Many people must have questioned the wisdom of Don Panoz, the multi-billionaire proprietor of luxury hotels, resorts and golf courses, when he ploughed a reputed ₤58 million into the creation of the five star St Andrews Bay Golf Resort to the south of “the auld grey toon” in the late 1990s.
Were there not enough golf courses within and adjacent to St Andrews to satisfy the ever increasing number of visiting golfers who flock here every year to play at “the home of golf”?
Panoz, who made his money in the pharmaceutical industry, finances high revenue pet projects like racing cars and tracks so he’s not in the business of throwing his money away on golf ventures that are going to fail – and so it has proved as St Andrews Bay has become a welcome addition to the golfing facilities in this part of the Kingdom of Fife.
Designed by Denis Griffiths with the late golfing legend Gene Sarazen and evergreen Scottish senior Sam Torrance as the headline grabbers, the Torrance course is a 7,230-yard layout built on the clifftop overlooking the North Sea. It was constructed with many principles of links golf in mind, offering risk/reward opportunities at many of the holes.
The opening eight holes are routed up the hillside around the substantial site of the hotel and spa complex. This introduction offers the golfer a chance to acclimatise to the very fast running greens and take account of the many challenging bunkers that protect the putting surfaces. This is as near to links golf that you will get without the terrain being actually classified as such.
Standing on the 8th tee, a downhill par three hole measuring 191 yards, the full glory of the remaining holes can be seen as the course opens out, displaying verdant green fairways flanked by wispy rough. The background is just as pleasing, with the Tay Estuary in the background and the county of Angus in the distance.
There are some fine holes on the back nine, none more so than the 220-yard, par three 17th where the green is protected by a dry stone wall and deep, punishing bunkers.
The course was reconfigured in 2008 when the old 17th and 18th holes on the Torrance were included in the layout of the new Kittocks course, replaced by holes 3 and 4 from the former Devlin course. Considerable effort was also made to isolate holes on the back nine by introducing large, shaggy mounds between fairways and these earthworks have resulted in an inward half that enjoys a wild, natural feel.
The sister course at Fairmont St Andrews is the Kittocks, designed by Denis Griffiths with Bruce Devlin as the headlining architect. Day tickets were created for places like this where you will be hard pressed to find a more challenging 36 holes at one location.
The Torrance course at the Fairmont St.Andrews is a handicap-friendly resort course featuring wide fairways, large greens, flattish fairways, and greens that offer gentler slopes rather than undulate. The bunkering is restrained.
In the absence of wind, the course should be a pleasant walk particularly due to the views from the course where one can see the lovely large hotel, the clubhouse, the sea, and the spires of St Andrews in the distance. The best view of the town is from the sixteenth hole.
The course is devoid of anything architecturally significant or unique. There are no dunes here, nor much gorse and the course’s rises and falls are not dramatic. The only two interesting features are the burn that fronts twelve and fourteen as well as the numerous short stone walls which are rarely in play.
I did not find a memorable hole or green on the course. It should be noted that I played the course devoid of wind. I hit every fairway except the first in regulation. I hit the fairway with my second shots on the par fives. This was not so much due to my ball striking but simply because the fairways are wide.
I found the front nine to be pedestrian. The second is probably the best hole but mainly due to its length as a longer par 4 with a fall-off left of the green. The par 3 eighth has a false front combined with a central front bunker.
The back nine is better with the par 5 twelfth having a burn set around ten feet below the hole to a green that is somewhat shallow but quite wide. The green on the fourteenth sits right behind the deep burn and the green is shallow. The sixteenth works it’s way down to the sea as a slight dogleg left with a hidden back left greenside bunker. The seventeenth requires one to find the green due to the false front with the green angled to the left and three bunkers. The rear bunker on seventeen is hidden from the tee. Eighteen is a nice par 5 bending left with two bunkers right 45 yards short of the green and three bunkers somewhat near the green.
The course is kept in good condition. The course receives high marks for its playability. If one cannot get on any of the courses associated with the Links Trust or the well known courses east of St Andrews, this is a viable option.
Almost on the same piece of land as Kittocks but going a little bit more inland, this Open Qualifier and European Tour Venue plays a couple of shots tougher than her sibling. It shows it has been thought to host events and now with some riveted bunkers added the character has improved quite a bit.
The front 9 surrounds the hotel with two drivable par 4s (depending on the selected tees), a couple of good par 3s and two very tough par 5s. And add 2nd hole 475 par 4 stroke index 1 from the white tees … driver and spoon short!
Back 9 have some more variety and challenge starting from very tough 10th and 11th where if on the wrong side of the green you will struggle to make 2 putts. 12th a great par 5 with a burn just short to avoid brave hitters to go for it. 14th with a burn short of the green will be the par 4 with the most difficult second shot. Drama comes back on 16th facing the ocean (best hole on the course, similar to Kittocks 15th green) and 17th where a short shot may roll back a lot of yards and maybe the best green on the layout. Finishing hole is an accessible par 5 but for those who wish to go for it, you will need to carry the 2 small “spectacles”.
