|Cruden Bay Golf Club boasts astonishing vistas of both classic Scottish dunesland and the North Sea. (Courtesy of Cruden Bay G.C.)|
CRUDEN BAY, Scotland -- Perhaps one of the hardest things to do at magnificent Cruden Bay Golf Club when you step into the lovely new clubhouse is to prevent your jaw from dropping open in an undignified way and exclaiming "wow."
Pretty well every visitor privileged to gaze through the large picture windows at the glorious dunesland beneath and the North Sea beyond does it, and no golfer with any feel for the game's origins can really help but gawp at pure golfing heaven.
There is overwhelming evidence of golfing activity among the dunes here as far back as 1791 and of a nine-hole course that existed before Cruden Bay Golf Club opened in 1899. As was often the case in those days, the railway company was heavily involved in its development and here it was the Great North of Scotland Railway Company that was keen to provide recreational facilities to enhance the appeal of its newly opened Cruden Bay Hotel.
Designed by none other than Old Tom Morris himself with the help of another legend, Archie Simpson, it launched itself by hosting a tournament with a prize fund of $180 that was won by yet another legend, Harry Vardon.
Although most of Cruden Bay Golf Club's original greens have survived, as has much of the routing, the golf course was redesigned in 1926 by Tom Simpson and Herbert Fowler. Like many others, it has been stretched over the years; originally 5,290 yards, it currently measures 6,287 yards off the regular tees and 6,615 yards off the championship tees.
"Placement and accuracy rather than power is what's required," revealed Robbie Stewart, who was the professional here for 18 years before his recent promotion to director of golf. "You shouldn't need your driver before reaching the seventh hole."
By then, with any luck, you will have negotiated the towering dunes at the north end of the course, birdied the signature par-3 fourth hole, enjoyed the thrill of the wonderfully elevated fifth tee and its joyous panoramic view, and be happily heading southwards between the dunes.
Although the rough is not especially penal, the further you stray from the straight and (not that) narrow, the deeper it gets. And then there's the gorse, of course, which gobbles golf balls even more enthusiastically than the Scots do their porridge. Even looking for balls, however, is a pleasure in this paradise.
They say Cruden Bay Golf Club's ninth hole, a more or less straightaway par 4 over a hill and down again, is a little weak and so they've burnt the gorse to the left of it (hooray!) with a view to introducing a bit of shape. However, they will -- I hope -- never do anything to a truly spectacular run of holes from the 13th to the 16th. Squeezed between the sea and the cliffs on a narrow ledge of land, they are both stunningly beautiful and delightfully quirky.
Seemingly rather quirky, too, is the 19th hole. No, this is not the bar but a genuine extra par 3 right out there at the southern end of the golf course. It would make a better story if Old Tom Morris had miscounted, but the truth is rather more prosaic. Having an extra hole allows the green staff to close a hole for serious maintenance without reducing the challenge.
There are surprisingly fewer bunkers than you might expect on such a classic links, but all are cunningly located and decidedly difficult to escape from. Such is the merited fame of Cruden Bay Golf Club that it attracts both ordinary golfers and top professionals. Seventy percent of the visitors are from the U.S. Tom Watson is a fan, while Scott Dunlap is another frequent visitor. New Zealand's Bob Charles, Northern Ireland's Ronan Rafferty and England's Peter Oosterhuis also play here as often as their busy schedules permit. Even more might come when the Trump project, which is about 12 miles away, is open.
There are no carts at Cruden Bay Golf Club but there is a squad of 30 or so caddies, who must be booked in advance. Because there are more than a few blind shots, hiring a caddie is not a bad idea.
Unless you hate sand dunes, sea and scenery, you will love Cruden Bay Golf Club. Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of such a quality club is the friendliness of the members and the warmth of the welcome afforded to visitors. "The members are proud of what we have here and are more than happy to share it with visitors," Stewart said.
June 24, 2010
Although in his 60s, with a handicap of 15 and lifetime earnings comfortably below $100, Clive Agran nevertheless still believes he can win a major. Arguably England's most gifted golf writer, when not dreaming of glory he's scouring the globe simultaneously searching for lost balls and great golf courses.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
Darren Clarke learned to play the game at Dungannon Golf Club, a pretty parkland course right in the middle of Northern Ireland. While the course is pretty enough and the green fee is almost embarrassingly reasonable, the appeal of Dungannon is the opportunity to pay homage to the 2011 British Open champion, Clive Agran writes from County Tyrone.
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