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.
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.
Upon arriving at the fairmont we were greeted with a great enterance and a wow factor view of the hotel & spa driving down to the car park with the course to the left of us. The fairmont hotel has a seprate car park to the golf club so there's plenty of space to park your car and get a relaxing feeling before play. The club house has a nice shop and the staff are welcoming and very helpful. There's a nice pro feeling to the locker room with wooden lockers and nice showers and toilet facilities which is a bit more special than the average. Before play we were greeted by a nice guy who told us a bit about the courses and guided us to the first tee box. The practice area is great and has a nice double bunker chipping area and a great putting green that gave us a good indication of the greens speeds against the wind and down wind which was massively different so a must before play. To me the course was a Links course with all the undulations and rough as you would normaly get on a links course. The fairways are open, long, nice and wide and the condition of the grass was good. All the greens were true roll and a joy to putt on with stunning views of the sea and the rest of the course. The 18th green is away from spectators so there's no pressure here. There is some hard holes with some nice deep bunkers but for me the more challenging the hole the better. I'm not a flat course player and enjoy adapting to the conditions that can change in an instant. Don't be to hard on yourself if your scores are not as you expect them to be and just enjoy the experiance of this great course.
Pleasantly surprised how good both these two hotel courses are.
Don't make the mistake of missing them of your wish list because they are not part of the Links trust.
Although the course has the look of a links course, when I played there the fairway grass did not seem to be the usual fescue and the ball did not run as you would expect.
Holes 1 and 4 to 8 are around the hotel and conference centre with a burn in play, especially on the 1st and 5th holes. There are some tough holes early in the round, particularly the long par four 2nd and par five 6th.
The 12th was formerly a tough par four but now is an equally difficult par five of 556 yards. Sixteen is at the furthest point from the clubhouse and has a most attractive outlook as you head directly towards the sea.
Eighteeen is a long par five with a dog leg left for the third shot to a green that usually is subject to the ever present wind. The dog leg is now less severe than in the previous layout.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.
The Torrance course really does tick a lot of good golfing boxes and so it should for a venue that will host the Scottish Seniors Open for the third year in a row this August.
Four sets of tees offer a challenge that varies between 5415 yards from the reds to 7230 yards from the blues so a wide range of handicaps are catered for.
A number of fairways on the back nine have been sand slitted so some drainage issues are obviously being attended to.
Greens – which are the real star of the show here – are as good as you would care to putt on and many are fronted by aprons that allow the traditional low running approach shot. The putting surfaces played firm and fast – a trait hated by the target golfer but admired by real links lovers.
I thought the semi abstract mounding that was installed between fairways a few years ago had matured nicely, imbuing the course with a much more rugged feel than before.
And the loss of the old 17th and 18th holes to the rebranded Kittocks has been well disguised by beefing up the home hole into a great closing par five with a wonderfully reconstructed greensite.
So, all in all, the Torrance delivers as decent a links-like experience as you would care to find in these parts – and I’m sure the close proximity of its new competitor at the Castle next door will keep the Fairmont owners focused on what’s required to attract golfers to their facility.
If only said proprietors would allow the clubhouse to be run as a place for ordinary golfers rather than treat it as an expensive grill house extension of their hotel up the hill.