CRAIL, Scotland -- If you've made the trip to Scotland for a links golf vacation, it's safe to say you're quite fond of the diversion of golf. And it's something you've got in common with the seventh oldest golf club in the world, the Crail Golfing Society:
Town records from 1786 show that "several gentlemen in and about the town of Crail, fond of the diversion of golf, agreed to form themselves into a society."
To date, the little, picturesque village of Crail itself has become a popular diversion from the bustle of nearby St. Andrews. Just nine miles east on A917, this little East Neuk village has an entirely different identity, complete with one of the more scenic and unique, old world links, the Balcomie Links, plus a modern complement, the Craighead Links.
While Crail is the seventh-oldest golf club in the world, it's been one of Scotland's most proactive. In addition to the Balcomie Links, which dates back to 1895, the club built a large, full-length driving range and called upon Gil Hanse to deliver a second 18 holes.
It opened in 1998, just before a boom of courses that would come to St. Andrews just a few years later, such as Kingsbarns Golf Links and the two Fairmont St. Andrews courses that debuted in the early 2000s.
Crail's most recent upgrade is a brand new clubhouse -- where members now enjoy a spacious locker room, plus marvelous views of the Balcomie Links closing holes and sea from the spike bar and dining room.
The Craighead Links at Crail Golfing Society
Hanse was a lesser-known American-based architect when he was given his first international design job on the Craighead. Today, few names are hotter than Hanse, thanks to his recent effort up the road at Castle Stuart in the Highlands and his recent appointment as the architect of Brazil's Olympic Golf course with LPGA legend Amy Alcott.
While Craighead is certainly not out to steal headlines like Scottish Open host Castle Stuart, you will notice some similarities. Blessed with a cliff-top location that slopes towards the sea, many of Hanse's holes dogleg gently towards the water, creating many "infinity" backdrops. His green complexes are also far more difficult than most of Balcomie's, with severe tiers and bunkers, while off the tee, the course is quite forgiving.
The first hole that blends both tremendous scenery and design is the par-3 seventh -- a short but delicate shot that plays straight towards the sea to an elevated green that steeply runs off to the front and left, demanding deft control of your ball through the wind. A pill box from World War I also sits beside the cliffside green.
The backside has its beauties, too. Holes play over, back and around a stone wall, "Dane's Dyke," which is a 1,200-year-old defensive wall built by the Vikings that must be dealt with on four holes. The 10th -- a short, drivable par 4 -- is the best birdie opportunity of the day as long as the wind is cooperating.
The 14th, named "Lang Man's Grave," is a long, 411-yard par 4 that plays beside the cliffs and the Fife Coastal Walking Path the entire way.
Craighead Links at Crail Golfing Society: The verdict
The gift and curse of any Fife golf course not named "St. Andrews" means that while there are fewer more-trafficked golf spots in the world, a lot of great nearby courses are going to get lost in the shuffle.
Craighead, overshadowed by its elder sibling, deserves much more attention than it's received.
But golfers should relish that it's a real bargain of a golf course (tee times on GolfNow were 40 pounds the day I played in late March). Day Tickets in the summertime at Crail here are 80-100 pounds, where you can play both the Craighead and Balcomie in the same day for less than the cost of playing 18 holes at the top Links Trust courses in town.