In case you missed my incessant tweets, overabundance of Instagram posts, or fanboy podcast regarding my recent buddies trip to St. Andrews a few weeks ago, I’m going to do my best to summarize it all here. First of all, let me note that this is not an advertisement, and is in no way sponsored, although it is certainly going to read like Visit Scotland sent this over word by word for me to post. A few of you asked for a breakdown of our trip, the courses, the logistics, and the stories, etc. Hopefully these posts will inspire someone to do a similar trip, and help with some of the planning if so. I’ve broken down the courses in separate posts for the sake of length and clarity.
If you missed Part I on the Old Course, you can find that here. Also included in that link are some logistics of how to get on the Old Course, where to stay, as well as advice on planning your trip.
Part II focused on Kingsbarns, just 20 minutes down the road from St. Andrews.
Part III on Carnoustie, 45 minutes up the coast from St. Andrews.
This post will focus on the Balcomie course at Crail.
This course was a relative unknown to our foursome until a few weeks before our trip. I came across it on a tip from Geoff Shackleford, saw the pictures on the website, and immediately booked a tee time. The course opened in 1895, and it would appear to me (as well as the amazing blueprint etchings in the clubhouse) that there have been minimal changes to the golf course over that time.
Old school. That’s the vibe you get immediately once you’re on the grounds. Upon entering the clubhouse, there is a sign that says that hats and cell phones are forbidden. It’s not tightly enforced, but I dig the thought. The clubhouse is immensely decorated with old pictures, drawings, and history of the club. I spent about 15 minutes just strolling the halls, reading, and salivating over the preservation of their history.
We paid our 80 pound (about $120) fare, and made our way to the first tee. Our eyes lit up in anticipation when we saw on the scorecard that it was a 5,800 par 69 course.
“I think a 66 may be in play,” Toomer claimed before we even hit a shot. Spoiler alert, it most definitely was not.
The first hole is a 320 yard par 4, dead downhill, dead downwind. Driver was too much club, and our entire group went birdieless. The 2nd hole is a gorgeous par 5, set right against the sea. Less than 500 yards, and also dead downwind. Also no birdies. Maybe this course was going to be more difficult than we thought. And it was about to get a lot worse.
The Balcomie Course at Crail is the most hilly, and the most wide open of all of the courses that we played. It was not a coincidence that it was the strongest wind that we faced the whole trip. The first few holes were a joy ride, with amazing views of the sea, perfect sunshine, and a helping breeze. When we turned back towards the clubhouse, we got absolutely ejected. I went OB on three straight holes. Being an old school course, all of the holes are crammed in close to each other. At one point, Leif missed a fairway so far right, he was in an adjacent fairway….. literally THREE fairways over. The moral of the story is, a 5,800 yard course may sound easy, but nothing is easy in Scotland.
Regarding the course itself: Absolutely amazing views, and some really, really fun holes out there. But the one word I would use to describe it is quirky. It’s very, very different from the other courses that we played in Scotland, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. However, some of the inland holes left a lot to be desired, and lacked a natural flow to them. There were holes fit into places that just shouldn’t be fit, and no real opportunity to even effectively renovate it. It is worth noting that this was our second round of the day, on our third straight 36 hole day, and fatigue was absolutely a factor. We had already played the Old Course (twice) and Kingsbarns, and any course following those is bound to disappoint on at least some level.
The views on several of the holes (particularly 2-5, and 14) are second to none, but it is quite obvious that the course has not been updated in a very long time, and does not fit the modern game played with modern equipment. To a certain extent, that is the appeal of this place, and some may actually be seeking that experience. We did not regret playing there, but of the eight rounds that we played over these five days, we all agreed that if we were to change one of the rounds, it would be the round at Crail. Again, it’s not fair to compare this place to the other places that we played, but this is the only one that I would not classify as a “must play.”
Here are some pictures from Crail: