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It was Gandalf the Grey who once said: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” If you’re a golfer, spend as much of that time at Crail Golfing Society, for you will be heavily rewarded. 

Much of the press, headlines, podcasts and social attention these days in golf goes to the ‘big’ courses, trophy courses, or premium venues that often attract major tournaments. 

But for those in the know, there is a collection of golf courses out there that are just as deserving of all the fanfare, regardless of whether the DP World Tour’s finest come to play, or whether their green fee is north of £250.

Crail, specifically its Balcomie Links, is most definitely in that bracket. As one of my all-time favourite courses, it would potentially be my No.1 if not for Carnoustie Championship course, which just something to me that I can’t explain. But Crail Balcomie is everything I want in a golf course regardless of what the Angus links serves up.

I’ve now played the Balcomie a few times and I always start every season plotting when to try and arrange a game. Not many venues have that kind of lure. But Crail just hits differently.

Crail Balcomie 3

There are two courses to play. The Balcomie is the original and dates back to 1895, and is an Old Tom Morris design. The newer Craighead is the work of Gil Hanse and opened in 1998. 

Hanse is probably best known for his work on the Olympics course in Brazil, but his restoration work around the globe is outstanding. The Craighead is wonderful, and I would never turn it down, but the Balcomie is my first love. It’s my high school sweetheart (just don’t tell Carnoustie).


Why? It’s different from most of the ‘big name’ courses, especially those in such a rich area like Fife. For a start, there are no long walks between holes. Tee boxes are literally yards from greens. It’s not long, either, at just under 6,000 yards off the tips. It’s not too difficult, almost like Old Tom Morris just wanted to put a smile on your face.

At the first, you’ll need to avoid a huge bunker at the front of the green, while the second puts incredible views of Fife right in front of you, with the danger of the North Sea to your right. The weather can play havoc with your decision-making here, but it’s an incredible start. The tee shot at No.3 requires you to stay left at all times or you’re on the craggy shoreline.

Off the back tees at the next, Flukes Dubb, you’ll be covering more shoreline than you’d want, but that’s just part of the charm. It never lets up, and into the back nine you’ll hit No.12, a par-5 at 525 yards with a narrow fairway and a trio of bunkers off the right ready to catch you out. Two bunkers guard the front of the green, with a burn further back as insurance. A brilliant hole.


There aren’t too many tee shots that allow you to go full Yngwie Malmsteen and unleash the fury, and this isn’t the kind of set-up where you need to. Less is more here. There’s a romance to this place that will keep you in check, and it’s tough enough to keep your respect throughout, despite the lean yardage. That’s the sign of a fine course.


Unquestionably one of the go-to courses that any visitor to Scotland, never mind Fife, just has to schedule some time for. It is always in wonderful year-round condition, with exceptional greens featuring tricky run-offs and tricky pot bunkers. The North Sea plays its part on certain weather days, which is part of the fun in itself. Quite magnificent.

Standout hole

So many to choose from, including the first, which isn’t always the case with ‘signature’ holes. But the start here is absolutely outstanding and, by the time you get to No.4, you’ll already be in dreamland. No.4 is a 354-yard par-4 dog-leg where you have to decide just how much of the shoreline you want to cut off to shorten your approach into the green that sweeps to the right. The fairway might well throw you a freaky bounce, but the green is fairly inviting. As fun as hole as you’ll ever find.

• COURSE REVIEW – Valderrama

Did you know

There are only six other golf clubs in the world that are older than Crail Golfing Society. The club was founded by 11 gents in 1786, who played over ground called Sauchope Links. That ground is now a caravan site. Old Tom Morris came in and designed the first nine holes at Balcomie, which opened in 1895.

Crail Balcomie 2

And another thing

Anyone living in the UK and under the age of 25 can join for £189.75. In my mind, that’s the best value golf club membership in Europe. No arguments.

Green fees

Expect to pay £80 for a single round before the end of April, or £115 which gives you a day ticket and the chance to play the Craighead. Before the end of September, that jumps to £120 for a single round and £150 for the day ticket. Caddies cost £60.

Find out more

T: 01333 450686

author headshot

Bryce Ritchie is the Editor of bunkered and, in addition to leading on content and strategy, oversees all aspects of the brand. The first full-time journalist employed by bunkered, he joined the company in 2001 and has been editor since 2009. A member of Balfron Golfing Society, he currently plays off nine and once got a lesson from Justin Thomas’ dad.

Editor of bunkered

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