Cruden Bay, Scotland

By Martin Dempster

It would be tempting, on the drive north out of Aberdeen, Scotland, to go no more than 10 miles or so to the Menie Estate, home of the spectacular new Trump International Golf Links. But that would be a monumental mistake. Head just a little farther, through Newburgh-on-Ythan (home of the Udny Arms and its renowned sticky toffee pudding) and you’ll arrive at the Cruden Bay Golf Club.

Originally commissioned in 1894 by the Great North of Scotland Railway Company for guests of the long since demolished Cruden Bay Hotel—Harry Vardon, the six-times Open champion, won a two-day event to mark the course’s opening in 1899—it’s where Paul Lawrie, the Open Champion in 1999, cut his links teeth when he lived for a spell in the picturesque Aberdeenshire village.

“It’s one of our best courses in the Northeast,” proclaims Lawrie, who doesn’t dish out praise lightly so is paying a huge compliment to the men whose vision, craft, and considerable expertise created this gem on the North Sea coast.

Cruden Bay was designed by Old Tom Morris with help from Archie Simpson, and though subsequently altered to its current layout by Tom Simpson and Herbert Fowler, the routing and many of the original greens remain intact to this day.

Similar to its new neighbor down the coast, the fairways—with their humps and hollows—nestle below high dunes and wind toward punchbowl greens. The course is shaped in a figure-eight and plays 5,850 yards from the yellow markers and 6,599 yards off the blue, both with a par of 70.

There also is a likeness to Prestwick in the quirkiness of Cruden Bay, although one wonders, is there a links course in the world where quirky, even a pinch of it, isn’t one of the ingredients? This one has drivable par fours, back-to-back par threes, and blind tee shots. The 15th, a 242-yard par three, is named Blin’ Dunt; the 17th, a 424-yard par four, Bilin’ Wallie. In between the two is another short hole called Coffins, which needs no further description.

Lawrie’s two favorite holes lie on the front nine. “The short par-four 3rd (370 yards) is drivable but an easy hole to make bogey or worse, while the 4th is an awesome par three,” he says of a course where Eric Brown and George Will, two former Ryder Cuppers, each won the Northern Open, the latter doing it as an amateur as well as a professional.

There is a steep hill to climb to the 9th tee but the reward is one of the most spectacular views in golf, across holes with sea beyond. Also in view, perched on a clifftop, are the remains of Slains Castle, believed to have inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula after he visited here in 1895. Whether that is true or not, Cruden Bay is a golf course with ample bite.

Martin Dempster writes for The Scotsman and Edinburgh Evening News.