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On coast road between St Andrews and Crail
Course closed Dec-Mar – contact in advance
According to golf historian Bobby Burnet, golf at Kingsbarns dates back to 1793. A nine-hole golf course once played over part of the current layout. The “nine-holer” was commandeered by the military at the outbreak of the Second World War because they felt that the beach at Kingsbarns was an invasion risk. The golf course disappeared until American architect Kyle Phillips came along at the close of the 20th century.
Phillips studied various courses, including Royal Dornoch, to ensure that the end design would look natural. The earthmovers then rumbled in and shifted hundreds of thousands of tonnes of earth to create the moonscape that is now Kingsbarns.
The course opened in July 2000 to rapturous applause and the layout appears so natural that you would think that it had been there for years.
One of the many delights of Kingsbarns Golf Links is that you can see the North Sea from virtually every part of the course. What’s more, it has its own burn (the Cambo), which was uncovered during all that earth moving. The terrain is perfect for golf, rippling fairways, humps and hollows.
“As a piece of construction work, Kingsbarns is one of the best projects I’ve ever seen,” commented Tom Doak in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses. “It started out as a flat field above a small bowl of linksland, but I wouldn’t have believed that if I hadn’t seen it for myself, because the reshaping and grassing of the landscape was so well done.
The routing of the holes takes excellent advantage of the 2 km of sea frontage, though more for views than as a hazard, because the golf had to defer to the coastal walking paths. For me, the 4th and 5th holes on the upper deck may be the best of the bunch, using the edge of the plateau in their strategy and the sea beyond to intimidate. The overlap of fairways between the 6th and 7th holes and the incoming 16th and 17th is brilliant in blurring the edges of the work and helping to make the course feel more natural.”
Situated just six miles from St Andrews, Kingsbarns is an important addition to the ancient links courses in this area. It's one of only a few true links courses to be built recently along Scotland’s coastline, so it is just as well that this course is a cracker and deserves its status as one of the greatest links courses in the world.
I’m sure if you took a straw poll of visitors to Scotland and asked them which course was their favourite, a general browsing of social media on the topic tells me that Kingsbarns would be near the top of that list. So after playing the course, I tried to answer the question as to why this is? The short answer is that it’s very pretty and it’s playable. Each hole at Kingsbarns is visually attractive and to the most part, in view of the sea. The large fairways mean that you don’t have to be fearful on the tee, big greens mean that there’s room for error for the handicap golfer, and there’s a nice amount of undulation to the putting surfaces without anything being particularly tricked up. The course is very fair too, there are no blind shots or awkward bounces and there is usually a side of the green or fairway which allows for a recovery if you mishit your first shot. And whilst it’s host of one of the championship days at the Alfred Dunhill (and here comes my attempt to be on-topic with the new WHS coming into play in the UK), Kingsbarns’ slope rating of 136 from the medal tees confuses me as I found the course quite scoreable, and I believe that this is a consensus opinion rather than just my own.
I’d describe the course layout as being split into three sections; firstly we have the main part of the property where the holes are split between a lower section that sits by the sea, and the more elevated upper section that’s on the same level as the clubhouse. The third section of the property lies between holes 12 and 15 which follows a short walk through the trees and where you’ll get to enjoy playing one of the best par fives in Scotland under the watchful gaze of Crail in the distance.
Kingsbarns is twenty years old now and it’s matured beautifully, the manufactured humps and mounds have weathered naturally and fit well within their surroundings and I hear that the course is always in excellent condition. As you’d expect of a course that ranks within all of the World Top 100 lists, it also has variety and its share of outstanding holes. I loved the approach to the 1st hole with the array of pot bunkers and collection points that await to catch a ball short of the green, whilst the aforementioned par five 12th that bends around the beach and the par three 15th where you have to carry the ball over the sea, are the holes that most visitors recall. Personally, I found the short 13th architecturally more stimulating than the 15th. This hole is bordered by a tall stone wall and has a small plateau green with an array of coffin-like bunkers surrounding it. I mentioned variety earlier too, as there’s a classic reachable par four at the 6th, a design concept which has been very en-vogue in recent years, but this shorty is the perfect marriage of both risk and reward with gorse bushes and revetted bunkers lying in wait. I do admit that the holes around the turn failed to excite me to the same extent as the previous holes, but they’re still solid and more than mere connector holes.
