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23 miles N of Aberdeen
Welcome weekdays – advisable to contact in advance
Some say golf was played at Cruden Bay way back in the 18th century. An authenticated ballot box with the inscription "Cruden Golf Club 1791" exists, but Cruden Bay Golf Club wasn’t formed until more than 100 years later. Old Tom Morris and Archie Simpson laid out the course for the Great North of Scotland Railway Company (GNSR) and it opened for play in 1899. In 1926, Tom Simpson and Herbert Fowler redeveloped the layout leaving many of the original greensites and routing intact. Little has since changed.
The railway company used pink granite to build a luxurious hotel at Cruden Bay, which was nicknamed “the Palace in the Sandhills”. They hoped for the same success as at Gleneagles, but sadly, in 1952, the hotel was demolished. Money was tight in the 1950s and the club and course almost fell by the wayside until three local businessmen stepped in to save Cruden Bay from extinction. A new clubhouse was built in 1961 on the same spot as the hotel but that, too, has disappeared, making way for the present 1998 clubhouse.
Cruden Bay is an inspirational golf course, regarded by some as quirky and considered by others as a masterpiece. Either way, this is a thrilling place to play golf because the designers used the original lie of the land to fantastic effect. Rugged linksland, pebble-dashed with sand dunes as high as three-storey buildings. Elevated tees cut high into the dunes, humped and hollowed fairways bumping their way along to punchbowl greens, nestling in attractive dells. And all set against the backdrop of the steely North Sea.
The 193-yard par three 4th hole is called Port Erroll and is described in A Century of Golf at Cruden Bay as follows: “Thus named because the Water of Cruden runs along the left side of the fairway, with the old fishing village of Port Erroll on the opposite bank. The harbour is itself visible in the near distance. This is one of Simpson’s best par threes and one of Cruden Bay’s best holes. Playing straight towards the sea (and often into the wind) from an elevated tee carved out of one imposing sandhill across a deep grassy hollow to an elevated green carved out of the facing sandhill. The tee shot must carry straight and all the way to the green – it is serious business, indeed.”
The 5th and 6th are interesting holes through the dunes with thick rough all along the coastal side. The shot into the plateau 6th green must avoid a burn which is very much in play. The 8th is a picturesque short par four of 258 yards. There are no bunkers but the green is in a dell slightly to the right.
The views from the 9th tee are stunning in all directions. Behind you is the dune land, sea and Slains Castle in the far distance. A meandering burn is in play on the flatter 10th, 11th and 13th holes but you then re-join the dune land at ‘Whins’, the par four 14th. This is a fun hole, uphill to a narrow sunken green only a few yards from the sea.
The 15th ‘Blin Dunt’ is a blind par three to a green hidden by the dune below the 9th tee. The 16th is also a par three and the hole takes the name ‘Coffins’ from the grassy hollows to the right and back of the green. The round finishes with two good par fours, the 17th being the more difficult.
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.
As part of the stringent Top100 quality control process, I felt I just had to check out whether the last reviewer really had a case regarding the comment that Cruden Bay was “not a test of golf”.
Admittedly, the course may suit me as I’m a “senior who hits it along the ground” but I can confirm that – despite playing a little above handicap with a notional score of 32 Stableford points – the course is STILL the test of golf that many suspected it might be.
Respondents to the last review can no doubt rest easy in bed tonight and they might also take comfort in knowing that I even managed to finish with the same ball I started with – imagine that!
Never fear, there’s still a decent chance that Cruden Bay might just manage to retain its place within the World Top 100 when the chart is next re-ranked.
Oh boo hoo. A decent golfer had a bad day on an excellent course and blames the course. Shock!
If all courses were the same then we would be bored indeed. The greens are small but the course is short (Go look at the 5th green now and it would rival some on St Andrews Old for size and undulation). Links golf is not mean to be fair so running off the fairway from a 'good' drive is common. The rough on links courses is also more unforgiving than your average parkland track where you no doubt spray it all over the countryside. Get back there and play it a few times and you will change your tune