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23 miles N of Aberdeen
Welcome weekdays – advisable to contact in advance
Old Tom Morris, Archie Simpson, Tom Simpson, Herbert Fowler
Some say golf was played at Cruden Bay way back in the 18th century, but Cruden Bay Golf Club wasn’t formed until at least 100 years later. Old Tom Morris and Archie Simpson were commissioned by the Great North of Scotland railway company to design the course and it opened for play in 1899. In 1926, Tom Simpson and Herbert Fowler remodelled the layout. 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.”
My first trip to Cruden Bay was pretty much like a pilgrimage. A heavily anticipated visit to a course I knew I could fall for. Still, good to calm down and reserve judgement until after your round...
After a quick warm up on the 9 hole St Olaf (worth playing), you get away at a fairly innocuous 1st. Bit like Dornoch in that it’s quite a low key. Things start to get more interesting at the 3rd, where you can probably drive the green on this blind drive.
And then you get to the 4th, which is the start of a very good run. This hole alone almost makes it worth the trip. A wonderfully framed and challenging hole in a postcard setting.
Another highlight on the front 9 was the par 5 6th - surely one of the best I’ve played. The 2nd shot into hole 7 was also fun - if your angle of attack isn’t ideal (mine wasn’t) going for the raised green guarded by two sentinel dunes was intimidating.
Wasn’t sure what to make of the 8th. It felt too easy to par as, even as a bogey Golfer, I didn’t play it particularly well. Perhaps it’s a half par hole. It does have a very nice view looking back to the tee from the back of the green.
As we made the difficult walk up to the 9th tee, something interesting happened: a dense and all encompassing sea fog - later learned it’s called a Haar- enveloped the land within just a few minutes. What would likely have been a spectacular view - where the golf course and full glory of Cruden Bay revealed itself before us - became instead like an erie scene from The Hound Of The Baskervilles. We could not see more that 50 yards ahead of us.
We waited for around 10 minutes, didn’t get any siren, so proceeded to play the next 5 holes completely blind, guessing direction from the course planner. Fortunately the holes ahead of us were completely empty, otherwise we would have had to walk in. The fog eventually disappeared just as quickly as it had arrived when we reached the 14th tee. Which was fortunate as I loved this uphill hole that culminates with the famous bathtub/swimming pool green. The anticipation as you hit into it is a simple golfing pleasure (albeit slightly diminished for me as it was a chip with my 3rd shot).
2 fun par 3’s follow - I preferred the semi-hidden 16th compared to the completely obscured 15th. The 17th has interest due to the odd mound in the middle of the fairway, and hole 18 was largely forgettable (i.e. I actually can’t remember it).
The routing at Cruden Bay was an excellent walk and I think some of the courses’s quirky holes are necessitated by making the best routing of this idiosyncratic landscape. It is an inspired compromise and reminded me a little of St Enodoc in this respect. The closing holes here are not up to the level of its Cornish Cousin though.
It was pleasure to play at Cruden Bay and I will be back, especially as there’s plenty of other great golf in the vicinity to fill up a golf weekend. As much as I’d like to, I can’t give it top marks because I didn’t see a fair portion of the course. And for the holes I could fully experience, there were a few weaker ones. I did experience enough though to determine that this is the real deal - a true bucket list course that hit several sweet spots for me and one you will also enjoy playing. Just cross your fingers for some decent weather.
A fair review - missing those holes is like listening to a piece of music where you have the build up and wind down without hearing the climax ! Definitely make the trip again - from the courses you have reviewed in the region you will also love Royal Aberdeen, Murcar, Fraserburgh, Montrose, Monifieth, Panmure, Carnoustie...you get the idea !
Cheers for the comment Dan. Shame I missed a good bit of the experience.
We did at least play Royal Aberdeen on the same weekend, and will definitely get back over there. Fraserburgh in particular is one I’d love to get up to, but hopefully will get around to all those you mention at some point.