There are no members at Kingsbarns which means that the sizeable green fees are targeted towards the foreign visitor market, and I’d argue that the course is also designed with the same aim. Kingsbarns is the ideal introduction to links golf for someone who’s not had much exposure to the links game before as well as the perfect remedy for those who may be underwhelmed by the visuals at nearby St Andrews, but I’m not convinced that Kingsbarns would stand up to repeated visits in the same way as the old classic a few miles up the road. That being said, Kingsbarns has plenty of eye-candy and is both very well designed and constructed. There has clearly been a strong attention to detail with a pleasant flow to the round and each hole coming with its fair amount of swales and borrows to keep things interesting. For my own individual tastes, I felt that the late Mark Parsinen’s effort at Castle Stuart is the slightly better of his two Scottish courses, and when I’m travelling up to Scotland, I’m personally looking for something a little more natural and authentic, but if you don’t mind digging deep into your wallet for a round of golf, I think Kingsbarns will find a way to please most that come through its gates.
You can see why the Americans love this place. The club house is great, service is excellent, range is big and the putting green huge.
The course has some spectacular holes on it. What I think kingsbarns does well is that it is not the most difficult course in the world. The par 5s are all reachable meaning most players will have the chance of a birdie.
I think if you’re being ultra critical there are a few too many average holes which stops it being in the top 5. 4 is a bit bland and I’ve always felt 13&14 were squeezed in to allow 12 to play the way it does. Which is not necessarily a bad thing as 12 is so spectacular.
All in all I’ve thoroughly enjoyed kingsbarns every time I’ve played it and can’t wait to go back again soon
Arguably the best of all the "new" courses in Scotland. Beautiful and fun. The holes are excellent. It is a little to "American" for my taste and the lack of history keeps it off of my must play list in Scotland. This said, it is a wonderful track.
Very nice course and a level of service that is uncommon in the UK & Ireland. Spectacular views as well from many parts of the course. However, this is a decidedly 'new' course and in fact feels touristy starting with the parking lot that always seems to have at least a couple of tour buses in full view, whenever I have been there. As an American who lives in England, I certainly enjoy playing it especially when I have visitors from the US who often appreciate a finer experience, but I am surprised the course ranks above many other courses such as Royal Aberdeen, Troon, or Bethpage. I cant recall anyone ever telling me at the end of a trip that they thought it was the best course or among the best they have ever played. To me, its more of a Top 75-100 level place.
No. It is simply unfathomable that Kingsbarns is rated above - to take just one example - Royal Troon.
I’ve played Kingsbarns twice, in beautiful weather on both occasions, and it’s lovely. It’s well designed, and the scenery is great, and the conditioning is good, it’s a nice experience. But basically it’s a tourist course that is set up so that visitors go away feeling god about their games.
This is not a links course. It’s a chunk of seaside farmland that has been bulldozed into an imitation of a links course. And it plays like an imitation, you can mostly play target golf round here. As a mid handicapper I shot below my handicap on both visits without ever feeling that I was playing terribly well.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a nice course, you’ll enjoy it. But 7 th in Scotland? Absolutely no way.
I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with you. This course is it’s enjoyable for all levels of golf! It’s fun! That’s what golf is supposed to be.
One of the first and also most successful of courses built in the ‘modern links’ category, Kingsbarns is an absolute beauty, and has views of the North Sea from virtually every hole. There is strategic design throughout, and the course was so well contructed that players would think the course has been there for hundreds of years. There are memorable holes throughout, starting with the par 5 3rd that plays along the sea, and has deep bunkers to the right of the green. I actually witnessed one of my playing partners putt into the bunker on this hole. The short par 6th is one of my favourite holes in the world, the green is long, narrow and multi tiered. I would recommend having a look at Michael Phelps (yes the swimmer) 50 yard putt holed here during the annual Dunhill Pro Am that graces these links. The 8th also has an interesting green, a short par 3 that slopes massively from right to left, but a short pot bunker on the right hand side of the green makes sure you can’t bail out too far. On the back, 12 & 15 take most of the plaudits and rightly so. Both played along (or over to the sea) and rocky beaches, they are remarkable. The 12th in particular, with its risk/reward design as a par 5. 18 is a strong finish, with a wedge played to a slopey green, from a downhill lie and over a burn, leaving nerves right up until the end. Kyle Phillips is a personal favourite of mine, and along with Yas Links, these are two of the best modern designs I’ve seen.
