A wall dissects the property at Crail, Viking marauders built it to keep out the local Pictish tribes. On the opposite side of the clubhouse lies Constantine’s Cave: said to be the resting place of King Alba in 900 as he fell in battle to the Danes.
Its this ancient, elemental feel that seeps right from the caves and the dry stone dykes through into the golf course itself. Such ancient prestige is exactly what you’d expect. Founded in 1786, Crail Golfing Society is the seventh oldest club in existence (and in fact the oldest to still have a complete set of minutes from the date of their inception).
You can sense every year of that history in the links turf that plays host to Crail’s 36 holes. I don’t want to get up on my high horse, but you haven’t played on true links turf until you’ve taken a few lumps out of stuff as old as this. It feels different.
You’d be forgiven of course for failing to make contact too often with the Balcomie’s sacred fairways, at least for the first 6 holes. With the beach beckoning to the right and a litany of dastardly pot bunkers ready to hoover up your ball, it's quite possible those freshly cleaned grooves touch nothing but sand for the opening hours of your round. Such was the case for a concerning portion of MANORS guests.
Thankfully, the beast eased off around the halfway point. Generous fairways on 10, 11 and 12 run parallel to each other and offered some respite. But this newfound freedom presented an issue all of its own. As guests took full advantage of the expansive fairways, concentration rightfully dwindled. Balls began to fly at questionable tangents, a military barrage ensued on the centre strip.
Rain falling (relentlessly) we circled back towards the clubhouse to the iconic 14th hole. A short par 3 down the hill with an enormous sleeper faced bunker arming the entrance and the old lifeboat shed framing it at the rear. There can’t be many rival views to this one in Scottish golf. With the beach winking on the right, a sizable elevation change and a testing breeze, hitting the green was no small feat.
But the little trickster they call the Balcomie is only one of the courses on site at Crail. The other, a modern layout designed by Gil Hanse and located on the other side of the Viking wall plays host to a variety of elite amateur events. Exposed at the top of the cliff, longer and far more challenging, we thought it best to take the more cultural option.
So despite the weather doing its best to deter us (trust me I would not have ventured out there without the obligation of hosting some great friends) we pressed on. We are thankful we did. Suitably adorned in the 2.5L Waterproof Shirt, and multiple layers of thermal underneath, we finally relinquished control to mother nature and embraced the challenge she presented us with.
Three quarter swings and putts from 50 yards were necessary remedies to soaking wet grips and driving wind. But if necessity is the mother of invention, then the Scottish weather can stay. Personal best rounds were scored, and the links won over a few more golf enthusiasts. Head over heels in fact. Our first stop along the Fife coastline went down a storm (almost literally).