The following edited extract is taken from A Century of Golf at Cruden Bay:
“The ‘new’ 18-hole links course was commissioned in 1894 and fully opened in 1899 as part of the recreational facilities offered by the Cruden Bay Hotel, newly erected and opened in March of that same year. The inner nine hole ’Ladies course’ was also laid out at the same time.
Simpson and Fowler re-designed the nine hole St Olaf course, sandwiched in between the first holes of the championship course, and which was opened at the same time. It closed during the war years and fell into disrepair.
On 26th June 1968, the inner nine hole course was re-opened. Originally going to be called the Errol course, it was finally decided to name it the St Olaf course.
The fairways were all lengthened for the re-establishment of the course, and the greens were cut out of thin rough grass using a hay mower. Miraculously, the quality of the grass of these greens has served us well since that time.
Harry Forrest first started green keeping duties with the club in 1957, when he stood in for his father Richard Forrest who was ill and recovering from an operation. A joiner to trade, Harry had just returned from National Service at the time. It was Harry who found and brought back the nine hole course which had become totally overgrown during the lapse in use after the Second World War.
Mr. A. Simmers, recently retired club captain who had channelled so much energy into its construction, played the first ball off the tee to mark the opening of the course.”
The excellent nine-hole St. Olaf is 2,463 yards of pure delight. This is a smaller scale course that boasts a set of par threes, four of them all told, that most courses would be envious of. The seventh and ninth are simply outstanding, as is the par-four sixth which plays over a saddle in a dune before it turns sharply left to a green situated on a long shelf atop a large sandhill. From the St. Olaf you also glean glimpses of the championship course; drop-offs here, rumbling fairways there and green locations that are simply to die for.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Given that Cruden Bay is my second favourite course in Scotland (just behind Carnoustie in my book) I am delighted to say that St Olaf's is a superb nine-holer entirely contained within the big course. It affords many of the same challenges with similar turf and terrain, albeit on a smaller scale. And the 6th hole is quite superb. Having played a good number of the nine-hole courses in Scotland I would say St Olaf's is the best. (And you get to play the big course in the afternoon!)
I played here after competing in the Gents Senior Open in May 2017 but I didn’t take any notes or photographs as the course wasn’t at that time ranked in the North East district. I knew it was a decent track but I still took a second look a couple of months ago on my way further north to play in the Gents Open at Inverallochy before posting a review.
Secretary Les Durno was also very accommodating, opening up the recently refurbished 121-year-old former clubhouse next to the 1st tee to let me have a look at the building in its new role as heritage museum and starter’s hut. There’s also been a lot of landscaping work carried out in this area, creating a massive new clutter-free tee box which affords a very good impression on arrival to play here.
The St Olaf nine occupies ground in the middle of the property, surrounded by holes 1 to 6 on the main 18-hole layout and, to get an idea of the lie of the land, my notes for the 1st hole state simply “rumpled fairway, with random lumps and bumps”. There’s not a weak hole on the layout and the closing four, in particular, would hardly look out of place on the main layout.
The pick of the holes for me was undoubtedly the 383-yard 6th, playing through a gap in the dunes then turning left and down to a green lying 30 feet below the level of the fairway. Unless you hit a great drive (or have the wind behind you on the tee) you’ll be playing a blind approach to the green on this epic hole – it has to be one of the best par fours that isn’t on a Top 100 track in the country.
As you’ve read before about other courses, it’s worth the green fee to play this hole alone.
One final thought – I’m sure the St Olaf course is capable of holding its own against any other in GB&I for the title “best 9-hole layout” and maybe such a chart might one day see the light of day.
Like so many others (I suspect) I did not even know that the 9-holer existed before I visited (my lame excuse is I did not organise the trip on that occasion) and it was not ranked at that time either so impossible to know then what we seem to have missed.
Some of these little tracks are best played before the main course to avoid disappointment, while others are good enough (or different enough) to also be enjoyed as a "dessert" afterwards.
What is your recommendation?
Btw: Hope you create a separate 9-hole list at some time.