KIngsbarns runs like a well oiled machine, and is always busy in season. The starter has tee times heading off like clockwork, the caddies are experienced, the course is always in great shape, and the 19th hole is very cosy. But more importantly the golf compares well to the best in Scotland, and it is a pure links experience.
The first hole takes you directly to the sea, and then holes 2 and 3 play along the coast. It is a dramatic start. The remainder of the front nine plays along 'a terrace' one hole removed from the coast- but it does not feel that way as the ocean is always in view.
The back nine commences with two holes a little further inland, and partly framed by trees, changing the feel. But that is soon forgotten- the majestic twefth hole is a par 5 that runs right along the coast as it curves away from the tee. It brings to mind Pebble Beach's famous 18th hole.
Thirteen and fourteen are again one step removed from the sea and delightful holes oft forgotten in post games discussions simply because the par 3 fifteenth hole is so unforgettable. Totally exposed to the conditions, golfers must carry the briney to a green set on a peninsula.. It's a fantastic golf hole!
Sixteen, seventeen & eighteen are strong finishing holes. The old burn, bridge and elevated green on hte home hole make for a stirring finish to a wonderful Scottish links golf experience. Notable holes include:
- the par 3 second hole with sea backdrop
- the par 5 third hole along the beach
- the driveable short par 4 sixth hole
- the short downhill par 3 eighth hole with tricky green
- the epic par 5 twelfth hole along the beach
- the famous par 3 fifteenth hole with ocean carry
- the strong par 4 finishing hole
Kingsbarns should feature in itineraries for all golfers heading to Scotland and St Andrews.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
I had the pleasure of playing Kingsbarns in May of 2018 , wonderful layout . The most American course we played in Scotland. The Har ( Fog in American terms) moved in on the front 9 and by the 10th tee u could see maybe 75 yards. The club put out landing lights in the fairway to show where to hit your ball ( thank God for great caddies) Even with very little visibility the course was great and the experience was pure Scotland.
Kingsbarns, designed by Kyle Phillips is a fantastic golf course which I have had the pleasure to play many times, and in all types of weather. We once had a thunderstorm so bad that unfortunately a caddie was struck by lightening landing near him (he was taken to the hospital and released okay) which was followed by hail so severe that the greens were completely covered. On that day they collected everyone off of the golf course into the clubhouse, which felt very very tiny with everyone in it.
I have also played in complete sunshine and no breeze.
You can argue which of three courses built since 2000 are the best: Kingsbarns, Castle Stuart or Trump International Scotland. For me if you are evaluating the golf only and ignore the setting, then Trump International Scotland is the better followed by Kingsbarns and Castle Stuart. I give the nod to Kingsbarns over Castle Stuart because it has more "exceptional" golf holes and the fairways are not as wide as at Castle Stuart. It also has better par 3's. But Castle Stuart has the best views from every hole.
I first played Kingsbarns right after it opened when it was better value for money. It is pricey now to play it, although the price does not seem to be keeping people away. But the price has gotten so steep that it is not a course that I must play on every visit (twice a year) that I make into Scotland. I now prefer to play either better (Royal Dornoch, Muirfield, etc. or more fun golf courses, even if it results in driving a few hours north, west or south into England.
But make no mistake, Kingsbarns is not only a golf course that should be played once. It should be played several times such is its beauty, with a lovely routing taking you closer and closer to the sea, the holes offer a variety of strategy and the green complexes are varied and terrific. There are a mixture of difficult holes as well as very easy golf holes on days where the wind does not overwhelm the golf ball.
The first hole has a fairway so wide it is unlikely to be missed but the second shot on the dogleg right must be judged to avoid the bunkers. It is a fine starting hole.