KLM still has a direct flight from Amsterdam, so until the oil runs out I’ve got no excuses to not go back and play those 5 holes at CB. Perhaps we should even have asked for a Rain/Fog-Check?!?
10 years ago, which seems like forever ago, I first visited Cruden Bay. I fell in love with it immediately. Having seen so many courses around the world in the mean time I was always curious if it would really stand the test of time and the impact of experience and several hundred course visits. I’m extremely happy to be able to confirm to myself that not only does it, but seeing it with my current golf CV proves to me that it’s even better than I originally gave it credit for. That says a lot since it has always been one of my favorites.
There are few experiences in golf better than walking around the clubhouse at Cruden Bay down towards the 1st tee and seeing the entire valley and course present itself. The holes are wonderful and varied, quirky and challenging. The surface is fast and firm, it’s golf as they could only do in the Golden Age of architecture.
There are certainly too many great holes to start discussing all of them but there are two things I’d like to mention. Firstly, architect Tom Mackenzie has made some improvements recently. He greatly improved the 10th hole by moving the tee to the top of the dune and moving the green to the edge of the clifftop to create an infinity green. This hole was arguably the only weak link on the course and now is spectacular.
The last thing I want to mention, perhaps plea, is that the club does not change the 8th hole, which for me is one of the great classic holes on the course. The 8th is a short drivable par 4 that plays to a green tucked into massive dunes. It’s a wonderfully quirky hole. The problem is there are issues with the green and the turf on it not getting enough sunlight due to the massive dunes surrounding it. I understand that and if the issue was due to trees I’d say, cut them down. However, the wonder of this hole is the fact it’s been around for more than 100 years. For the sake of classic architecture I hope they don’t change this hole by moving the green out from the dunes.
The other significant change occurred to the tee shot of the 10th hole. Previously this tee was on the cliff to the right of the 9th green and following the tee shot ensued a semi tedious walk down the steep hill on a narrow path. The new changes have the tee moved to the right side and have turned the hole into a sort of cape hole where you need to hit down through the valley out towards the sea and attempt to cut off as much of the right side native as possible. Tee shots challenging the right side of the fairway are rewarded with the best angle of approach to the tricky raised green.
There is always controversy revolving around the blind par 3 16th hole. Again, it’s wonderful and quirky; let’s hope they never change it.
Cruden Bay remains one of the great days in golf and if you haven’t played it put it on top of your list.
Cruden Bay is a golf course that dances to its own beat. It’s gripping, riveting, absorbing and most importantly its individuality shines through. Cruden Bay is one of very few courses that has a real personality.
It’s laid out over a unique, special and infinitely fascinating piece of land that boasts an embarrassment of riches for those who love the true form of the game; links golf.
The 27 holes cover terrain that rocks and rolls its way along a thin strip of perfect golfing land as it traces the stunning shoreline. I say 27 holes because the St. Olaf, a par-32 nine-hole relief course, is well worthy of mention when discussing this intoxicating club.
The quietly impressive getaway hole on the main course, visible from the clubhouse, merely serves to clear your palette for a stretch of six holes that are truly remarkable and extraordinary. Individually brilliant, collectively unsurpassable.
The beauty of these half-a-dozen holes, where the course is at its turbulent best, is the amazing amount of variety, not only in the type of shots required but their length and par. You never hit the same shot twice. It's quirky for sure but there is so much quality too.
On this half a dozen holes there’s a burn to negotiate, bunkers to bypass, dunes to avoid and green complexes that are endlessly diverse. Nothing repeats itself except the quality and after holing out on the seventh you are left wondering if this is as good as golf can be. I’m fairly certain it is.
All 18 holes call for all kinds of imagination and creativity; judgement of not just distance but ball flight is essential too. The amount of options the course gives you when playing each and every shot is breathtaking, the basis of strategic golf design.
The course has a mind of its own and is the purest form of golf exemplified. Those going in search for the soul of the game would be well advised to visit Cruden Bay, because I think you might just find it here.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Where to start with glorious Cruden Bay? You’ve probably heard it all before; the blind shots, the spectacular views, the bathtub green and the often-quirky layout, the clichés are all true.
