Before teeing off I had a quick chat with one of the staff about what changes are made to the course before the upcoming Scottish Open to test the professionals. He informed me the course would close only two days before the tournament for some last minute pruning. That means the course you play is essentially the same as some of the world’s best. I imagine the greatest difference is the speed of the greens. The pro said they were running at 9.3-9.5 on the stimpmeter: a little optimistic. It made for some difficult putting on longer putts but at least low running chips were made easier. And that is a great thing considering the imperative on playing the running game into the greens. Downwind there was rarely any temptation to fly a ball all the way. When you see a pro fly a high-spinning approach into a green here you get an even better appreciation of just how gifted are those guys.
One word of warning about the course would be in order in my view, and not through any desire to create controversy or spark debate. Those expecting a genuine links course throughout may be a touch disappointed. Few golf courses can have genuine links holes quite so high up from the sea where it would be harder for the wind to blow and redeposit sand to the higher plateau to make genuine links sub-soil. The uniformity of the turf conditions in the wide fairways also makes them look more like the modern inland layouts at Bowood or the London Club.
Holes 1-4 and 10-12 are the only ones found by the water. None of this is a complaint about the quality of the holes or the design ethos employed throughout. I struggle to think of a course that gives more options in gameplan while also promoting the lost art of the ground running ball. You can’t help but think that the designers of the Castle Course at St Andrew’s had something like Castle Stuart in mind but didn’t quite get there. Of course that Fife visitor attraction could still be improved yet. If you want to enjoy Castle Stuart and put down genuine scores, play the course from the tees recommended, though not mandated by the starter.
It was interesting to catch up with visiting American golfers (a key target market one assumes) and see their approach to the game. The first of the threeball to tee off the 10th (white tees) was a fifty something gentleman who took out a smallish headed driver and proceeded to shape an elegant low draw to the middle of the fairway. Precise and nothing fancy. The next thrashed a large headed driver of a certain head colour into the long golden hay on the left, which is actually not a bad place to be. The third whacked his ball straight into the gorse 30 yards right of the fairway and took a drop from nowhere near there. This was all done from the furthest back white tees in the name of vanity. It serves as the perfect illustration of the value of listening to the starter. By not playing from the tips I somehow played the same ball for 18 holes: a rare feat for me.
Away from the course itself, the lunch menu is more competitively priced than one might imagine but is not much more than honest pub grub, which is not a bad thing. The service is professional (as in straight from the manual) and contrasts starkly from the natural warm welcome you receive everywhere in the highlands. While there I overheard a conversation between a manager at Castle Stuart and a visiting golfer (an architect by profession) who enthused greatly about the clubhouse design. How hard did I have to stifle the guffaw that wanted to erupt out of me? Who, out of us golfers would design a clubhouse so that the bar is on the ground floor giving views of the putting green, while the locker rooms enjoy stunning views of the range, the 9th and 18th? Where would you rather have a warming pot of tea or a long cooling drink? In the locker rooms, or the bar? And the top floor private bar proves that while everyone is a member for the day at Castle Stuart, some of the animals are more equal than others.
It is a great course but the club is totally out of kilter with the rest of the highlands. It should be added to a Highlands golf trip rather than the foundation of such an itinerary. I have tried it once but I suspect that might be enough for me.
Date: June 28, 2012