Cruden Bay Golf Club is Old Tom Morris' Wild Ride
CRUDEN BAY, Scotland - The 23-mile drive up to Cruden Bay from Aberdeen takes you along a lovely stretch of Scotland with dramatic vistas of the North Sea and eventually St. James's Church.
The final stretch of the drive, on the A975, takes you out to the Bay of Cruden, a short drive, to be sure. But it feels like it ought to take a lot longer. This tiny coastal village feels lost in time. The English still drive up to this area to holiday and -- of course -- to play golf at Cruden Bay Golf Club. Funny thing is, while the village is as quaint as can be and the golf course has blue blood pedigree in spades (both Old Tom Morris and Archie Simpson had a hand in crafting it), these links offer some of the wildest roller-coaster links golf you'll find anywhere in the world.
With it's share of quirks, blind shots and major elevation changes, Cruden Bay Golf Club developed a reputation over the years for, well, trickery. But no one who's played the links here, from Tom Watson and Pete Dye on down to legions of crimson-nosed duffers, is going to accuse this golf course of not being fun. It's a hell of a lot of fun, actually. Dye called it "outsized, non-conformist, unpredictable, flamboyant."
Like any roller-coaster, this one starts off a bit slow. The first two holes are relatively bland and straightforward par 4s. By the time you're on the green of the par 3 third hole, you can look east and see the sea.
The ride ramps up on the fourth, another par 3 but this one quite dramatic. The fairway drops straight down from the tee and the Water of Cruden runs down the left side. The right side of the fairway is a steep incline covered with prickly gorse. (The original Gaelic term for gorse was "golf ball-eating switchblade plant." It is possible to slice a horrible tee shot into the gorse, never take your eyes off the ball and still not be able to find it. Trust me.) With the North Sea in view and an elevated green protected in back by a half bowl, there are any number of places you can fall off the rails here - smiling all the way.
While the fourth hole is cute and devilish, Cruden Bay Golf Club's par-4 fifth is outright majestic. The view from the tee is spectacular and, assuming you thread the needle with your drive, as you walk to your second shot you begin to get a sense of the raw beauty of the chunk of land Old Tom and Simpson were given. Those guys - and Tom Simpson and Herbert Fowler who redesigned the course to its current look in 1926 - have earned their place in golf lore but truth be told, it would have been impossible to not put together a dramatic course here.
By the time you reach no. 8 you've developed a feel for the golf course. The roller-coaster, however, is still rolling. A 257-yard par 4, the green here is surrounded by high walls forming a sort of geologic amphitheater. Keep ball below the tee.
As you climb the long hill behind the eighth green, there's a bench. It's the perfect place to sit for a minute or two, pull out the camera and get some shots of the bay and Slains Castle.
Save your batteries, however, as the views from the ninth green and 10th tee may be among the most gorgeous sites in golf. Here you are on the highest point on the golf course, but not for long. You head down a long walk to the fairway below which is at sea level.
No. 13 is a long part 5 with a burn splitting the fairway and sharp right turn on the approach to the green. It really kicks off a battering run of holes. The 14th features a green that's down in a bowl you could skateboard in, no. 15 is par 3 with a tee shot as blind as Ray Charles in a coal mine. From there you head to the par 3 16th, nicknamed "Coffins." Drop your shot 180 yards or so onto the elevated green, or perish.
The final two holes are really the equivalent of the roller-coaster coming back to the gate: Fine holes that allow you to get your feet back on the ground as you course - and simultaneously thank - Old Tom and Simpson.
Cruden Bay Golf Club: The verdict
Some petty critics scoff at the in-your-face nature of the Cruden Bay's Wild Ride. But the only thing keeping these links from having an even wider renown is the location up the eastern coast of Scotland. The fact is, travelers willing to make the trek are rewarded handsomely. To visit within even three hours or so of Cruden Bay and not make plans to take the ride would be a huge mistake for a fan of links golf.
Stay and play in Cruden Bay
The Red House Hotel is located across the street from Cruden Bay Golf Club (www.redhouse-hotel.com). Cozy and affordable, the staff at the Red House go out of their way to accommodate golfers. The pub serves outstanding meals and, naturally, an assortment of fine ales and whiskies. From your breakfast table, you're able to see the course and Cruden Bay beyond.
Another option is to stay in Aberdeen. Check out the Marcliffe Hotel and Spa (Tel: +44 (0) 1224 861 000, www.marcliffe.com), the Queen's Hotel (Tel: +44 (0) 1224 209999, www.the-queens-hotel.com) or the Swallow Udny Arms Hotel (Tel: +44 (0) 1358 789 444, www.swallowhotels.co.uk).
Cruden Bay dining
See Red House Hotel above. Also, the Waterside Inn on Fraserburgh Road in nearby Peterhead features traditional Scottish food and is outstanding.
July 7, 2006