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 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.
At the first tee of the Torrance course I was greeted by the starter who provided a bit of information about the course and wished me a good round. After the pleasantaries were exchanged I was met by the 358 yard par 4 first hole which sweeps from right to left. The green cannot be seen from the tee so the golfer must drive towards a fairway-width wide gap in an old-looking stone wall to get a view at the green. The approach must then fly over a dry ditch and onto the long putting surface, making this a pretty good opener. The second is a straight par four, armed with a solitary fairway bunker and a strong wind in the golfer's face for protection, making it play longer than the 438 yards listed on the scorecard however the massive green offers a decent target which helps players to get to the green in regulation. Hole three, whilst a nice enough hole, seemed a tad out of place given the surroundings - mainly due to the large lake all the way up the right hand side of the hole - and therefore doesn't seem to be in keeping with the links-style setting. Despite this minor blip it is one of the hardest holes on the course with two solid strikes necessary to get within striking distance of the green and the burn which flows from the aforementioned lake cutting right infront of the kidney-shaped green must also be negotiated.
At 278 yards the next hole should just be a drive and a flick with a wedge, although the hole is not easy as I found when I flew my drive right into the face of the one expertly placed fairway bunker. After escaping the sand the pitch shot was no formality due to the slope which runs off the back of the green as I unfortunately discovered after hitting my shot a shade too heavy. The first par 3 is guarded by one side bunker which shouldn't come into play so if the tee shot can be landed on the correct level of the green the golfer is in with a good shout at birdie. As the course starts to curve around the back of the hotel another par 5 is up, this time swinging from left to right. The fairway is undulating and it can be difficult to find an even lie from which to hit the second or third shot. The approach to the green definitely favours a fade due to the three strategically placed bunkers short right of the raised green. I liked the seventh, another par 4 that should be driveable for the big hitters and a 220-odd yard carry is necessary to fly the heavy rough. The safer route would be to play left to the middle of the fairway although three bunkers lie in wait to gather up any balls flirting in the vicinity. The fairway contains many mounds and humps which means any pitch or bump and run must be judged to perfection just to reach the green. Next up is a compact little par three from an slightly elevated tee to a generously large green - another good hole where accuracy is paramount to avoid falling into three-putt territory due to the sloping of the putting surface. The last hole on the outward nine is fairly straight and takes the golfer towards the clubhouse. The main hazard in the approach is a deep Road Hole-esque bunker directly infront of the green.
The homeward nine opens with a left to right par 4 of 427 yards; the fairway is relatively narrow however the further left the tee shot the better the angle to the green, to which there is a slight descent from the fairway - another tough hole. Hole ten is a shortish par three but enough club must be taken to reach and then hold the green as the surface falls away, particularly to the front right. The 12th signals the start of a difficult run of three holes, the first being an all uphill 500 yard par 5. With the wind not providing any assistance and a dry ditch infront of the green this is a genuine three-shot par 5 in which the fairway winds from the right to the left the back to the right again before the swale, however the fairway is not all that wide - placing a premium on keeping it straight off the tee and with fairway woods yet again. A rippling fairway awaits on the next hole which runs parallel to the entrance road to the hotel and an extra club will probably be needed on the approach due to two hidden dips which lie on the path to the green. The 14th is another tricky par four defended by a ditch disecting the fairway 30 yards infront of the green. Hole 15 is a 312 yard par 4 taking the golfer away from the hotel and clubhouse for the last time and avoiding the four greenside bunkers is without doubt the main challenge on this hole, leaving the golfer only a small target to aim at with the second shot.
Then comes the best two holes on the course in my opinion, and by quite a margin I may add, these are real standout holes. 16 is a lovely downhill par 4, the drive can trickle down the hill towards the green if it gets a decent kick whilst dunes frame the meandering fairway. The green itself is relatively flat and the sight of nothing in the background but the a small stone wall and the North Sea is quite simply fantastic. After holing out I couldn't resist a peek over the wall and what a view - a steep drop down on to the deserted beach then nothing but the water out into the horizon. Taking all of the scenery in I made my way to the 17th tee box to find another great hole. A 153 yard par 3 over a wee stone wall to a diagonal and heavily sloping green. Should the green not be hit in regulation then a delicate touch is the order of the day due to the large elevation change from one side of the putting surface to the other. The closing hole is another uphiller and at only 485 yards it sounds a lot easier than it is. The tee shot favours a draw before probably a lay up to get into a good position to attack the raised green which rests atop the hill in front of the stylish clubhouse.
The whole experience at the Fairmont is an exceptional one and the combination of the splendid hotel with the added bonus being at the Home of Golf means that as a package it doesn't get much better. However the review is based on the quality of the course and given the toughness of much of the course I can easily see why the Scottish Seniors event is held on the Torrance. For me the course was a bit of a mixed bag with a number of good holes, all very difficult, thrown in with a few that were a bit average and of course the two standouts at 16 and 17. I particularly enjoyed the shorter par 4 holes around the Torrance but not so much some of the longer holes which I thought were somewhat similar. All things considered I am of the opinion that when judging this course as a resort course it is a very good course, indeed one of the better tracks of this kind, and would likely be of 5-ball standard however when analysing it on a stand alone basis my opinion of the Torrance dips a little and means that it falls into the solid 4-ball category. DM
The Torrance is a course which would be raved about if it was located elsewhere in the UK instead of competing, as it does, with another half dozen top courses in the St Andrews area. The first six holes are pretty straightforward before you come round the back of the hotel to play on the tract of land where the real action takes place over the last twelve holes. Greens are to die for - proper links standard with speed to match.
Many of the holes are designed to offer marvellous risk/reward challenges with bunkers strategically placed to catch errant shots. The views from the cliff top across the bay to Carnoustie and Arbroath in Angus are simply stunning. Throw in an ultra modern clubhouse and wonderful sister course in the shape of the Devlin and you have the recipe for a day’s golf made in golfing heaven.