Scotscraig: Tough links golf, but with a twist

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December 08, 2009
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.
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Founded in 1817, Scotscraig is the world's 13th oldest golf club.
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It's not often you find water on a true links - just one surprise among Scotscraig's many.
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An abundance of trees is another oddity at Scotscraig Links.
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Scotscraig will once again be a final qualifying course for The Open in 2010.
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Scotscraig's bunkering a James Braid specialty is shrewdly placed and can be harmful to your scorecard.
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When Scotscraig Golf Club was founded in 1817, there were only 12 other golf clubs in existence in the entire world. Yet for all of its history, Scotscraig has never really gained the fame and popularity it so rightly deserves. Located only 10 miles away from St. Andrews, there has been little benefit derived from its proximity to the home of golf. It is a links course, which would normally make it an automatic hit with visitors, but Scotscraig is not a conventional links, taking on something of a Jekyll and Hyde persona.

The course does not border the sea, but the fickle and often frustrating winds bring a constant reminder that the sea is never far away. In places Scotscraig contains elements that are distinctly heathland in character, while in other parts, the unusual abundance of trees, brings a sense that the layout may be neither fish nor fowl. It's this never ending variety, always with the underlying feel of a true links, that adds dimensions to a challenge never previously experienced on a links course. The end result is an extremely demanding and often surprising test of golf.

For all of its oddities Scotscraig remains a genuine links and a course of distinction. It offers a serious examination of golf for even the most talented player and a frustratingly tough challenge for those less accomplished. These are reasons enough why the course is used as a final qualifier for The British Open when the event is held at St. Andrews.

The current layout, opened in 1920, comes from the drawing board of the legendary James Braid. Improvements have been made since then, especially to the back nine, but it remains basically a Braid track with all of the design artistry he is known for, including shrewd, sometimes devious pot-bunkering, protecting fast, well contoured greens.

The essence of a good round at Scotscraig is quite simple -- stick to the fairways and do not stray. Failure to follow this straightforward rule can prove disastrous as the course has the kind of rough that's a Scottish links specialty. Waist high and hungry, it thrives on a diet of errant golf balls, which many visitors feed it generously. Find yourself in this stuff and just getting the ball back onto the fairway will be an accomplishment.

Adding to the frustration are the generous patches of gorse, beautiful to look at from a distance, but not something you need to view up close - get yourself into this and the extrication process is next to impossible. Above all, this is a course for the thinking golfer and the big hitters who insist on using the driver off the tee will more often than not find themselves in trouble.

Scotscraig grabs your attention from the very first hole, with a 402-yard par 4 that must be among the most devilish openers in all Scotland. The fairway is completely dissected 280 yards from the tee, narrowing to anorexic proportions that demand pinpoint accuracy to avoid the rough. A lengthy approach shot must then traverse an ominous, gorse-covered hillock to reach the partially hidden green. Welcome to Scotscraig!

Having gained your attention, Scotscraig will hold it for the entirety of the round, throwing in a few unexpected tests along the way, just to keep you on your toes.

The fourth is a 366-yard beauty that may be the prettiest on the course. But don't let the handsome good looks deceive you --this is also the most difficult. Once again there is a break in the fairway, requiring a well measured tee-shot of less than 250 yards to avoid running off a high ridge to the rough below. The approach shot is no less demanding if you are to reach the elevated green safely. There is no other option but total accuracy and good club selection as there is trouble right, left and long.

And so the examination continues with a course that has no bad holes, more than its fair share that are very good, together with a healthy smattering that are truly exceptional, the 4th, 7th and 14th among them.

The Scotscraig story would not be complete without a special mention of the extremely high standard of course maintenance. Consistently good throughout, the greens in particular benefit and are among the very best of any course in the country.

It will be St. Andrews that brings you to this part of Scotland, whether to watch the world's best golfers compete in the 2010 British Open, or perhaps to play the fabled St. Andrews Old Course for yourself and there's still time to book either. But make the most of your St. Andrews visit and play one or two of the surrounding links courses that are not as famous.

The spotlight may not have reached Scotscraig just yet, but that detracts from neither the historic role it has played in Scottish golf history, nor the quality of the superb layout. For any serious golfer, this is one that definitely belongs on your must play list.

For suggestions on including Scotscraig on your Scottish golf trip, click here.

©2009 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.

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