Polly and I had played the championship course at Cruden Bay before, most memorably when we managed to win the club's Mixed Foursomes Open a few years ago. Cruden Bay is of course one of the best links courses in Scotland, consistently rated as one of the top 100 courses in the World and in the top 40 British courses. However, there's also a 9 hole links course at Cruden Bay, the St Olaf Course, measuring a modest 2463 yards, Par 32 and I played the St Olaf on 12 July 2012, on a cold, overcast and largely dry morning. The St Olaf sits inside the loop of holes 1-7 and 18 on the Championship course and is an excellent test of links golf in its own right. OK, the holes are shorter and don't have the majesty of some of the truly great holes on the main course, but the St Olaf still makes demands of your strategy, course management and ball striking skills.
The 1st is a flat 365 Yard Par 4. The drive was downwind for me and easy enough as it's a wide fairway, but your second shot needs to be pretty accurate as the green is small and anything wide, short or even slightly overhit will leave you an awkward pitch to an undulating green. I'd just missed the green to the left and needed a good pitch and a couple of putts to open with a bogey. The 2nd is a 163 Yard Par 3 with a little hollow in front of the green and bunkers on both sides. I missed the green and a bunker by a yard and was only 20 feet or so from the hole. My decision to chip rather than putt was wrong, costing me another bogey. Pars at the next 3 holes were good, particularly on the 3rd, a 375 yard Par 4 played directly into a strengthening wind and a shower of rain.
The 6th is by far the best hole on the course and one that would grace many an 18 hole links course. This is a dog leg 383 Yard Par 4 played over a dune before turning left to a small green nestling between grassy hillocks, with a deep steeply rivetted bunker to the left of the green adding to the challenge. Your drive is uphill and needs to be long enough (240+) to give you a sight of the green. This is a view from the highest point of the fairway as it dog legs left. With the wind and rain coming almost straight into me on the tee, my drive was barely 200 yards, meaning I had a completely blind second shot over the sand dune to the left of the photo. The safe shot would have been something like an 8 iron, leaving a short pitch to the plateau green. Fool that I am, I went for a 23 Degree Rescue played down the grip and punched to keep it down under the wind. Being pretty fit, I managed to hit the shot and run up the fairway in time to see the ball land on the very front right of the green, only to trickle slowly back down the steep slope, leaving me a completely blind 3rd shot. There were no witnesses, but I heard my sand iron 3rd hit the flag, stopping only inches away for an easy tap in par. A great hole.
The 7th is a tricky 123 Yard Par 3, as shown here. I'd waited a couple of minutes for the tee just behind the green to clear (the 3rd hole on the Championship Course). Anything short leaves a difficult pitch up a steep bank. Anything long and you're either apologising profusely or exploring the gorse bushes. With the wind still a problem, I'd punched a 7 iron to the left of the green, my ball then running off to the side, leaving a long pitch and run. Bogey there, but this is another good hole. The 8th, a 417 yard Par 4, is the longest and the Stroke Index 1 hole. The green sits on a plateau with steep run offs on 3 sides and gorse bushes on the other. I was just short in 2 in light rough but bogey was OK given the difficulty of my 3rd shot, since the flag was close to the front of the green.
This is the 9th, a 125 Yard Par 3, downwind and for me, an easy 8 iron. Gorse on both sides with severe bunkering protecting the raised green makes it essential to hit and hold the green. I'd hit a good tee shot and a couple of putts secured the closing par. I'd gone round in 36, only 4 over par, with 15 putts. This is a great little course and was almost deserted when I played it in contrast to the steady stream of 4 balls with caddies on the Championship Course. I strongly recommend you play St Olaf before you test yourself to the extreme over the main Cruden Bay course. You can zip round here in just over an hour and if you par the 6th, well done!