Review: Crail Golf Club

Review: Crail, Balcomie Links, Crail, Scotland:

One of the world’s oldest golf courses, Crail is sublime, strange, wonderful, whimsical and weird — all at the same time. It is also one of the truly great golf experiences to be experienced anywhere.#1 — Boathouse, 328 yards

The opening hole is steeply downhill, a strange opener and a precursor of things to come. An old boathouse sits perched just off the green, the object from which the hole gets its name. An intriguing hole that can be played in a variety of ways, though it is probably best just to let some air out on the big stick and see how close you can get. An unusual starter.

#4 — Fluke Dub, 346 yards

From the second hole through the fifth hole is where Crail garners its reputation as the Pebble Beach of Scotland. Drama abounds, from the par five second, which plays along the raging sea, through to the third, a short par three. Then you hit two of the more remarkable holes you’ll find anywhere. Slight breakers to the right, the fourth and fifth holes play directly alongside the water. Both offer the opportunity to play it safe or challenge the coastline.

#5 — Hell’s Hole, 459 yards

Certainly the more dramatic of the two seaside par fours, Hell’s Hole is a brute, forcing players to bite as much as they can. The only downside to the hole is that it is similar to its predecessor, though with more than 100 yards added. The green does not show a great degree of character, but given the length of the hole, that probably is for the best.

#7 — North Carr, 349 yards

Like North Berwick, Crail has its walls. North Carr is one of the more unusual holes at Crail, playing a slight dogleg left and then downhill to a green perched between two other greens.

#11 — Lang Whang, 496-yards

Once Crail’s Balcomie course heads away from the sea, it drifts over slightly rolling land. Lang Whang plays on just such land. Similar to the fourth and fifth holes, Lang Whang is followed by another par five, this time which plays slightly downhill to an unusual green.

#13 — The Craighead, 219 yards

With the exception of the ocean holes, these two back-to-back par threes make Crail intriguing. The first, entitled Craighead (which Gil Hanse would use as the name for the second course on the property created a few years ago), is played to a blind green near the pro shop. Given its location, players are often forced to hit three woods. The green is relatively flat, allowing a long iron or wood approach.

#14 — The Cave, 150 yards

Supposedly the muse for Golf in the Kingdom, The Cave is a devilish little hole that plays significantly downhill. This is reputedly the last of the original Old Tom Morris holes.

#15 — Rob tees off at Mill Dam, 270 yards

When golf was standardized at 18 holes, Old Tom was called back to add an additional four holes. The only problem? The land wasn’t exactly attached to the existing property. So Old Tom took a left turn at the 14th hole, walked along the coast and emerged in another area with different characteristics from the original holes. Nothing among the final four is exceptional, though the 463-yard Road Hole (where’s the road? Behind the green?) offers a challenge.
Overall: Crail is a great deal cheaper than its nearby rivals and even though it is not even 6,000 yards long, it is hard to imagine a course that is more fun. The greens lack the charm of The Old Course or the grandeur of Kingsbarns, but you aren’t paying a fortune to play at Crail. The course’s oddities might weigh on some, but not on me.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Hi: Great review about Crail. I love that course. I am a member. I am also norwegian, which means that facing the tee shot at hole number 1 means I stare straight east to my home country. The last time we played Crail, Davis Love III was there, with his son. He is one of the world’s best players and a true gentleman. Very appropriate to meet him at the world’s 7th oldest club. Crail is a classic links course, with 36 great holes and a club house with exceptional views over the North Sea. Well worth a visit, particularly when the weather gets nasty and the wind comes up….

  • Of all the golf courses I’ve played I can’t find anywhere in Scotland more fun than Crail. Kingsbarns and Dornoch are beautiful, Carnoustie is out of this world but I’ve never enjoyed playing anywhere more than Crail. One of the best kept secrets

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