My latest trip to Cruden Bay cemented the course’s position as one of my favorites in Scotland. My first visit to the course occurred during a jam-packed golf trip in my first year at the University of St Andrews. Visiting the course again was a must, and luckily during this latest round, I had a knowledgeable local to show me the ropes. Ruairidh MacDonald, of The Scottish Golf Podcast, took me out on the course and provided the crucial local knowledge that was missing during my first visit.
The charm of Cruden Bay begins upon entering the clubhouse. A warm welcome is received and the view from the main bar area immediately comes into sight. The 180-degree view of the links land is breathtaking, and many holes can be seen tucked amidst the massive dunes between the clubhouse and beach. It is one of the best clubhouse views that I have seen in Scotland, and a post round pint thinking back over the round should be compulsory when visiting Cruden Bay.
I took an early morning train to Aberdeen from St Andrews, and a 30-minute car ride later, we were walking into the Cruden Bay Pro Shop. The course embodies so much of what I love about Scottish links golf. The Old Tom Morris design was opened in 1899, but there is evidence of golf being played across the land much earlier. Cruden Bay features giant dunes, incredible views, strong holes, and most importantly, is extremely fun to play. World class links golf holes like the 4th and 6th are intertwined with the height of unique quirkiness featured at the 14th and 15th. When the round is finished, you find yourself desperately longing to go back out and play a few more holes.
Hole #2 – 331 yards – The course begins to expose a bit of its quirkiness on the 2nd hole. An iron down the left side of the fairway avoids the right hand bunkers and sets up a full shot into the elevated green.
Hole #3 – 274 yards – A marker post creates an aiming point on the drivable 3rd hole. The green, hidden below the fairway and slightly behind a hill, is not visible from the tee. The photo above is taken from just beyond the marker post.
Hole #4 – 195 yards – The 4th hole at Cruden Bay is one of the best links par 3s that I have played. The green is set into the dunes, and the scene is breathtaking. Click on the photo to see a larger version that provides much fuller detail.
Hole #6 – 525 yards – Both the 6th and 7th holes are nearly impossible to play well without having seen them before. An elevated tee shot on the 6th creates an intimidating view of a narrow fairway.
It is only at the 130 yard marker that this green becomes visible. At the last moment, the hole twists left, exposing a beautiful raised green set into the dunes. The Bluidy Burn runs just in front of the green, and a single bunker snaps up any balls landing short of target.
Hole #7 – 380 yards – Only a marker pole on a dune provides a hint about where to hit this tee shot. A 230 yard shot on the marker post sets up the perfect approach shot.
Hole #10 – 380 yards – The downhill 10th hole requires accuracy with the drive, leaving a short iron into the bunkered green. Very long hitters should play a 3-wood or long iron to avoid the burn crossing the fairway 290+ yards from the tee.
Hole #11 -147 yards – The approach shot to the 11th initially looks straightforward. The green is slightly raised, which creates runoff areas on all sides.
It is only when looking from above or behind the green, as seen from the photo above, that the large set of bunkers back left of the green come into view. The initially harmless looking green provides a great challenge.
Hole #13 – 575 yards – Another blind approach shot is found at the par 5 13th. Long drives come up 50 yards short of the burn meandering through the fairway. Past the burn, a clear path leads to the hidden green, which sits at the base of a large hill.
Hole #14 – 389 yards – If a single hole was to sum up the quirkiness of Cruden Bay, the 14th would do it well. A cut off of the right hand bunker sets up the perfect angle into the green.
The green is “sunken” and sits nearly 20 feet below the level of the fairway. In the past two years, the formally very steep front entrance to the green has been made less severe. The back of the green has also been extended.
Hole #15 – 180 yards – The 15th is another hole where success is dependent on having seen the hole before. It is a totally blind par 3 with a large hill between the tee and green.
The green is fairly large, and the safe play is choosing the “middle of the green” line no matter where the pin is place. After finishing the hole, players must pull on a long rope attached to a bell on the other side of the hill to announce that the green is clear.
Hole #16 – 180 yards – The blind par 3 16th is one of the quirky holes at Cruden Bay that could draw criticism. Having never seen the green before, a player finds the only reference point is the tip of the flag. Two small grass bunkers behind the green collect the countless balls that run over the putting surface.*
Cruden Bay is ranked #79 in the World by GOLF Magazine. While the blind shots and course knowledge required to score well may frustrate first time visitors, it is upon returning to the course that its genius is exposed. Old Tom Morris’s quote about Machrihanish comes to mind when thinking of Cruden Bay’s natural setting and layout. “The Almighty had golf in his eye when he created this place.”
*There are a number of changes to the golf course being proposed to the Cruden Bay membership in the coming months. The 9th, 10th, and 16th holes could see major changes. The changes would be made by McKenzie & Ebert, who propose shifting the 10th fairway and green left of their current positions, and removing earth from the front of the 16th green, which would remove the blind aspect of the approach. The changes could be another blog post in themselves, so if you want to discuss them separately or would like photos of the proposal posters, just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.