Ancient cobble-stoned wynds trickle down to one of the most picturesque harbours in Scotland. This is the village of Crail on Fife’s East Neuk. It's a haven for seals, photographers and artists looking for an amenable subject. Crail is full of character so take time to pull into town and explore before or after you golf. You can walk around in a couple of hours and have a great experience of one of Scotland's oldest towns and harbours. In fact, it was seafaring villages like these that might have first brought the game of golf to Scotland. Fife's ports traded constantly with those of The Netherlands where the game of Kolfen was long established and where Scottish sailors and merchants most likely adopted and adapted the game to be played on the many swathes of open links to be found all along Scotland's East Coast. Ideal terrain for the game we now know.
CRAIL HARBOUR IS A HAVEN FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS & PAINTERS
And it still is! Nearby the village, at Fife Ness you’ll find the 7th oldest golf club in the world. Crail Golfing Society’s Balcomie course was established by Old Tom back in the late 1800’s although the club had been in existence long before then. In 1786, two years before George Washington was elected the first President of the USA, a group of gentlemen met at the Golf Inn to form the Crail Golfing Society. The course is still as zesty and exciting as it must have been back then, one of the Kingdom’s native links and a ‘must-play’ - second some would say only to St Andrews Old Course.
Crail Golfing Society's clubhouse and courses occupy the easternmost tip of the Neuk with a commanding position overlooking the Firth of Tay, Firth of Forth and the North Sea. The Balcomie course was first used by the Society in 1895 when it was opened by Tom Morris who stated 'there is not a better course in Scotland' though play on the Balcomie course had been in existence long before this with record of a society competition being played in September 1857.
On playing the course, the 1st drops to sea level from a vantage point that should also give you an impression of the strength of the day’s wind. The beach to the right of the 2nd is out-of-bounds and a prevailing westerly wind can easily carry your there. The most demanding hole on the course is the Par 4, 5th (Hell’s Hole) a right dog-leg playing over the jagged rocks of Tullybothy Crags. It generally pays to lay up safely here, resisting the drive to fly towards the pin, attractive though it might seem.
The newer Craighead course is in some ways more demanding than the Balcomie links. Occupying a headland that was once pasture, the course was designed by Gil Hanse, architect of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, where golf will make its return as a medal sport after a 112-year hiatus. Hans was a surprise choice but he had worked with Martin Hawtree so he did know the values of links golf which are applied here to some degree. The results are a hybrid that has increased in quality over the years. Always open to wind its length is almost immaterial as you deal with varying gusts and zephyrs.
The 13th is a 200-yard, Par 3 up a high defensive embankment. This is immediately followed by a delightful 14th, Par 3 back down to sea level again. Look out for seals basking on the rocks along this stretch and there are often gannets out at sea diving for fish. The finishing few holes are most challenging with a very demanding 17th, a Par 3 on to a multi-level green and the long Par 4 18th to finish.
Crail Golfing Society
Tel: 01333 450686
Location: Eleven miles south-east of St. Andrews on A917 through to village centre and left for two miles.
Statistics: 18 holes, 5,861 yards, Par 69, SSS 69
Designer: Old Tom Morris (Balmcomie Links
Green Fees: Weekdays: £60 per round, Weekends £75 per round
Day Ticket (1 round on Craighead and Balcomie) Weekdays: £80 and Weekends £100