Father, son & Scotland: Previewing Cruden Bay Golf Club

By Ron Bellamy | Golf, Scotland |

What Old Tom Morris and Bram Stoker have in common ….

I knew Cruden Bay Golf Club only by reputation, not that kind that comes out of a world ranking, though Golf Digest rates it No. 56 on that score, but from the recommendations of golf journalists like Blaine Newnham and Tom Cade, who have been there and loved that.

And so, a day after playing Machrihanish Golf Club and leaving the Ugadale Hotel and driving up the Mull of Kintyre and across the breadth of Scotland to St. Andrews and our rooms at Clevenden House, we will make the two-hour drive to Cruden Bay on the North Sea, at which point Jason will have this left-side-of-the-road thing figured out. Or not.

In one of those facts worthy of a “did you know?” snippet, did you know that Bram Stoker, who wrote “Dracula,” spent his summers in Cruden Bay, and that the ruins of New Slains Castle, in view from nearly every hole on the course, inspired his novel?

The original course was laid out in 1899 by Old Tom Morris as an attraction for a resort hotel made possible by the extension of the railway line there, which made the place accessible for London travelers with the resources to travel and play. Hence, the term “railway course.”

The village of Cruden Bay, next to the fourth tee/photos by Tom Cade

Tom Simpson and Herbert Fowler redesigned the course in 1926. Wrote George Peper and Malcolm Campbell in “True Links”:

“They fitted in the holes where they could through the valleys and around the dunes, creating as they went just about every no-no in our modern golf course architect’s book. Most notable, there are a host of blind tee shots and hidden greens, three in succession from the 13th to the 15th, a blind par 3 where the best advice is to lay up. But what wonderful, totally natural and compelling golf it is, and fringed with the most glorious scenery….

“Save for a few new tees and bunkers, today’s layout remains much as Simpson and Fowler left it, though many of Tom Morris’s original greens and basic routing are still in evidence.”

A few holes were tweaked more recently, but essentially that’s still true.

The late, great James W. Finegan captured the essence of Cruden Bay thusly:

“One of the dozen courses in Scotland that should on no account be missed. Nor is it necessary to play so much as a stroke to confirm this imperative. You have merely to park your car up on the heights beside the clubhouse and look down.

 “Below, in all its turbulent splendor, lies one of the most awe-inspiring stretches of linksland ever dedicated to the game. Against a backdrop of North Sea whitecaps stretching away to the horizon, the sand hills rise as high as sixty feet, their shabby slopes covered with long and throttling golden grasses. For sheer majesty of setting, no Scottish course surpasses Cruden Bay, and only two or three might claim to equal it.”

 The second nine begins on the highest point of the course, where, as Finegan wrote, “the panorama of links, rocks, sea, beach and ruined Slains Castle is heart-stopping.”

Greens fee at Cruden Bay is 135 pounds weekday ($180), 175 pounds for 36 holes ($233). Hoping for good enough weather to take photos and truly appreciate the beauty of the place.

A par or two would be pretty memorable, too.

Next: Carnoustie Golf Links

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