Only one course of action was open to American developer Mark Parsinen once he’d overseen the triumphant opening of Kingsbarns—scour the coastline of Scotland to find a suitable place to develop another world class layout that might even outshine its illustrious predecessor.
Parsinen felt he had discovered just such a special site on the southern shores of the Moray Firth, between Inverness and Nairn at Castle Stuart, and from what we saw previewing the course as it was growing in during Autumn 2008, we had absolutely no doubt that it would make as big an impact on the golfing scene as Kingsbarns did when it was unveiled eight years earlier.
The opening three holes on each nine run away from the clubhouse along the edge of a raised beach by the side of the Moray Firth, offering spectacular views across the water to the Black Isle. In order to reach shore level from the escarpment above, a thrilling drive must be struck from tees cut into the cliff side down to the fairways below on holes 1 and 10—a heart-pumping way to start both the outward and inward half.
As with so many modern designs, clever mounding ensures most holes are played in isolation to the rest, with the next hole only revealed after the current one has been played. Another eye-catching feature throughout the entire layout is the use of expansive, wild-looking waste bunker areas to fringe the sand capped-fairways and green sites, adding a wonderfully natural feel to the course.
Holes 4 to 9 and 13 to 18 are played more inland, with each loop ending on either side of a clubhouse that sits on the edge of the cliffs. One of the best holes on a sensational front nine is the 552-yard, par five, 6th which is played to a long, narrow green that sits between a pair of beautiful waste bunkers. On the more elevated back nine, the testing 220-yard 17th on top of the cliffs is a really daunting prospect to play so late in the round.
Castle Stuart now offers some serious competition to both Royal Dornoch and Nairn when it comes to attracting visiting golfers, but that can only be a good thing for the Highlands where they seem determined to raise the golfing bar of excellence as high as possible.
In January 2011, Castle Stuart was confirmed as the venue for the 2011 Barclays Scottish Open, which for the previous 15 years Loch Lomond had hosted. Unfortunately the 2011 event was hit by unprecedented summer storms that forced a foreshortened 54-hole tournament. The rain delays, however, did not dampen Luke Donald’s form. The world number one cruised comfortably to victory claiming his first Scottish Open title by four shots.
Aberdeen Asset Management took over sponsorship of the event the following year and both the 2012 and 2013 editions of the tournament were decided by a play-off after the leading players finished tied on the same 17 under par total of 271 for four rounds. In 2012, India’s Jeev Milkha Singh beat Italy’s Francesco Molinari then Phil Mickelson from the United States overcame South Africa’s Branden Grace in sudden-death twelve months later.
The Scottish Open has since moved around the country to different venues but it returned to Castle Stuart in 2016, when Sweden’s Alexander Norén claimed his fifth European Tour title with a one-stroke victory over his nearest challenger, England’s Tyrrell Hatton.
Castle Stuart is a wonderful 'modern' links course with fantastic views over the Moray Firth back to (or out of) Inverness and over towards the Black Isle. Upon driving onto the property, you can only see very little of the course and even at the starter's hut, there's not much to see (except for the huge putting green). So the senses (and the suspense) are heightened when you turn the corner towards the first tee. Welcome to the Castle Stuart experience...standing on the first tee you wonder what shot to play but actually the fairway is a bit wider than it looks. It's a tough start nonetheless, especially into the prevailing (?) wind that is often 2-3 clubs. The second and third also play into that direction before the courses turns around and snakes back and forth until the 9th which brings you back to the starter's hut. 10 & 11 are incredible holes ('all world' for me), a short par 4 and a short par 3 but that doesn't mean they're easy at all. The green complexes are quite challenging. 12 then takes you up the hill before the steep walk to 13 and the holes higher on the cliff. 16, 17 and 18 give you a great closing loop, again with a short (and reachable) par 4 but a stout par 3 and a par 5 to finish that I think only the longest hitters can go for in two.
