Scotscraig Golf Club was founded in 1817, so golf historians currently reckon it's the 20th oldest golf club in the world. The club is situated at Tayport in the north of Fife, a mere ten miles from St Andrews, the "Home of Golf".
James Braid redesigned the present gently undulating Scotscraig layout in 1923 and it measures 6,669 yards from the back tees with par set at 71. There’s plenty of heather and gorse to catch the wayward shot, not to mention the ever-present coniferous plantations. Scotscraig doesn’t sit exactly beside the coastline so it is one of those enigmatic courses, which are hard to categorise, as it is neither true links nor heathland or even moorland, but instead is an interesting combination of them all.
Scotscraig is a test of accuracy rather than length and it will reward the player who plans each stroke with the next one in mind. The large rolling greens and well-positioned bunkers will present a serious challenge to all golfers. Since 1984, the course has been chosen as one of the local venues to host Final Open qualifying when the Open is held at St Andrews.
Needless to say, Scotscraig Golf Club has a great deal of history and a mere 17 years after its formation, their 1834 gold medal had to be played at St Andrews because the Scotscraig course had been ploughed up. The following year, the members had to play their autumn meeting at Montrose and thereafter the club seemed to disappear for half a century.
Club fortunes turned around when land on which the original course was built was sold to Admiral Maitland-Dougall in 1887 and the club was reconstituted under its original name. The Admiral was a formidable golfing force in those days, winning no less than sixteen Royal & Ancient Spring and autumn medals over the Old course at St Andrews. The first hole at Scotscraig is named ‘The Admiral’ in his memory. A merger with the Newport Golf Club took place in 1890 and a new clubhouse was erected in 1896 to accommodate the enlarged membership. The course was extended to 18 holes in 1904 and then James Braid later altered these when the members bought the course outright nearly twenty years later.
As golfers are spoiled for choice when choosing where to play on the east coast of Scotland, Scotscraig often gets overlooked for other more illustrious places in Fife or nearby Angus. This is a big mistake as the hospitable Scotscraig Golf Club can hold its own against the more renowned local courses.
Celebrating its 200th anniversary in 2017, the club announced a renovation project to return all the greenside and fairway bunkers to their original size and remove and control extensive areas of gorse. The first round of improvements had been completed the previous year, involving the reconstruction of twenty-one greenside bunkers and a redesign of the 4th green.
The second stage saw twenty-six fairway and approach bunkers rebuilt in a more natural form and new bunkers introduced on the 11th, 12th and 16th holes. The fairway bunkers were all changed so that they’re now rough-edged, adding visual appeal to these hazards. Plans are now in place to plant heather and marram grass round some of the bunker faces to enhance their natural appearance.
I liked Scotscraig, I really did, but just didn't have the time to do it justice. This course was the venue for the second of four games played on the summer solstice a few years ago, in a charity 72-holes-in-a-day golfing marathon for a small group of colleagues and I. We'd played Drumoig to start the day and the drizzle which had started on the 10th at that first course, had turned into proper rain by the time we teed off at Scotscraig. So with no time to wait (and a weather forecast that didn't show any improvement) we slogged around the course quickly becoming soaked through. The middle day of summer should be warm: this day wasn't. Wet and cold made the scoring rather average, but the shower, change of clothes and quick snack after the round may have been the most pleasureable 20 minutes I've ever had in a golf clubhouse!
I do remember thinking how lovely the course looked and admiring the landform on many of the holes: it was more than just undulations, but not quite elevation changes, something in the middle that hinted at the nearby sea and the part links-like nature of the course. It is easy to see why the course is a Final Open Qualifying venue.
After Scotscraig, our third of four games was to be played over the New course at St. Andrews Links.
After receiving a friendly welcome from both staff and members we delayed our game for 3 hours as we waited for the worst of the weather to pass. This turned out to be a good move as the torrential rain moved away to leave sunshine and showers and a course showing no signs of the earlier deluge. I would definitely describe Scotscraig as more heathland than links in character but in all honesty it's not an easy course to categorise. With gorse, heather and scots pine in abundance blended with typically links style fairways and bunkering in places it's easy to see where the identity confusion comes from.
The course gets off to a great start, the 1st, "Admiral", provides rolling links terrain as well as plenty of heather to contend with and the 2nd continues in a similar vein with a large area of gorse close to the left side of the green. The 4th, "Westward Ho", is a classic par-4, not overly long, but clever bunkering and a raised green make this a tough nut to crack. The crumpled links fairways continue on the 5th, 7th and 8th, all solid par 4's and all requiring a little strategy from the tee.
Two excellent par-4's get the back nine up and running and a tricky par-3 soon follows at the appropriately named "Island"13th, missing the green here will almost certainly leave a tough recovery. From the other holes, 14 and 16 are both good par-5's with no shortage of trouble, the 17th, a dogleg left to an attractively situated undulating green is very good and the 18th requires an accurate approach to a well bunkered green.
If the back nine were equally as good as the front then Scotscraig would undoubtedly rank much higher in the Scottish Top 100 but in truth the terrain is just not quite as interesting. That said, I would happily be a member here if it were close to home and I very much look forward to returning in the future. Four and a half balls is about right so it gets a five. Brian W
The 4th is my pick as the best at Scotscraig. It is a par four of just 366 yards and yet is rated index number 1. Your drive must be accurate in order to avoid bushes and gorse on the right and a beautifully revetted bunker on the left. The green is quite small and raised. This is a very attractive hole visually as well as being a fun challenge.
The par five 14th is one of the best holes on the inward nine. Positioning of each shot is important if you’re going to be on this green in three. Seventeen is a par four with a dogleg left. You need to be right with your tee shot so as to open up the green but beware of the fairway bunkers on this side.
The closing nine holes are rather flat and a little more open than the front nine which I feel is a more interesting proposition with not a weak hole. From the competition tees there are three par fives. However, from the forward men’s tees both the 9th and 16th become long par fours with a reduction of a mere 26 yards in total from the par five rating.
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.
On the day that we played the tee was block booked for the morning by the SPGA (one of the fourballs containing Ronan Rafferty), so if that is not a ringing endorsement then I don’t know what is. I have to admit to a bruised golfing machismo as on the day that I finally got to rub shoulders with the Pros my driving was so poor that Wee Jimmy Krankie would have crushed me in the longest drive competition. Stand out holes for me were the 1st, no gentle introduction here, the magnificent 4th, which would grace any golf course, the 7th (wee tip, driver may not be the sensible play) and on the back 9 the 12th and 14th. I didn’t enjoy having to play from mats on some of the holes but that minor complaint can be heavily offset by the superb greens which were firm and fair and a credit to the club. Scotscraig is a timeless classic, understated and enduring, a simple honest to goodness quality track which golfers of all abilities will love which, on no account should be missed. MPPJ
I hope the club can do something about holes 11 to 15 on the back nine which have more of a parkland feel to them to bring them more into line with the others. I see that some tree and shrub planting has been started along the edge of these fairways so maybe they will blend in better over time. Back at the clubhouse, it was nice to see the club displaying a good number of golf artifacts from times gone by - letters from Harry Vardon, James Braid and George Duncan adorn the walls of the lounge, for example - as tangible evidence of the pride the club has in being regarded as one of the oldest golf societies in the world. Jim McCann