Crail Golfing Society‘s Balcomie Links is exactly the kind of course you want to play when you travel to golf in Scotland — an old, traditional proper links track that’s rich with history, along with stunning views of the ocean and coast.
The course was laid out by Old Tom Morris himself and opened in 1895. He designed Balcomie in a way to make the most out of its original landscape and gorgeous seaside location. Shots over rocky coves and from high ridges to greens and fairways laid out below, bending par-4s around sandy shores and long par-3s with greens resting on top of steep cliffs characterize the experience at this classic links course.
Balcome is wonderfully enjoyable, quirky with beautiful vistas. Like most old traditional links, the course’s defense is the wind, which never seems to be lacking. I played it from the middle (yellow) tees, which measured around 5,500 yards, so naturally, you have a wedge into every par-4, right? Wrong! On the shorter par-4s, the wind is, of course, in your face. It’s also a tough par-69, which comprises of the combination of three par-5s, six par-3s and nine par-4s. Don’t let the yardage on the scorecard fool you, I found it to be one the shortest longest courses I’ve ever played.
The fun begins with a dramatic opening hole — the first tee is right next to the pro shop and sits atop a cliff and swings around to the right, with the rocky, sandy bay threatening that same side, but there’s plenty of room on the left. Then, you’re faced with a second shot over a turf wall to a green that has bunkers flanking both the right and the left. Careful not to take too much club as there’s a burn just beyond the putting surface.
The fiercely challenging fifth, a 447-yard par-4 (par-5 for ladies), is infamous as one of the most difficult par-4s in all of Scotland. It gives you the classic risk-reward predicament on this dogleg right, where the out-of-bounds water guards the length of the hole on that side. If you can cut off a fair share of the rocky bay, then the green is reachable in two, but most of the time, you’re better off playing it safe and as a three-shot hole (which is just dandy if you’re a woman!).
Just before you reach the closing stretch of spectacular holes, you play the par-5 12th, which features a burn short of the green that’s a factor on your second shot. Why am I mentioning this hole? Well, I’ll be honest, mostly because I holed out from 165 yards into the wind with a 4-hybrid for birdie. What was I doing so far away on my third shot? I topped my second shot — my 3-wood and I haven’t been getting along lately. Anyhow, the pin was located toward the front right of the green kind of in a swale, making it difficult to see the ball go in. When I saw the ball disappear, I raised my arms up in celebration, but then no one else reacted because everyone was dispersed in different parts of the hole. I asked my caddie Ian, did that go in? He said he didn’t know. When we walked up to the green, sure enough, the ball was in the cup. I hadn’t done that in a long time, so it was exciting, but since no one else saw it go in, it was a bit of a buzzkill.
Four of the last six holes are par-3s, and two of them are quite long being around 200-yards or more. The first of them is the 210-yard par-3 13th (it’s a par-4 for women), where the tee box is atop of a cliff and you’re hitting straight up the hill — and into the wind — to the severely-sloped green.
Then, there’s the signature par-3 141-yard 14th, which is also played from the top of a cliff to a green down below that’s well guarded by bunkers, with an out of bounds beach to the right. It includes an absolutely magnificent view and you have to take a step back to admire it before you focus in on the shot at hand.
The finishing hole is also a par-3 — the 198-yard 18th is slightly downhill, but you’re hitting straight into the wind into a severely sloping right-to-left green. It’s a very difficult tee shot, especially when the pin is in the very back. It was playing closer to 230 yards, so I hit a decent driver onto the green, which was apparently a good shot.
Crail is certainly a very enjoyable test of golf on a classic Scottish links course. I give it my utmost recommendation — it’s a must-play if you’re in the St. Andrews area, or even if you’re not, you should make the point into checking it out. I didn’t get a chance to play the other course, Craighead, an early Gil Hanse design, but I’ve heard wonderful things about that track, as well.
Here’s a gallery of shots from Crail Balcomie Links:
For more information on holidaying in Scotland go to: www.visitscotland.com