Cruit Island is considered by some to be one of the best 9-hole golf courses in the world. It is certainly one of the most scenic courses in Ireland. Overlooking Arranmore and Owey Islands and with Mount Errigal as a backdrop, Cruit (pronounced Crutch) is located near Kincasslagh in The Rosses, County Donegal. Tucked away in this north west corner of County Donegal, this is about as far off the beaten track as you can get when searching for a “hidden gem” course.
And yet, incredible as it might seem, Donegal International Airport is just a few miles away at Carrickfinn, allowing visitors from the UK to fly directly to the remote west of Donegal, avoiding the less than perfect road system!
The nine holes of Cruit Island were only created in 1986 (by Michael Doherty, the professional at City of Derry Golf Club) but they feel like they have been in play for many years more with their wild and windswept look. The views from the cliff tops are simply stunning and the sound of the sea is ever present as the Atlantic crashes in relentlessly on the rocks below – this is raw, elemental golf from a bygone era played in a new century.
The land for the course was originally leased from Dr. Seamus Hegarty, Bishop of Raphoe and was subsequently passed on to the current landlord, Paddy Forker. A very comfortable clubhouse was built soon after the course was first opened and this has served both the members and the growing number of golfing cognoscenti who make their way to play the course as its reputation widens.
The club is proud of their claim to being one of the first clubs in Ireland to offer full membership to ladies. In fact, they went one better by becoming the first Irish club to have a lady as President when Eileen Oglesby was elected to the position in 1994.
Cruit Island is 2,809 yards long with seven par fours and two par threes, one of which, the 150-yard 6th, is the spectacular signature hole, played along the cliff edge. The first two holes are stiff openers, both measuring over four hundred yards in length and the other par three is no pushover at 213 yards.
Mention must also be made of two golf competitions involving two of the area’s most favoured sons – Packie Bonner, the ex-Celtic and Ireland goalkeeper has an Open in July and Daniel O’Donnell, the popular Irish singer, hosts another Open in August. Cruit Island is well worth the visit, whether you choose to participate in either of these Opens, or just turn up on a day when you’re looking to play golf for fun.
If there are golf courses in heaven I suspect they will be very much in the spirit of Cruit Island.
Reaching this remote course, set above the wild and rugged Atlantic Ocean on the very edge of Ireland, is almost as dramatic as the course itself. A single-lane track, with minimal passing points, is used for the last several miles of your journey to reach this unbelievably beautiful and unspoilt part of the country.
For those familiar with Durness in the Highlands of Scotland there are strong similarities although I think Cruit just pips it. The view and setting of the links itself leaves you speechless.
The driveway through the course, where you must beep your horn to warn out-of-sight golfers about your presence, gives you a glimpse of the undulating course but the real magical stuff is hidden from view and saved for later.
I must admit when I arrived at this outpost I wasn’t expecting much activity. If I had been the only soul there, with an honesty box to deposit my green-fee in, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised but to my astonishment the clubhouse was busy and there were plenty of golfers on the course. Indeed a 5-ball was just heading out as I parked up!
Not that it is about the golf holes the best I can describe them in short would be something like; the 1st is ‘up and over’, the 2nd is ‘down and up’, the 3rd is ‘over and down’, the 4th is ‘up and then up a bit more’, the 5th is ‘over then falling right’, the 6th is ‘over the sea’, the 7th is ‘ epic along the coast’, the 8th is ‘ho-hum’ and the 9th is ‘blind then hopefully over’.
That clearly doesn’t do each one justice and whilst each hole may not be out of the top bracket the experience of playing here certainly is. It’s the sort of course where you just need to grab a small carry bag, throw in half-a-dozen clubs, a couple of balls (maybe a few more to be on the safe side) and just go out there and have a blast.
By my own admission Cruit (pronounced “Cruch” as advised by a local caddy at Rosapenna the day before) isn’t really a reviewable golf course, it’s certainly not rankable! It’s one of those special places where all that sort of irrelevant stuff becomes immaterial. But hopefully I have painted a good enough picture for you to want to go and visit and experience it for yourself. You should... and that is all that really matters.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
The beautiful, wild drive over the bridge certainly sets the scene nicely for the golf course. Hard to describe, other than to echo others' observations of the amazing variety of views from all parts of the course - on a sunny day like ours it is superlative. The greens were excellent, none of the blind shots too confusing, and the staff were very helpful and friendly. Maybe the 5th could be softened to reduce lost balls, but other than that keep it as it is and enjoy its quirky individuality, much as you should other fun but good courses like Durness, Traigh, Shiskine, Glencruitten and Anstruther.
Glad you enjoyed the unique experience that is Cruit. We have just had a great stretch of fine weather and if you can find a better place to experience golf as natural as this I’ll be more than happy to invite you back for a round as my guest.
Just came back for this year's trip to Donegal. Despite also playing the scenic and wonderful courses at Ballyliffin, Rosapenna, Narin&Portnoo and Portsalon, it is the crazy golf and breathtaking scenery at Cruit Island that our little group will remember the longest. Pick a clear day, only use the scorecard for navigation the first time....and do not forget to take lots of pictures! Almost impossible and irrelevant to rate as a golf course only.
Played Cruit Island a couple of years ago and noticed it is in the "Gem" list. It fully deserves to be in the list. Crazy, memorable and wild 9 holes. Forget the yardages, the change in elevation makes it obsolete. Pick of the holes are 3, 6, 7 and 9. The drive to the golf course is staggering beautiful also. A unique golfing experience and an absolute joy to play.
So glad you appreciated the experience. We believe Cruit to be(one of) the best 9 hole courses in the world and the best in these islands. Not many people realise how accessible we are being only twenty minutes from Donegal airport and an hour flight from Dublin. Come up and enjoy golf as it was meant to be.
Great that you enjoyed the course. 26 points would be considered an outstanding score for 9 holes by members. Wind is a big factor on the course and maybe you got one of the few totally calm days! 9th. hole is only short if you take on a very high tariff drive over the out of bounds on the left, many a winning card has been torn up as a result. All improvements (and a few more) now made. You are very welcome back.