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 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.