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.
Date: February 19, 2022