You cross a small path for the next four holes, a longer par three with excellent pot bunkers on the right followed by a short par five with similar difficult bunkers on the right of the green, then a slightly longer par four dogleg left where the long hitter will take on the bunker on the left and likely carry it leaving a short shot in. This is followed by a dogleg right of similar length of 400-425 yards playing along dunes to the right.
It is a good start.
This is followed by perhaps the weakest hole on the golf course, a driveable par 4 of less than 300 yards to a green that sits below the tee. The green does have two levels to give the hole some difficulty but for me this is not much of a golf hole.
The 7th is the best hole on the front nine, a long par 4 sloped up and often playing into the wind. You cannot miss the green short left as the ball will bound pretty far from the green.
The 8th is another weak hole, a downhill par 3 of 150-170 yards. The green is tilted to provide some interest but for me once again the hole is too easy without a strong wind.
The 9th works you back towards the clubhouse as a medium length par five dogleg right. It is not a difficult golf hole if you hit two good shots and stay left. The longer hitter will find this hole pretty easy. It does have a nice green at the end, one of the better greens on the golf course.
The 10th and 11th feel a bit out of character. You don't notice the firth as these holes are the farthest from the water. The 10th is a medium length par 4 playing uphill into the green while the 11th is a very long par 4 and is one of the more difficult holes on the golf course. The 11th in particular plays out of character to the rest of the golf course given the tree line on the right side of the fairway and surrounding the green. Stay left most of the way on this hole, even into the green.
After a short walk on the path you arrive at the 12th hole, with its beautiful view awaiting you of the water and the curve of the bay. This is an excellent long par five playing along the water. This hole alone almost justifies the green fee, such is the beauty and the fun in playing it. You must stay right for the first and second shots. It finishes with a very good green complex at the base of the ridge. It is likely one of the three holes people will remember the most at Kingsbarns.
You now walk up the ridge for the downhill par three where the tee shot must be perfectly struck to get the ball to stay on the green. It is the second best par three on the golf course despite its length of 135-150 yards. The green is surrounded by many bunkers and set against the curve of that ridge. It is a gem of a short par three.
The 14th is another very fine short par 4 of less than 400 yards but the wise player will play it right down the middle rather than take on all the danger left and right. The green has two tiers to it and is also one of the better greens on the course.
The 15th is an outstanding par 3 over the water and rocks. It has some length to it of 180-200 yards and you are at the mercy of whatever the wind is doing that day. If you miss the green long you have a very difficult and fast downhill chip. This is certainly the best par three on the golf course.
For me, the 16th is the best hole on the golf course, a long par five playing along the water and uphill to a green. The views are stunning and the hole offers everything you would ever want in a golf hole. A par here is a very good score given both the length of the hole and the raised green complex.
If someone wants to argue the 17th is the best hole on the golf course, it is a worthy point of view. This is a very good par four of 430-470 yards and the tee shot and second shot must take into account numerous bunkers, humps, blind areas into an uphill green with three tiers.
The stretch of golf from 12-17 has been amazing and varied. You now are at the finishing hole which you will either like or dislike. You likely won't "love it" given the chasm in front of the green with the burn below (I have saved par from down below) and the way the green sits into the side of the hill. The green complex and the type of hole just doesn't match with the rest of the golf course. Even the two tiered green appears to be different.
As I said in my opening, Kingsbarns is a must play and a course that should be played numerous times. Once you have played it five times, you face a decision as to whether to continue paying that enormous fee in order to play a couple of good holes on the front nine and a wonderful stretch on 12-17. This course already has the views and the feeling of naturalness to keep you coming back.
Narrower fairways do not identify a better course. Wider fairways on the other hand...
All the great things you hear about Kingsbarns - they all are true, at least for me. Great place in a fantastic landscape. Playing right on the North Sea with great views and phantasmic holes. The course however still plays very fair, even if the driver does not have a perfect day. So much challenge and fun. Nevertheless, one can also see how difficult it can be for championship golf with long holes, classic links, bunkers and tough greens. Signature Hole Par 3 15 - how nice it is to land there on the green