Your journey at Cruden Bay starts as you park at the clubhouse, where you’ll be wowed by the view that hits you as you arrive. Make note that this view is primarily the second course, the St. Olaf. The Championship Course is played around the massive dunes in the distance.
The opening hole of the Championship Course heads out to the left of the clubhouse and through the town. You’re given the opportunity to open your shoulders on the pretty but routine opener before facing the 2nd where the green sits atop of a giant mound that competes with the 2nd at Royal Dornoch in terms of difficulty to hold your ball on the short stuff when the surfaces are hard and dry. The short but meandering 3rd is actually more difficult than it looks from the yardage as bumps and borrows of every description sit in front of a green that lies below the level of the fairway.
The course then really comes to life on the long par three 4th that is played alongside Port Errol and parallel to the river that heads out to sea. This hole in combination with the 5th, 6th and 7th are where the course shows most of its teeth as you make your way through and across the rising dunes and over water hazards. The approach shot to the 7th between the humps in those dunes must make this one of the most unique golf holes I’ve had the honour of playing.
After the driveable par four into an amphitheatre green (I’d love to see a tour event played here and the surrounding land covered in spectators), you’re faced with a climb to the 9th tee. This is quite a climb and not for the faint-hearted, but take your time and bring your camera as the view from the top was recently voted as the best in Scottish golf by UK golfers who were polled via Visit Scotland’s website. All I can say is drink it in folks, it doesn’t come much more enjoyable than this. Which is the better view: Across the front 9 and back to Slains Castle, or down to the 14th and the sandy beach behind? That viewing position alone is almost worth a 6-ball rating on its own merit. The hole itself also now lives up to the view. From what I understand, this used to be quite an ordinary hole, but has recently been changed and is now a dogleg along the cliff with the green perched over the edge providing more spectacular views, this time of the back 9 and the white horses rolling from the sea and onto the beach.
The 10th hole has you hitting from an elevated position by the side of the 9th green back down onto the lower land with a short par three and a gorse-lined slither of a par four to follow. What comes after that is a group of holes that are amongst the most exhilarating in golf as you hug the shoreline. The par five 13th curves right over a snake-like burn with a blind shot onto the hidden green buried into the side of the same elevated piece of land you climbed earlier. The 14th, possibly the best hole on the golf course, then takes you dangerously alongside the length of the beach before you play another blind approach into one of the most famous greens in Scotland “the bathtub”. I’d recommend challenging yourself to rolling your putt up the sides of the bathtub and see how close you can get your ball to the hole.
The next hole is then the first of back to back par 3s where you’re faced with yet another blind shot, but this time, right over the dune with only a marker post and a tee peg placed into a board to guide where you need to hit your approach. Ring the bell hooked onto a rope to tell the group behind you that they’re free to play and then return to the clubhouse via the last three holes. These closing holes provide a satisfactory ending to the round, but without the same roller-coaster thrill of the previous grouping of holes.
After your round, you’ll no doubt be greeted by the genuinely welcoming members who are all keen to see how you enjoyed their course, a hospitality that also extends to the professional team in the shop. To cap it all, you’ll be provided with a small bottle of Cruden Bay Scotch to commemorate your day on the links.
I also need to give a special mention to the St. Olaf course which is a superb little 9 holer played on the ground directly in front of the clubhouse, and is a great way to warm up for the main event. The St. Olaf comes included with your Championship Course green fee and has some excellent holes in its own right, particularly the 6th which would not look out of place on the Championship Course.
Before you head back home, don’t miss the opportunity to round off your day and recall your round over dinner and a pint at the nearby Kilmarnock Arms Hotel.
All in all, Cruden Bay is a real contender for the most photogenic course in Scottish golf and the course absolutely lives up to those photos. If you’ve not played here yet, you’re absolutely missing a treat, it’s a wonderful day’s golf that goes beyond just the 18 holes of the Championship Course. I’d therefore like to doff my hat and offer my congratulations Cruden Bay, my favourite golf experience to date.
