Crail Golfing Societies Craighead Course

Craighead is a headland course overlooking the North Sea
Craighead is a headland course overlooking the North Sea

I woke up at 4.30am full of anticipation. To one side of me was Balcomie Links and on the other Craighead Links. I’ve spent the night at Craighead Farmhouse bang in the middle. “I’ll catch the sun as it rises above the 14th green on the Balcomie with the boat house in view,” was the plan. Being a golf photographer in Scotland at the height of summer isn't an easy job.

You see Craighead Farmhouse just before you reach Crail Golfing Society's car park and newly refurbished clubhouse. It's normally rented out (by Vic, my golfing buddy) to golfers playing Fife’s courses. Fortunately there was nobody booked in this week. The farmhouse is 5 minutes away from Kingsbarns. St Andrews is about 6 miles away.

We played the Craighead course yesterday. I hadn’t played it since it opened about 11 years ago. Designed by American designer Gil Hanse, it was the first interpretation of a Scottish links course built in the Home of Golf by a foreigner!

Now there are several such arrangements; Kingsbarns, The Castle Course, Torrance & Kittocks at nearby Fairmont and now the estimable Castle Stewart overlooking the Moray Firth. They all share the same raised platform and all try to emulate their nearby links neighbours. I’m actually quite enamoured by all of these new courses. But more on that later.

Craighead’s been toned down a bit since I last played, some of the bunkers removed and the once all-pervasive rough cut right back. There was a lot of criticism of Hanse’s offering especially from Crail Golfing Society members themselves. You’ve got to keep in mind, this club’s 200 years old, the 7th oldest in the world and not, I would imagine easy to please when it comes to a new golf course.

I really enjoyed the outing this time. The fairways are relatively spacious so you can let loose with the driver. What it lacks in shrubbery and trees, it makes up for with wind. Wind really is the dominant factor here and we played yesterday during a relatively calm day. Highlight of the day for me was a hole-in-one at the 13th. I didn’t hit it full square, a 7-iron into the wind to cover 132 yards and it leaked ever-so-slightly right and hit the bank. I saw the ball bounce left and figured it might roll on. “That’s in the hole,” said Vic as we approached the green. There was no sign of my ball anywhere else and nowhere else for it to be so with a certain sense of inevitability, I strolled up to see the little orb happily at rest in the hole. All in all not a bad day’s golf.

My main mission for staying over in the East Neuk was to get up early and get pictures of Anstruther’s wee 9-hole course just down the road from Crail. Then I’d head off to Edinburgh for some more unfinished photographic business. But the prospect of getting that one sunrise shot over Crail’s Balcomie course, something special for the cover of next year’s Official Guide to Golf in Scotland was more than enough to get me out of bed at this early hour. I pulled back the curtains and nothing! The forecast was wrong again. Instead of clear skies we’ve got wall-to-wall cloud cover. Oh well, back to bed I guess.

A few nice doglegs and flowing, firm greens. As always, it’s not easy to get really enthusiastic about a golf course with one round but Craighead is certainly an ample sister course to the delightful Balcomie Links. The club offers both courses on a Day Ticket so if you have time play it.