Back-Roads Scotland: Cullen Golf Club

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In 2007, I traveled to Scotland on an unusual Golf Digest assignment. I landed in Glasgow without tee times or an itinerary, and I rented a car and set out in a more or less random direction, with the goal of playing only courses I’d never heard of before. You can read my article about that trip here or here.

The bent flag shows how hard the wind was blowing. Cullen Golf Club, Scotland, May, 2007.

One of my favorite stops was a quirky course called Cullen, in Aberdeenshire, on the southern coast of the Moray Firth. The original nine holes were laid out by Old Tom Morris, and the course has blind shots, crossing fairways, otherworldly topography, and a cool tee shot that you hit from the top of a cliff.

Looking down from the top of the cliff, Cullen Golf Club.

Looking down from the top of the cliff, Cullen Golf Club.

Partway through my round, I joined (as the fifth player) a group of older golfers from a club called Hopeman, about thirty miles to the west.

Hopeman Golf Club, Scotland, May, 2007.

Hopeman Golf Club, Scotland, May, 2007.

They were on a golf outing, and this was their second round of the day, and they were playing a scramble, in competition with three other groups from their club.

The boys from Hopeman. That’s Cullen’s eighteenth green in the distance.

Most of them were carrying flasks, from which they were sipping a mixture of something and Drambuie—I couldn’t quite make out the recipe—and their golf bags were so full of empty beer bottles that they clanked when the wind, which was fierce, knocked them over. They urged me to have a swig from one of their flasks. I declined, because I’d quit drinking about a year before, but they were so relentless that I eventually decided it would be better to risk falling off the wagon than to come to blows. (The other ingredient turned out to be scotch.)

The boys from Hopeman and some of their beverages.

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As soon as I’d drunk a capful, though, they began to worry about their supply. “Are you driving?” one asked. His brow was furrowed with concern. When I said I was, he and the others concluded that offering me another swig or a beer would be unwise. Toward the end of the round, one of them asked, in a slurry brogue, “Wha hoe wah noo?” and only I could understand him: “What hole are we on now?” (It was the seventeenth.) A year later, I went back with friends.

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The specialty in the clubhouse—at left in the photo above, behind the big rock—is Cullen Skink, a fish soup that has its own Wikipedia entry.

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Here’s where my friends and I stayed in Cullen when we went back the following year. It’s my favorite kind of hotel, because you are never in danger of thinking you are in a Holiday Inn.

I’ve had dreams about both the golf course and the hotel. Someday, I will go back.

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7 thoughts on “Back-Roads Scotland: Cullen Golf Club

  1. I have never yet played in Scotland. Me and a group of friends have been planning a trip, for about ten years or so, but something always got in the way. Time is running out on me but I do hope to get there, although it is a long trip from New Zealand. My friends live in the USA.

  2. David, Great stuff about the hidden gems of Scotland. I particularly enjoyed your 2007 article from GD under “here”. We are off to a trip to the Northern Highlands in about three weeks that will include Brora, Dornoch, Moray, Cruden Bay, Aberdeen, and others. If we can find Tain and Cullen and I can convince my car mates to play “an extra nine” maybe we will get to take these two in. This trip should make for some good bloggin. Moe

    • Cullen is just up the road from Moray, and Tain is a little farther along. And not far from Tain, in Portmahomack, is a nice little ten-hole course called Tarbat. But you have a great trip as is.

  3. Thanks David. One more stop to consider on my trip to Dornoch and the Highlands next year. And FYI, for you “Local Hero” fans, Cullen Golf Club is just 25 miles west of Pennan, the village where the movie was filmed.

  4. I so miss my home country and never got around to play any golf there at all. I feel homesick and need to plan a trip back after reading your blog. Like Pete I am from New Zealand also so it is a long way but who knows.

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