I grew up on this course but had not seen all the recent changes. They have made a really good course-loved by Americans- even better. New bunkering, tees and big improvements to 9 and 10 and 16 have enhanced the Cruden Bay experience and the course is getting very close to RA in terms of quality and memorability...and the view from the clubhouse never gets old either.
Wonderful evening game at Cruden Bay this evening on a glorious long and sunny Scottish evening. This was my first time at Cruden Bay having wanted to play here for some time. The course was totally magnificent and you know it is going to be as soon as you arrive at the clubhouse with the magnificent view of both courses below you. There are no weak holes and the variety is extraordinary. There are too many highlights to mention, the front nine may just edge it in terms of quality of holes, but the views on the back nine which mainly runs by the beach are virtually unparalleled in golf. This being the first time I played the course it is difficult to know where I would rank the course compared to others, but it is definitely in my world top 10 and probably top 5. If I played it more it could even be up pushing the top spot, which for me currently is Royal County Down. Cruden Bay is totally magnificent, the only slight negative could be the quality of the greens which were not amazing, but that could be down to the relatively early season.
In addition aside from the golf the whole experience was fantastic; extremely warm welcome in both the proshop and the bar, the food and even the very pleasant email exchange with the office to organise the game. Everyone ridiculously friendly. Class. I had high expectations and these were comfortably surpassed.
This course is an absolute delight to play. From the moment you enter the property you are made to feel like you are part of the family. The views from the clubhouse must be the best in the UK certainly. Food and drink is well priced and the service is tremendous. The course itself is such a mix of amazing holes which are just loads of fun. It's not long but this doesn't mean that it's easy. There are superb views available all over the course and several quirky holes make it unique. I love the diversity of the place. I love the all out craziness of the layout. I love the feeling I get when I go there. I just love this place and I would urge everyone to go and have a knock there.
Definitely in my top 10 golf experiences in terms of fun golf in a stunning setting. The beauty of the course starts at the par 3, 4th and stays the whole way round except hole 9 cannot be dressed up in any other way except to link the two nines. The back 9, edges the front in respect of wow holes (10 and 12 to 15). Just a brilliant golfing experience.
In my experience, it is the unexpected discoveries that end up making traveling for golf such an intriguing endeavor. Unexpected and unique, such as the sui generis Cruden Bay Golf Club, located along the Aberdeen coast in Scotland. When I first walked to the end of the parking lot and looked down on the course I was startled; it was unlike any golf course I had ever seen. The course defies being pigeonholed; it is one-of-a kind. Golf at its simplest is a game, and I think we sometimes lose sight of that fact.
The world of golf has much sterner tests than Cruden Bay, but for pure fun it cannot be beaten. The course would be ranked number one in the world if having fun was the only criterion utilized.
When I first played Cruden Bay early in my golf travels, I experienced what the French call coup de foudre, which translates into “a thunderbolt,” or more accurately, love at first sight. There is something about Cruden Bay that brightens your mood. It made me see golf through the eyes of a five-year-old—everything is exciting, there is a sense of discovery around every corner, life is good and full of promise, curiosity abounds.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
Super friendly helpful GM, pro shop, marshalls, starter, bar and catering staff - thank you to all of you !
From the minute you arrive in the car park you can see what a cracker of a course it is - nestled in behind the dunes.......and the best bit is that that is NOT even the best bit - what you can see mainly is the nine hole course as much of the main course heads out through and over the dunes. (didnt play this but it looks a cut above the average nine hole second course)
The main course is a wonderful classic TRUE LINKS course with a stunning variety of holes and challenges and breathtaking views (and climbs) to get the heart racing.
WELL WORTH A VISIT
Amazingly it has hints of Royal Dornoch, Castle Stuart, Kingsbarns, Trump International etc all rolled in to the 18 holes.
Fantastic Clubhouse views on a par with Crail or Royal Aberdeen.
WANT TO GO BACK AGAIN !!!