a day off it when combined with the Craighead course). Its new-found popularity overseas does mean that it's more pricey than it used to be, but Crail is a special part of the East Neuk.
Crail Balcomie offers some fabulous views, usually some "fresh" air with the wind which is either refreshing or howling, and a fun round of golf.
If you want a test of golf, this is not the place to play. If you are going for fun in your foursome or group, then one should stop here because of the views and the fun factor.
For me, from a pure golf perspective, I only found three holes to be interesting: four, five and eighteen. From a
joy perspective, you could add two, six and fourteen. For fun, you could consider all of them.
It is typically in good condition, but obviously at less than 6000 yards, even as a par 69 with an rating of 70, it is very short unless the wind is above 20 mph. The greens are usually in excellent shape, and have some nice undulations to them.
The course is not heavily bunkered and this is really no rough to really consider.
The staff is very friendly and the views from the clubhouse are very nice.
It is not a course that I recommend good players stop to play or those who want a challenge. But if you are trying to capture the joy that golf can provide, then you should definitely play here.
Crail is a special place to play golf and a prime example of how a short course can be confused with an easy course, especially if the wind is up. The views are breathtaking and the par is 69. The 447-yard fifth hole is a killer into the wind with its forced carry over the sea, and a visual stunner. Reminiscent of Prestwick and North Berwick, the 9th hole at Crail features a stone wall against the green. The members serve as caddies at Crail and are a delight. I suppose perfectionists could nit-pick that there are too many blind shots and four par 3s on the back nine, but come on, who are we to criticize Old Tom Morris? The course is a throw-back and a delightful place to play without pretense and reasonable greens fees.
This is the first visit to Scotland links this July. It was very fine when we played Balcomie and we had a wonderful time there. The ground is more firm than in Japan and the ball runs far. I will never forget this first experience on Links golf.
Of all the links golf courses around the Fife Coast the Balcomie Links at Crail must be the most picturesque of them all.
The view of the rocky coastline from the elevated, modern clubhouse is panoramically majestic and the scenery to feast on as you golf over the links is just about unrivalled in this part of the world.
I’m yet to see the Craighead course but have played the Balcomie a couple of times, the most recent in August 2019 when three generations tackled the 5,861 yard, par 69 layout. Undoubtedly one of the best courses under 6,000 yards.
It proved to be the perfect track for a 79, 40 and 10 year old with handicaps ranging from 3 to 36. It was more than testing enough for myself, an easy enough walk for my dad and a brilliant introduction to links golf for my son who was able to reach many of the short par-fours in regulation, which pleased him greatly.
Indeed half a dozen of the two-shotters play to a yardage of around 350-yards or less from the back-tees with four of them under 300-yards from the yellow blocks. I think sporty is the term often used.
There are also six par-threes and whilst there are some longer holes, where you can open your shoulders, Crail isn’t the sort of place to beat you up. You won’t spend much time looking for golf balls as there is little rough on the compact site and bar a few holes where gorse features it’s a case of hit it, find it, then hit it again although sadly this can no longer be done from the beach as it is marked out-of-bounds.
Emphasis is very much on the fun factor at Crail. However, be warned that the course is no pushover and the SSS of 70 will give you an indication of this. And with the wind a constant and ever-changing feature, the challenge is enhanced at many of the holes.
The Club perhaps sum it up it best on their website when they say, “Created in the days when course design was governed by the natural lie of the land and not the mechanical earth mover. Extraordinary holes abound, along with those which seriously challenge and those which are more comfortable. The sum total is a layout which both enchants and delights, but which also demands and punishes, testing all the skills in a golfer's armoury – as well as his nerve. Those length seekers who believe Balcomie will be a soft touch, do so at their peril.”
The set of greens at Crail is particularly impressive and they are a pleasure to putt on. The condition, speed and trueness was excellent on my visit but there are plenty of undulations, slopes and borrows to provide interest too. The double green at 8 and 11 is fascinating with a gentle furrow running through it. The 3rd green also caught my eye with its contouring which allows you to feed the ball in from the safer left-hand-side.
Not having a blast at Crail, with its exhilarating seaside location, is an impossibility. The nature of the land, the fantastic mix of holes and the setting all add up to a wonderful golf experience. Just a short drive from St. Andrews it would make a perfect addition to any of the courses there and comes recommended.
Put simply; a wonderful golfing experience which shouldn’t be taken too seriously, a chance to let your hair down and enjoy the simplicities of golf.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
The other half of a truly great 36 hole links venue.
A REAL MUST VISIT.
I doubt that my opinion of the Balcomie course at Crail is going to be met with universal popularity, but despite its scenic setting, I just didn’t warm to the place. My visit came towards the end of a week-long golf tour to the Fife region where from the outset, everything appeared promising. The course is set serenely against the coast just a short hop away from Kingsbarns where there are beautiful views of the sea from the car park and across most of the golf holes. A fairly modern well-appointed clubhouse, pro shop/starter’s hut as well as caddies available on request also go to demonstrate that Crail isn’t short on attention from visitors to the region. Despite all of this early promise though, Balcomie didn’t deliver for me.
The course does indeed start well, holes two through five in particular being lovely holes that hug the shoreline featuring a couple of heroic carries from the tee and include typical bumpy links fairways, but after this, I just felt a bit flat with what was delivered. Undoubtedly, the course is pretty, but it lacks complexity. Sure, there are some nice touches along the way such as the boathouse next to the second tee, a double green mid-round as well as two enjoyable raised green par threes, but nothing to really stir those links-juices. Too many of the holes feature large expanses of ground to aim at with your driver, and whilst I’m far from opposed to width on a golf course, this needs to be supplemented by better strategic bunkering or gorse to frame the holes, something to keep you honest and to make you more considerate of your line of attack from the tee.
The round also ends on a slightly flat note where, despite once again being located close to the shoreline and under the gaze of the members watching on from the clubhouse, the journey from tee to green seemed to involve little in the way of truly thoughtful design. Ultimately, I was left wanting more substance than the holiday golf I was presented with. Crail’s Balcomie course makes a pleasant introductory round to someone visiting these shores, but if your trip is short and you’re looking for a purer links experience and some diversity if travelling outside of St Andrews, there are better options elsewhere.