Cruden Bay Golf Club
Designer: Old Tom Morris & Tom Simpson
When Old Tom Morris first arrived to Cruden Bay in 1894, the sight must have brought a knowing twinkle to his eye. Taken on their own, the lunar dunescape, sweeping coastline, and ancient ruins of Slains Castle – the inspiration of Bram Stoker’s Dracula – could each bring elation to the most jaded of men. But with these traits combined into one sublime setting, the game’s Grand Old Man surely knew that this ground was destined for golf.
The Great North of Scotland Railway commissioned Old Tom to bring golf to their “Palace in the Dunes.” Constructed of pink granite, the luxury resort was the Turnberry and Gleneagles of its day, but failed to survive the financial despair of the Great Depression. With the hotel demolished and the golf course soon to follow, an enterprising Aberdeen stockbroker invited the owner’s agent for drinks and came away with a deed to the property. The price: just £2750. The deal was signed at 2am – before sobriety and sunlight shined on the unfavorable terms – and the Cruden Bay Golf Club lived on.
In the years that followed, Cruden Bay took on something of a cult following; viewed by those who donned its bag tag as a mystical journey to golf’s humblest beginnings. Some of that is thanks to the majestic setting, however most of this holy reverence is owed to a course that simply defies convention.
The opening hole’s close proximity to town and the daunting tabletop green at the 2nd make a warm introduction to Cruden Bay. What lies ahead, however, is a world-class stretch of golf that will rival any on the planet. The reachable par-4 3rd toys with the gusto of the big hitter. Meanwhile, the uphill par-3 that follows, nestled beside the village of Port Erroll, will likely require more of the same. The “Bluidy Burn” which crosses the par-5 6th – so named after a violent battle between the Scots and the Danes in the year 1012 – is sure to present a conundrum on approach. While ahead on the 8th – another reachable par-4 – three seems predestined on the tee, but many walk away wondering how a five proved to be so easy.
There’s an unmistakable sense of anticipation as one climbs from the 8th green to the 9th tee, the effort eventually yielding one of the finest panoramas in golf. A new tee box on the 9th and a redesigned 10th has sprung a previously dull portion of the course back to life, while taking full advantage of those seaside views. Cruden Bay’s eccentric personality is on full display at the par-4 14th, with its approach to a sunken bathtub green, and continues at the 15th – a blind, dogleg par-3. After executing the running approach required at the par-3 16th, this puzzling, yet delightful, trio of holes may produce a wry smile and the same twinkle that appeared in Old Tom’s eye all those years ago.
For the golfer who prefers courses that fit neatly into a standardized box, Cruden Bay may not be their particular brand of vodka. There are multiple reachable par-4s, blind tee shots, back-to-back par-3s, blind par-3s, a bathtub green, and an ancient burial ground. But for most, it’s those very traits, combined with the spectacular setting, that make Cruden Bay a transcendent – almost magical – place to play the game. There simply never has been, nor will there ever be, anything else like it.
Major Basil Haversham, OBE
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