The Kings Acre golf facility opened in the late 1990s, when a raft of new courses were being built in Scotland, and it offers golfers a fine 18-hole course (designed by Gaeme Webster of Niblick Design) as well as a mini-course for children, a 30-bay range, short game area and two fully equipped teaching studios.
The course measures a shade over 6,000 yards and plays to a par of 70, with four par fives and six par threes on the scorecard. “Bunkered,” the second of back-to-back par fives at holes 2 and 3 is a 554-yard monster, starting with a blind drive and ending at a heavily sand-protected green that slopes markedly from front to back.
On the back nine, the 497-yard 15th (“Thro’ the Pines”) is rated stroke index 1 and for good reason is it judged to be the most difficult hole on the course, doglegging severely to the right, with out of bounds running down the same side of the fairway. A score of net “5” here will feel more like an elusive birdie than a regular par.The 182-yard 8th (“Moorfoots”) is probably the best of the short holes on the front nine, played downhill to a three-tiered green whilst the longest and toughest of the par threes on the back nine, the 218-yard 16th (“Haugh”), is more than capable of ruining a good score late in the round so it needs to be treated with the utmost of respect.
Kings Acre surprised me in a number of ways: there were far more elevation changes around the course than I was expecting, the fairways were a lot drier and firmer than I’d anticipated and the greens had far more contour (holes 2, 6, 8, 12 and 13 have 2-tiered putting surfaces) than I might have imagined beforehand.
It’s a modern layout, of course, with a routing that brings both nines effortlessly back to a very comfortable, informal clubhouse -- one that was far from the “corporate” affair I’d thought it might be. Most of the playing corridors are tree-lined but they’re wide enough to allow a little latitude for mishit shots, which was also pleasing.
Stand out hole on the front nine for me was the downhill, right doglegged 3rd, which plays to a raised green circled by seven bunkers. I also really liked the par four 9th, where an old-fashioned power line runs the length of the hole on the left side of the fairways, adding a rustic charm to proceedings.
The enjoyment factor steps up a few notches on the back nine, starting at the terrific par three 11th, where a low stone dyke (like “Pit” at North Berwick) runs diagonally across the hole. This great sequence continues with a wonderful par five (played to a raised green on hole 12), followed by a lovely short par four (which sets off from a brilliant elevated teeing position on hole 13), before ending with a really neat par three at hole 14, where the green lies at the end of a really tight, tree-lined fairway.
The course then takes a totally unexpected turn, with one of the most peculiar holes that I’ve ever played in Scotland – a par five that plunges steeply downhill to a fairway that then turns 90 degrees to the right, towards the green. I’m not a fan of this type of hole (having disliked playing a few like it when on my golfing travels on the continent of Europe) so I’ll not try and pretend that I loved this one.
And it’s followed two holes later by another short par four version, with the fairway again veering sharply right and uphill towards the green! Then, just when I think things cannot get any worse, what appears on the final fairway, to the left of the home green, a water fountain – my pet hate on a golf course, anywhere!!!
Now, you’re probably thinking that this conclusion to the round tipped me over the edge, turning a good round into a bad one but you’d be wrong as I really enjoyed my overall experience at Kings Acre. Perhaps next time I play here I’ll just do what Bill (the member who played with me) did and that was to skip holes 14 to 17 and go straight to the clubhouse via the 18th hole.