The Cruden Bay Golf Club is located north of Aberdeen on the east coast of Scotland, there is evidence, in the form of a ballot box inscribed Cruden Golf Club 1791 that a nine-hole golf course existed before the layout of today’s links course. It may have been located at the Ward Hill near Slains Castle, and indeed the Cruden Bay Golf Club of today has in its possession a winner’s medal from a competition played on the Ward Hill dated 1883. However this unique links course was commissioned in 1894 by the Great North of Scotland Railway Company and fully opened in 1899 as part of the recreational facilities offered by the Cruden Bay Hotel, newly erected and opened in March of that same year. The inner nine hole “ladies course” was also laid out at the same time.
From the onset, golfers came from all over the world to play the championship golf course – designed by Old Tom Morris of St Andrews, with help from Archie Simpson. Its opening was celebrated with an inaugural professional two day open tournament on 14-15th April 1899, with prizes totaling £120. The Cruden Bay Golf Club was formed around 1900, the first Captain being the Rev B Alcock. By 1908 the course had been extended to 5929 yards, and then in 1926 the partnership of Tom Simpson and Herbert Fowler oversaw the redevelopment of the course, although many of Tom Morris’s original greens and basic routing are still in evidence; they also redesigned the St Olaf course which was opened at the same time.
We imagine Tom Simpson arriving at Cruden Bay, finding this incredibly convoluted piece of links land and on his mind the question was: “What to do?” remarkably, he built a series of holes that meander all over the place. Some are pure links land in character, one is on top of a ridge, one is in a bowl, one falls off a ridge and others are sandwiched between the ridge and the North Sea. There are blind shots, consecutive par threes, and two drivable par fours.
The result achieved? A course that inspires golfers the world over not only to come here for the first time but for many subsequent return games as well. By letting the land dictate the course, Simpson came up with an absolute winning ‘formula.’ He delivered on what some people point is the most basic element of good routing: that the holes follow the same path a person would take if he were to walk the property before the course was built.