Where to start with glorious Cruden Bay? You’ve probably heard it all before; the blind shots, the spectacular views, the bathtub green and the often-quirky layout, the clichés are all true.
Your journey at Cruden Bay starts as you park at the clubhouse, where you’ll be wowed by the view that hits you as you arrive. Make note that this view is primarily the second course, the St. Olaf. The Championship Course is played around the massive dunes in the distance.
The opening hole of the Championship Course heads out to the left of the clubhouse and through the town. You’re given the opportunity to open your shoulders on the pretty but routine opener before facing the 2nd where the green sits atop of a giant mound that competes with the 2nd at Royal Dornoch in terms of difficulty to hold your ball on the short stuff when the surfaces are hard and dry. The short but meandering 3rd is actually more difficult than it looks from the yardage as bumps and borrows of every description sit in front of a green that lies below the level of the fairway.
The course then really comes to life on the long par three 4th that is played alongside Port Errol and parallel to the river that heads out to sea. This hole in combination with the 5th, 6th and 7th are where the course shows most of its teeth as you make your way through and across the rising dunes and over water hazards. The approach shot to the 7th between the humps in those dunes must make this one of the most unique golf holes I’ve had the honour of playing.
After the driveable par four into an amphitheatre green (I’d love to see a tour event played here and the surrounding land covered in spectators), you’re faced with a climb to the 9th tee. This is quite a climb and not for the faint-hearted, but take your time and bring your camera as the view from the top was recently voted as the best in Scottish golf by UK golfers who were polled via Visit Scotland’s website. All I can say is drink it in folks, it doesn’t come much more enjoyable than this. Which is the better view: Across the front 9 and back to Slains Castle, or down to the 14th and the sandy beach behind? That viewing position alone is almost worth a 6-ball rating on its own merit. The hole itself also now lives up to the view. From what I understand, this used to be quite an ordinary hole, but has recently been changed and is now a dogleg along the cliff with the green perched over the edge providing more spectacular views, this time of the back 9 and the white horses rolling from the sea and onto the beach.
The 10th hole has you hitting from an elevated position by the side of the 9th green back down onto the lower land with a short par three and a gorse-lined slither of a par four to follow. What comes after that is a group of holes that are amongst the most exhilarating in golf as you hug the shoreline. The par five 13th curves right over a snake-like burn with a blind shot onto the hidden green buried into the side of the same elevated piece of land you climbed earlier. The 14th, possibly the best hole on the golf course, then takes you dangerously alongside the length of the beach before you play another blind approach into one of the most famous greens in Scotland “the bathtub”. I’d recommend challenging yourself to rolling your putt up the sides of the bathtub and see how close you can get your ball to the hole.
The next hole is then the first of back to back par 3s where you’re faced with yet another blind shot, but this time, right over the dune with only a marker post and a tee peg placed into a board to guide where you need to hit your approach. Ring the bell hooked onto a rope to tell the group behind you that they’re free to play and then return to the clubhouse via the last three holes. These closing holes provide a satisfactory ending to the round, but without the same roller-coaster thrill of the previous grouping of holes.
After your round, you’ll no doubt be greeted by the genuinely welcoming members who are all keen to see how you enjoyed their course, a hospitality that also extends to the professional team in the shop. To cap it all, you’ll be provided with a small bottle of Cruden Bay Scotch to commemorate your day on the links.
I also need to give a special mention to the St. Olaf course which is a superb little 9 holer played on the ground directly in front of the clubhouse, and is a great way to warm up for the main event. The St. Olaf comes included with your Championship Course green fee and has some excellent holes in its own right, particularly the 6th which would not look out of place on the Championship Course.
Before you head back home, don’t miss the opportunity to round off your day and recall your round over dinner and a pint at the nearby Kilmarnock Arms Hotel.
All in all, Cruden Bay is a real contender for the most photogenic course in Scottish golf and the course absolutely lives up to those photos. If you’ve not played here yet, you’re absolutely missing a treat, it’s a wonderful day’s golf that goes beyond just the 18 holes of the Championship Course. I’d therefore like to doff my hat and offer my congratulations Cruden Bay, my favourite golf experience to date.
Date: June 26, 2017