I had the great fortune of playing Castle Stuart over 4-5 consecutive days and the more I played it, the more I liked it. This is a playable course (pick the right tees) on which all levels can score well and enjoy the game. The team at Castle Stuart (Jeremy, Ebbie, Carly and all the others) is fantastic and go out of their way to make your stay as memorable as possible. There is talk of a second course, which would certainly make Castle Stuart a true '5' but together with the courses at Nairn and Nairn Dunbar, this is a great golfing escape right now and you should go.
Superb and well worth playing. It does not feel relatively new at all, and some of the holes feel like they have been there a long time. Great condition and lots of memorable shots and holes throughout. I think the weakest tee shot was actually the 18th which is a lovely hole, but the tee could be better positioned as its almost a blind shot. Apart from that, this course is great and well worth the trip if you are not local.
Clubhouse excellent and locker room is, just wow! What a view. Only downside to us is has that pay and play feel of a club with no members. Apart from that, first class and I will definitely return.
Exactly as expected. Fabulous course. Each hole a stand alone and fits the terrain perfectly. Green complexes are very nice. With the modern links they often bring you back to the clubhouse at the turn as done here. A big course which can stand the test of the modern player.
Castle Stuart is a wonderful addition to golf in Northern Scotland. Gil Hanse did a great job at creating a very playable and scenic course for golfers of all levels, and most certainly you could play every day and find different strategies/nuances on each hole. The course helps bring in tourism dollars for Inverness and it's surrounds. A win for all.
But I do question the lofty world ranking of 53. Top 100, probably, but almost top 50 is perhaps a reach. I guess I was expecting more of a links course, as opposed to a course with wide open fairways where the design focus seemed more on providing views from many holes. It just didn't seem to quite work compared to 'new' links layouts such as Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm (both of which I would say are superior golf layouts). Maybe I have to play it again?
It's also very expensive. If you're visiting Dornoch, you can play Brora and Golspie combined for much less than Castle Stuart, and they are fantastic fun.
Anyway, very much enjoyed my round as will everyone who plays there!
After years of waiting to play Castle Stuart the day finally arrived, and thankfully we were blessed with clear skies, decent temperature and only a mild breeze.
As we drive down the estate driveway the anticipation grew, everything is hidden and even when we had arrived in the car park you can only see the superb clubhouse and you would be forgiven in even questioning if there is a golf course here.
The warm and endearing welcome here by every member of staff we came into contact with was amazing, out of this world and any other superlative you can conjure. We felt very humbled and special, which set the tone for our visit perfectly.
After a warm up on the range, were thousands of ball await your dispatch we made our way around the front of the clubhouse for our first view of the links and its panorama. The cry was unanimous "WOW!" what a sight, beautiful beyond my ability to describe, and as we started to putt, you could not stop from taking a peak at the landscape every 30 seconds.
Onto the course, the conditioning was pure, everywhere manicured and in the finest of condition, as you would hope and expect but often never delivered.
The course was very good and I enjoyed it immensely, I definitely need to return and play it again so I can take it in more next time, I it was over in a blur, and my memory was more of the experience and surroundings rather than individual holes.
WOW! One of the very best which didn’t just live up to expectation it surpassed it.
From the very start when entering the site you’re given the feeling of being very exclusive and special with the winding road with no view of the golf course as they want to keep you waiting for the grand reveal as you walk down the path towards the first tee box. The clubhouse is eccentric and bustling with character like no other, the locker room is a must visit exceptional service and views are provided.
The golf course, well there isn’t enough superlatives to describe the course with the first 3 holes all going out along the coastline which is more in play thanany coastline imaginable. Extremely tough start with misses right guaranteed to be wet and never seen again whilst misses left will be swallowed up by the wall of gorse that lines that side. The fourth and the signature hole as they say is incredible hitting down tunnel visioned land up towards castle Stuart itself although I’d argue that there is 18 signature holes at this place as there isn’t a single bad hole to play it’s truly mesmerising from hole 1 to 18 and beyond.
Castle Stuart Golf Links is as good as golf gets for any aspiring golfer, I’m sure it’s ranking will keep progressing as the course ages and really look forward to seeing the changes brought in from the Cabot takeover the next time I come to play this incredible place.
