- +44 (0) 1779 812285
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.”
It is easy to imagine how the landscape would have looked when Old Tom Morris walked the site and put stakes in the ground to indicate tee and green sites. The site feels very natural and like the topography wasn’t touched in order for golf to be played on it today. I think the excellent landscape integration of the course is a very unique feature of the course and sets it apart from many links courses. The routing of the 15th hole is especially special being a long blind par 3. Not only is the hole blind but it is right along the coast and the wind has a major effect on the ball as it enters through the tall dunes as it nears the green. While it is rare to aim for a stake and not the green on a par 3, this is just another unique quality of Cruden Bay. It is interesting to hit your shot and speculate its fate, and as golfers approach the green the result of their shot is revealed to them. This surprise can be a good one or frustrating for those who thought they hit a great shot right over the aiming stake and cannot find their ball amongst the dunes and long native grass.
Another surprise that golfers face is on the 6th hole, where a blind burn winds around the front of the green. First time golfers at Cruden Bay don’t realize the hazard comes very much into play on the 525 yard par 5. The burn and the green are both blind from the left side of the fairway which makes the hole play very difficult, especially for first timers. But, for those who have played the hole often the burn is at a good distance that forces longer hitters to consider laying up or trying to hit their second shots over the burn and toward the green. The features of the golf hole may frustrate golfers the first time they play it but keeps them coming back to challenge Bluidy Burn, which is a characteristic all architects strive for when designing golf holes.
I think it is interesting that the climax of the golf journey at Cruden Bay is actually from holes 10-15, which start with an excellent driving hole on the tenth tee and finish with an interesting 200 yard par 3, and plays along the sea in between. The winding burn feature in the 13th fairway is also a very interesting natural feature on the course that both forces golfers to make a decision as well as being very aesthetically pleasing. But after playing these 6 holes the last 3 holes definitely do not live up to the quality of the previous 6.
The 17th and 18th holes are pretty average par 4’s in comparison to many of the outstanding golf holes on the course that wind between the dunes and offer great views to the sea and have quirky features that make them interesting, while the last two holes don’t offer any of these features. The elevated 17th tee does offer decent views to most of the first 7 holes and features a large dune in the middle of the fairway but still feels like a left over hole that is there just to get golfers back to the clubhouse. The last hole lacks any real features to make it an exciting finishing hole besides the clubhouse towering above the right side that offers great views for those watching golfers come up the final hole.