Cruden Bay is often described as quirky but this doesn't do justice to what is a quality example of links golf.
As with the best golf courses, there is no grand entrance into Cruden Bay. It’s set in an unassuming village to the north of Aberdeen, and you could easily drive past it without realising what is there.
If you do turn into the club though, you’ll find what is one of the best courses in a pretty laden area of links golf. It’s said that golf has been played on these links since 1791, but the club was founded around the turn of the 20th century. Then, the layout was just over 5,000 yards, about 1,200 yards shorter than what you’re tested with from today’s medal tees.
The first thing you will notice here is the views of the Aberdeenshire coast, that’s if you can see through the dunes that run throughout the whole course. In the early days of Cruden Bay, these dunes were the main defence of the course, and today they still provide a challenge on plenty holes.
The first three holes head towards the fishing village of Port Erroll, which you’ll see from the fourth tee, the first real challenge of the round. It’s a par-3 that offers little room for manoeuvre. At around the 200-yard mark, it requires a carry onto the putting surface, or you’ll face a pitch from a chasm that makes the Valley of Sin look tame. Four here is not a bad score.
From here, you make your way towards the coast, and the course really comes to life.
The fifth, sixth, and seventh are all testing holes that require power as well as thought. In particular, the par-5 sixth might look a pushover on the scorecard, but topography means that a second shot taking on the green is blind. For most, a lay-up short of the ‘Bluidy Burn’ is the sensible option. This hole is a perfect example of how ‘short’ does not necessarily mean ‘easy’.
If you’re finding it an easy walk so far, that will change between the eighth green and the ninth tee, where there’s a near vertical climb. Thankfully, the views from the ninth as you catch your breath are genuinely some of the best in the country. Don’t just take time to admire the North Sea, though; take a quick note of where the pins on the 14th and 15th are located. This will be useful information in about an hour’s time.
The back nine begins when you lose all the elevation you just gained, and by the 13th tee you are beside the sea once again. It’s the longest hole on the course, and one of the best too. Chances are, the burn across the fairway will come into your thoughts on the tee, but if you find the bunkers just short of it, you’re left with a conundrum. Either go sideways and turn it into a four-shotter, or take on a 50-yard carry from deep bunkers over the water.
The closing stretch contributes greatly to many branding Cruden Bay as quirky. In particular, the 14th and 15th holes. Your 14th tee shot has to find the fairway, as the blind approach needs as much control as you can muster. The 15th is a long par 3 where you are guided only by a diagram on the tee box and a white pole to aim over.
There isn’t many stretches in Scotland where local knowledge is as valuable as the closing stretch at Cruden Bay.
Cruden Bay is a classic links course. It is invariably in excellent condition and puts its natural contours to great use. Before the world of heavy machinery, blind shots were inevitable on links ground, and Cruden Bay embraces them . You'll enjoy the course more if you embrace them, too.
While it is located near the giants of Royal Aberdeen and Trump Aberdeen, Cruden Bay doesn’t need to compete with them. Its reputation and heritage rightly mean that no matter what courses it is beside, players will flock to play it.
Without doubt, the best holes are the coastal ones. While there is nothing wrong with the inland holes, you are itching to get through them to start playing through the dunes. These are the holes that really test your game, and will be the ones you’ll remember long after your round.
It’s a cliché but Cruden Bay is fun and that’s what golf should be. If you are making a trip to the area, it should absolutely be at the forefront of your plans.
It really depends what you’re looking for. If fun is what you want, the 14th and 15th are the obvious choices. Blind approach shots that will have you questioning the quality of your shot after it lands. For scenery, there is no debate, it’s the ninth.
For me, though, the stretch from the fourth to the seventh is the best, and the sixth is the pick of the bunch. From the tee, you’ll see the fairway all the way to the burn a good 450 yards away, but you’ll not see the green for a while yet. This hole requires three good swings (or two very good ones) to get home to a two-tiered putting surface. If you can write a four down here, you’ve done seriously well.
Did you know?
The aforementioned ‘Bluidy Burn’ gets its name from a battle in 1012, where the Scots fought and defeated the Danes over the land that the course now occupies. The battle is said to have been so gruesome that the burn ran red with blood for seven hours.
And another thing...
The remains of Slains Castle are a 15-minute walk from the course, and locals are proud of its heritage. It’s believed that, when Bram Stoker visited for a holiday, its setting inspired him to write Count Dracula.
As you might expect, it’s not cheap but the quality of the course is certainly reflected in the pricing. In the summer, you’re looking at £145 for a weekday round, or £160 for a weekend round. Although they do offer a 36-hole deal at £190, which is great value.
Saying that, if you are travelling to the area, your best bet is going with a deal from bunkered Golf Breaks. Here, you can get accommodation and rounds at other nearby courses for the best prices. Visit bunkeredgolfbreaks.com for more
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