I've played most of the top courses in Scotland, SW Ireland, and Northern Ireland and for me Castle Stuart is one of my favorites. Great clubhouse, great views, great layout, and very playable. Probably one of the most enjoyable courses I've played over there... it far exceeded my expectations!! For my money the top 6 over there, not in order, are Royal County Down, Royal Portrush, Turnberry, Carnoustie, Dornoch and Castle Stuart. Just an fyi I've also played St Andrews Old, Trump International, Royal Aberdeen, Cruden Bay, Nairn, Prestiwick, Kingsbarns, Troon, Muirfield, Old Head, Waterville, Tralee, Lahinch, Ballybunion, etc. Castle Stuart for me and my entire group was a "do not miss".
Castle Stuart reminded me a lot of the Castle Course at St. Andrews. A purpose built 'corporate' course on a terrific piece of land astounds from arrival. The welcome is exemplary, and wandering down to the first tee opens ones eyes to the challenge that awaits. We were fortunate to have a following wind on the first few holes and enjoyed that benefit. After the first three with the sea a slice away we turned to into the draught with the Castle as the backdrop for a wonderful par 3 4th. Gorse takes over where the sea left off but the views are outstanding throughout. Classic links holes take us back to the halfway house. The back 9 starts with the sea to the left, we played the 10th from an elevated tee, and what a hole? Smash a drive, a medium iron in and a tricky green. What fun? The walk up to the 13th tee is strenuous, and its worth taking 5 to catch ones breath before the finish. The 18th is very reminiscent of the last hole at St Andrews Castle, a wonderful sweeping par 5 back home, and a great finish to a great course. Oh to be able to return and enjoy it all over again.
I entirely agree as far as the Castle Course is concerned. It's a very playable modern links with the emphasis to score well on your approach and green work. Staff are great and service is impeccable.
Played in August 2021. Shockingly expensive but just top class.
The 2nd and 3rd day of the Highlands trip we were treated to 2 magnificent, dry days with perfect blue skies at Castle Stuart. The first day was breezy whereas the second day was mostly calm. This being the second Gil Hanse course I played in 2021 and in general (the other being the new course at Les Bordes, it was nice and not too difficult to recognize his hand in the design. His eye for detail is incredible. The course is a shaping masterclass, not all features being quite necessary but no expense spared on design and presentation. The course is full of eye candy but the strategic archtitectural substance is there to match the visual thrills.
With this piece of land it was impossible not to make a beautiful course, but other important checkmarks of good architecture are spot on. The routing is a thing of beauty. I absolutely love how the holes follow eachother seemlessly, greens and tees being connected and keeping an amazing flow to the golfcourse. There are no walks back to the back tees, you could easily play different tees wihtout it bothering any player in the flight. Both 9 hole loops are quite symmetrically routed and start in opposite directions on the lowest part of the property, directly on the Moray Firth and, in the case of the front nine, gently climbing up to the upper plateau of the property, rising above the vertical hedge of gorse dividing the high and the low. The back nine however has one flaw which is the steep uphill walk between the par 5 12th and the par 4 13th, which is the only interruption of an otherwise flawless routing. It probably was a very conscious choice that enabled the finishing stretch and the fantastic downhill par 5 18th hole by the clubhouse. It also should be said that the 13th is a brilliant par 4 with a superb teeshot in a moonscape tunnel, and a panoramic approach to an exciting multi tiered green with the Kessock Bridge in the background.
A round of golf at Castle Stuart is filled with highlights, I won’t bother picking and describing my favorite holes. Every sense is tickled constantly and the golf centers around fun. The fairways are wide and bad shots are punished with finding your ball in impossible bunkers, difficult approaches that will likely be repelled by the green, and monsterputts rather than lost balls. If you do hit an errant shot, you better follow up with a good recovery shot. You will not need any forced carries at CS as the teeboxes flow seemlessly into the fairways. It is definitely the most playable course out of the top100 courses I’ve played, but somehow I couldn’t make much of a score in two rounds played. It’s very intruiging to see that playable doesn’t necessarily mean forgiving.
“Every sense is tickled constantly” - love it!
This requirement could easily replace #9 & #11 from Alister Mackenzie’s 13 principles of an ideal golf course