We like a taste of adventure in our golf. Who doesn’t?
At Cruden Bay Golf Club near Aberdeen, Scotland, you can see the opening two holes from the bluff-top clubhouse. On a sunny, shadow-laden morning, it is one of the most appetizing scenes in golf.
The view of the 1st hole from the clubhouse at Cruden Bay
After you’ve pitched—hopefully no more than once!—to the dune-top 2nd green, you walk through a dip as you continue northeast into the highest dunes. The prospect from the 3rd teeing ground is somewhat austere and puzzling, though. What now?
To the right, an imposing marram-covered dune; to the left, a slighter and ranker dune. Over the saddle between them, the fairway disappears. Plenty of visible fairway in front offers itself to the cautious who prefer to bunt a mid- or long iron. But about 274 yards in the distance, a tee marker at the crest of the saddle tempts the aggressive. Unless the sea mist has rolled in, you can discern another, closer-cut mound beyond the main rise. At this point the hole squeezes play into a rumpled chute barely ten paces wide. If you decide to chase a drive with the wind, you must be deadly accurate, ideally with a fade.
As the two dunes compress wide to narrow, the reveal is magnificent: first you see a pot bunker to the left of the green, then the flag, then a line of rooftops, and finally the quaint harbor of Port Erroll. The last 50 yards of the hole turn slightly right and tumble mercifully into a punchbowl. Here you see that you could have played a safe drive wide left, beyond the lone fairway pot. In whatever fashion you’ve tackled this funky hole, however, you’ll round the corner with excitement.
Despite the gathering qualities of the green site, you must play your approach with a degree of craft and accuracy. Although the green’s internal contours slide helpfully away to a hidden back-right pin, they also pull cautious shots away from holes tucked beyond the left-hand pot. The splaying rear section flows away, but there is just enough rumple past the green to keep overcooked approaches from accelerating into the Water of Cruden.
After the 3rd hole, the journey of Cruden Bay continues seaward with a picturesque par 3 that slips past the same huge sandbank you have just played down.
The 4th hole at Cruden Bay
From there, a fine par 4 parachutes off the southern slopes of the dune. Cruden Bay has a storybook routing, one made possible only by the quirky craft of the 3rd hole.