I played this course on the afternoon of 2 March 2010 in wonderfully calm and almost warm early Spring conditions after the coldest Scottish winter since 1962 (so I'm told!). Crail Golfing Society is the 7th oldest in the world having been founded in 1786. The Balcomie is by far the older of the 2 Crail courses and is surely one of the most beautiful, with this, the 14th an outstanding example of the wonderful links landscape. But back to Craighead, a relative newcomer that was opened in 1998. I played Craighead off the yellow tees, so the course was 6221 yards, par 72, but greens were in operation, so the course played slightly shorter.
I liked the second hole, a difficult 364 yard par 4 with a sharp dog leg to the right, but otherwise I found the front 9 almost bland, despite the outstanding sea views. Most of the expected links features were there e.g. no trees, holes exposed to the elements, gorse, rivetted bunkering and fast running fairways, but for me, some more undulations and crumpling of the fairways would have added definition and authenticity. I birdied the 9th, but in all honesty the hole had been reduced to around 260 yards, so no big deal there. I'd gone out in 41, 6 over par.
By contrast, the back 9 was simply terrific, with a succession of interesting holes spanning ‘Danes Dyke’ - a 1200 year old defensive wall built by Viking marauders to keep out the local Pictish tribes. The 10th, a short downhill par 4 of only 300 yards offered a good risk and reward for a drive over the bunkers some 50 yards in front of the green. Surprisingly, I almost drove the green and got an easy 4. I birdied the 12th, a short downhill par 4 down by some remarkably ugly holiday homes(and whoever gave planning permission for them should hang their heads in shame). This is a view of the 13th, a lovely 139 yard par 3 at the bottom end of the course right above the sea. Thankfully, my tee shot just missed this evil-looking bunker.
To the left is a view of the 14th, a 402 yard par 4 played into the prevailing wind, with a really testing drive over Danes Dyke, which also came into play on 3 other back 9 holes. However, I thought the best hole on Craighead was the 17th, a 175 yard par 3 with a raised green and formidable looking bunkers. The last was also good and iI'd settle for a 4 there anytime. I took 5, but was happy enough to go round in 80, net 68 and to be fair, the course par was probably nearer to 68 than 72. Craighead is a good addition to the older Balcomie course and I enjoyed it overall, but for me at least, the second half of the course was far better.
Finally, I must mention the newly refurbished clubhouse, which is simply magnificent and has great views over the sea and some of the Balcomie and Craighead holes. As a member at the Glen GC, I'm spoilt by great sea views from my own clubhouse, but I have to admit that Crail's clubhouse just has the edge - by a mile.