An overall satisfying experience and feel the Hotel could do a little bit more in maintenance and the courses should be in the wish list of every golf visiting The Home of Golf.
A big golf course, built for the pros or very good amateurs. Greens were superb (kept their speed from the recent tour event). The land is similar to that used by the Castle course - where the Castle (a course I love), uses sandy waste areas and funky bunkering, the Torrance steadfastly retains its more austere approach ( its reward is that it has a tour event, the Castle won't). I added the Torrance to my itinerary at short notice but was able to play anytime between 1.15 pm and 5 pm on the day I played there were no other bookings that afternoon). I don't know if this was mainly down to Covid restrictions or whether word has spread that there are many better golf courses in the area, especially for golfers that are more recreational. I'm glad I played, not least as I hired a buggy and scooted round in 2 hours. It is also always interesting to play Tour courses. Standout holes were the par 5 3rd, with water on the right and a stream short of the green, the short risk and reward par 4, 7th, the downhill par 4,16th where the approach is towards the sea and the par3, 17th with sea on the left and an interesting green complex.
The Torrance offers an opportunity to play if all your other options have fallen by the wayside. It is a very nice course. It offers golf for their high end clientele at the hotel. For a visiting golfer to St Andrews their are so many better options. For traveling couples, yes. For traveling guy groups looking for links golf, no. Conditions are very good. The facility is opulent. It's a good option for plan B.
The Torrance front-nine wends its way around the massive hotel on the front nine before exploring holes bordered by long, wispy grass through shallow dunes on the inward half.
The opening holes have a burn and pond which comes into play and we see some large greens with some tasty run-offs. As you might expect after recently holding the tour event the putting surfaces were absolutely immaculate.
It’s easy to see why the European Tour chose this course of the two for their event. It is set up perfectly for elite professional golf, it is very fair and has a consistent feel to it although the plunging 16th does give us a delightful and different vista to the remainder of the course.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Having watched the recent european tour event at the Torrance course it brought back memories of playing it about 4 years ago.
We went on a golf weekend as 16 of us and I thought the weekend was outstanding and I really really enjoyed the Torrance course.
Strangely enough I think the fact this course is available at relatively low cost through the likes of golf breaks etc makes people unappreciative of what is a really good course.
I remember a mix of great par 3's 4's and 5's and the facilities, clubhouse and hotel are top notch.
One thing i will say is that the grass on the greens was left very long and they were dramatically slow, I really think this may have spoiled it for our group.
However if the greens are at a reasonable speed I would be surprised if this course doesn't get more 5 star reviews.
Fantastic course in great condition, the setting and views towards St Andrews are fantastic and I can't help but think that this course would be rated even higher if it weren't for all the competition in the area. The back 9 was slightly harder than the front, certainly the first time out with a 15 mph wind which made many of the par 4's play like par 5's. The course has it's fair share of challenges without being overly so, wide enough fairways with 'avoid at all costs' pot bunkers, tricky burns to navigate and quite a few very well protected greens which make for a challenging approach.
Known as a accomplished golfer, commentator and course architect. Sam Torrance is a highly respected figure in the golfing industry. Having no knowledge of the course and low expectations I was in for a pleasant surprise. I would classify it as the championship course of the 2 at Fairmont (hosted open qualifiers) and certainly designed as a Modern links. Most greens are slightly elevated, but in doing so provides great background vistas of the sea, the hotel, and the town of St Andrews. I found this very enjoyable to play, but also interesting as I felt no 2 holes were the same. There was enough rolling Swails in the course as well as use of burns, stone walls and reverted pot bunkers to add interest. A really nice course and is my pick of the 2 at the Fairmont.
Rory Wood is Manager of the Travelling Golfer click the link to read the full review.
Both Fairmont St Andrews courses are good, but very similar. Because of this i find it hard to remember which is which. They both share the quality of having some good holes by the cliffs, but the inland holes leave a lot to be desired.
If you're visiting St Andrew's I would play Elie or Lundin, both far more memorable courses than the 2 at Fairmont
Respond to above review
Was this review helpful?
0 people found this review helpful
Torrance feels slight in the shade of Kittocks - slightly less memorable, although perfectly enjoyable clifftop links golf in good condition with some nice views.
St Andrew's Bay is a very good facility, an easy taxi ride from St Andrews, and well setup for visiting Societies - weekend golf can be difficult to organise at courses with club competitions. Good deals to be had for both courses whilst staying at the comfortable hotel. Green to tees can be a little lengthy, for a change we took golf boards last time which was great fun.