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 feels he has 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’ve seen previewing the course in the Autumn of 2008 (and, it must be added, with absolutely no fear of sensationalising the issue) it will make as massive an impact on the golfing scene (opened in the summer of 2009) as Kingsbarns did in 2000—yes, you read that right first time—it is that good.
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—click here to read more. 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. India’s Jeev Milkha Singh won the 2012 event, beating Italy’s Francesco Molinari in a play-off. Phil Mickelson won an exciting sudden-death play-off against South Africa’s Branden Grace to claim the 2013 title and then went on to win the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield to claim his fifth major title.
Wow, wow and triple wow – did Castle Stuart ever live up to my (already very high) expectations when I played here in early October 2008!
When I had popped in for a look around a couple of months ago, I recognised I was looking at something really special and couldn’t wait to get back to play to preview the course.
Where to start with reviewing Castle Stuart?
The fantastic elevated tee shot to begin the round; the clever split fairway on the 2nd hole; the lovely shallow grass bunkers on hole 3; the Castle in the background at the par three 4th; the brilliant greenside waste bunkers on holes 6 and 9; the breathtaking tee shot down to the water side from the 10th tee; the beautiful short par three 11th; the wonderful offset putting surface on 14; the precariously positioned green (like hole 7) on the cliff top at the 15th; and the demanding long par three 17th.
Each and every one of these is an abiding memory of a day that will live long in the memory.
I’m glad I played with two other golfers whose opinions I respect otherwise I might have thought twice before raving about this place – as it was, they felt the same as me so I know it fully deserves to be loudly lauded. When the clubhouse is finished and the course officially opens in July 2009, expect a stampede of golfers who want to sample some of the Parsinen golfing magic.