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.
We completed our round at Kingsbarn and asked the pro shop for a nearby local course that would be up to our exacting standards. He made a call and we were teeing off at the Crail Golfing Society 24 minutes later, the 7th oldest golf club in the world. It is alleged that what we call the cup today originated here in 1874 as “iron cases.” They have two courses, Balcomie and Craighead Links. We played Balcomie, which was designed by Old Tom Morris. It is a relatively short course on the ocean with a par of 69, with three par fives, six par threes and nine par fours and a lot of fun. The day was beautiful but the wind kept picking up and by the end of the day it was probably a good 2 club wind. The 13th hole is particularly notable, a par 3 214 yards up hill, excuse me, up cliff into the wind. When we were looking at it from the tee box, we weren’t sure that we could get our drivers high enough to get above the cliff line. I nutted a drive that we thought was pretty good. This convinced Carlos to hit driver, which he did and he got a lucky bounce dead left to within 3 feet (%$$#$%$^&^#$%@$%#$%^) I ended up short and he made his putt. Not that I am bitter. The course also lays claim to Constantine's Cave. The story goes that Constantine was killed by the Danes around 1000AD. I was told that the archeological finds do not support the myth, but who knows.
A fun respite from the prominent and expensive area courses that is well worth it.
One of the oldest golf courses in the world and refashioned by Old Tom Morris as long ago as 1895, Crail (Balcomie) has plenty of history, magnificent coastal scenery and offers a dramatic if unusual round of golf.
It has one of the best set of par3s that I have ever encountered, there are six of them on a course which measures just 5900 yards from the back tees. Golf courses were not built on vast sites in the early days and at times the holes are quite close to one another, indeed many of the tees are remarkably near to the green of the hole before. Walkers added to the feeling of congestion in places particularly around the middle of the course.
There are some outstanding cliff-top views and these with the aforementioned par3s is what I will remember most from my visit. The 3rd is a blind tee shot to a beautifully contoured green, the 6th a longer challenge from a raised tee, 13 a beast of a hole requiring a sharply uphill drive over a massive ridge, 14 a glorious downhiller known as ‘The Cave’, 16 another testing tee shot to a raised green, and 18 a long hit to a green called ‘The Quarry’, sited well below the Clubhouse with its watching gallery.
Surprisingly I played this blast of superb short holes to level par, and it was the longer holes that found me out, including the stroke index one 5th, suitably named ‘Hell’s Hole’.
There were many delightful challenges and the roller-coaster ride is unpredictable and yet enjoyable, on a golf course where the conditioning was fine throughout. Golf is a thrilling game in a setting like this, although when the wind blows (and we played Balcomie on a calm and sunny afternoon albeit through a sea mist at one stage) I am certain the golf course shows its teeth.
Afterwards in the Clubhouse, I spoke to a member of the Club who stated after learning of my experiences around Balcomie, ‘Aye laddie, you haven’t yet played the newer Crail course called Craighead, and in my opinion that one is even better.’ I can’t wait to return and find out.
This was the final round of the day and a long pending in my bucket list as I have been there several times but have not had the chance to play it before. It is a jewel in the same line as Elie, Kilspindie, Brora, Golspie, Lundin, Leven and many more courses here in Scotland.
We had a tee time 7:50am but a flat tyre made us get there just 5mins before it and I had to play it on my own, which I did with no warming up in just 2hs carrying my bag being it the 10th round of the trip in 6 days. This was a real Marathon!
The Balcomie Links stands in an amazing piece of land very close to Kingsbarns as the 5th green at Balcomie is just 400yds from 12th at Kingsbarns. The ocean comes in play 1-2-3-4-14-15 but you have views in every hole.
The starting stretch is the most scenic and demanding with a couple of tee shots over water played as OB. After short par 4 1st you play a nice uphill par 5 with a very special feature and this is that the 3 par 5s run parallel and together with 2-11 played in one direction and the great 12th in the opposite one.
It is a short course but fun and with a great variety of par 3s (6 of them) having hit from 8 iron to hybrid and the same goes for par 4s with lengths from 280yds to 460yds so you can get the full monty of your bag to play it.
A brilliant routing with angles that will make wind play and greens with some false fronts and roll offs that will make wind play a strong factor when there.
Kept in magnificent shape, greens rolling perfect, bunkers as tidy as you can ask and well placed, this par 69 is a serious experience to be lived together with lunch at the elevated Club House. Good things sometimes come delayed, 10yrs after my first visit I finally was able to walk this piece of history and it didn’t disappoint a lot.
There is a nice Christian Sanctuary on the walk from 14th to 15th and not only for religious people, well worth a stop and pay respect to the people who made Scotland the great country it is today.
Played Crail (Balcomie) on a Twilight rate and it was almost deserted. The Course is extremely well maintained, so much so that at times it appeared bland. Quite a compressed course, with many signs telling golfers to be give way to or be aware of others. Some notable holes include the 5th with it's challenging tee shot over and around the bay, and the 13th and 14th Par 3's. The 200+ yd13th could spell disaster in any medal round and the short 14th played from an elevated tee and over a cavernous bunker lined with sleepers are stand out holes.
Crail Balcomie is a fun day out. There are some nice holes on the front mostly and the back feels like it was squeezed in. The club dates back to the 1700's. The club is very welcoming and the restaurant is excellent. In the general area it sits it is about 7th best. There are so many wonderful courses in the area.
This is simply a fun course. Great to play it for the history, the holes along the shore are the most interesting for me. Some quirky holes too, which might not be to everyone's liking, just don't take it too seriously and you will have fun.
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
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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.