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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.
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
Played on a wonderful sunny day with only a breeze so the course likely played easier than usual. Still the course has plenty of teeth but, that being said, struck me as quite fair no matter the conditions. Interesting routing, great views, and a solid challenge of golf. Nice of them to have a 1/2 price replay within a few days of the initial round as I certainly wanted to go back and experience Kingsbarns as much as possible. Played the sister course at Castle Stuart a few days later and I, along with others in my group, would give Kingsbarns the nod by a hair but both are fantastic experiences.
Not cheap but you get what you pay for.
Stunning par threes.
Fabulous layout and can see the sea from each hole as the course is built along three levels.
Well worth a visit.
Quality set up.
One of best courses that you could ever play. Amazing sea views everywhere, some wonderful holes. great club house... what's not to love about this place? BRILLIANT!
Just how good Kingsbarns is may not be truly known for another century but in today’s golfing landscape it is undoubtedly extremely good and a style of course that is in high demand from golfers across the globe.
Taking away the scenic beauty of the setting and the eye-candy on offer throughout the round there is also a strategic nature to the course that will please and tease golfing purists. Several conundrums must be solved throughout the 18 holes with many options and choices to be made on this wonderful design that offers lots of room from the tee. Most of these puzzles have been created by moving large amounts of earth but the result is as natural as you could expect, and hope for, on a manufactured links. Thanks to the good quality turf there is a nice mix of ground and aerial shots required.
I played here the week before the Ricoh Women’s British Open and the condition was excellent. The spectator stands were up and there was a real championship flavour to the venue. The course has co-hosted the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the past but this is the first time the course will really be set up for a professional field. The first hole is actually going to be the 18th for the ladies (play will start at the par-three second hole) primarily because grandstands cannot be located around the 18th green. It’s completely understandable but it’s a pet peeve of mine when courses are played out of sync; a case of the tail wagging the dog.
The routing of the holes is excellent; you are taken on a lovely journey across the property continually being brought back to the best bits. Large sweeping greens with plenty of contours ensure your day on the greens will be full of excitement too.
Compared to other contemporary links Kingsbarns tops the lot (admittedly yet to play Castle Stuart), plays great and the shaping of the contours is just right. It may lack the tradition and genuine authenticity that the grand historic Scottish links courses possess but the actual golf is as good as pretty much anywhere.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
On the 11th hole our caddy for the day, who is easily the best golfer I've ever had caddy for me, remarked: "I've carried three to four hundred rounds on this course, and this is by far the worst weather I've ever seen." He noted there are 3 elements he considers bad: wind, rain, cold and that rarely does one get all 3 severely. I guess we were just the fortunate ones.
Despite the adhorent weather conditions we could easily see the terrific vistas and conditioning that Kingsbarns has. Sure the course is not a "true" links course but it was layed out in such a way that one met many of the same challenges in thinking through the course, placing their shots, and not just mashing the ball.
For total experience, this course is the best one in the St. Andrews area. It is fair to knock it for not being a true links course and lacking the history or the ambiance of the Old Course however for an American looking for a high end resort like experience in Scotland this cannot be beat.
2017 was my fourth visit to Kingsbarns and it keeps getting better and better every year. It is a young course with a lot less tradition than the Open Venues, the Final Qualifying ones and a lot of other courses with less lights, but the presence hosting the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship plus a great quality golf course and 6 stars service makes this 18 holes a must play in every trip to Scotland. On our 12 men group, only 5 had not played the course and we were about not to play it but 1 month before the trip we decided to include it and it was a blast for all of us, especially those who had not played it in the past. Again no rain, sun in some moments of the round and wind which not bother made our day a great one to play and enjoy the post round lunch.
I have played it from the back, the second and the third tees and each of them has its highs and lows. This time we made a blend between white and green tees which worked perfect for a group of handicaps between 1 and 14 so we all could play the same tees, our Fourball matches and individual tournament all together not modifying handicaps.
I love the course although I prefer the oldies like Royal Aberdeen, Royal Dornoch and at some point I even like Castle Stuart as it looks more natural. But I have to say Kingsbarns all in one is something to be experienced, you are treated like a King from arrival to departure, every person in the staff is extremely kind and every detail is taken into account, including the nice welcome bag gift with a very nice yardage book, tees, pencils and pitch marker.
Playing a course several times shows you better its strengths and weak points, but also teaches you how to try and play it to score better. There are some holes where the first time you might miss on the wrong side and score might not be that high, but in others you could be inside a disaster: par 5 3rd hole is not tough, but you need to try to use the left side with the tee shot and let the ball come back on her own. Short Par 4 6th is not tough despite having a severe sloped green: your tee shot if going for it does not need to carry almost to the green, it is better a shorter carry and let her roll down the slope. Par 3 8th hole has 2 platforms and if you miss
the one where the pin is, forget the birdie and maybe the par! 11th was some kind of underrated by me the previous visits, it is a monster par 4 and extremely scenic. 12th is one of the best par 5s in the world and some kind of intimidating, but keep it right and par will come easily. Par 3 15th is the other most pictured hole and from the longest tees very tough, just make sure to carry the water and don’t be afraid to go left, bump and run may bring you the 3 you want. 17-18 are 2 great finishing holes, on the first one the tee shot is the clue avoiding the bunkers will in 18th you need not only a well hit driver but a mid to long iron to a very tough and well protected green.
The views from the Club House make it worth to stay long after lunch, there is enough beer (or whisky) to stay until twilight!
Top golf course obviously but worth the green fee ? Probably yes although its not cheap. Some great holes (the stretch 4 to 7 is very strong). 12 is just stunning and the finish of 15 in is memorable. Played in the summer and it was very busy which made the round circa 5 hours.
Kingsbarns is one of my favorite courses; it is varied and interesting and a lot of fun to play. A lot of land was moved to build the course and critics of Kingsbarns cite this as something that detracts from it, since it is not pure links land. This is hogwash! The course is great and feels and plays like a links course. Over-analyzing its origins makes no sense. The game is about having fun and Kingsbarns is imminently fun. From my point of view, there really is no let-down during your round of golf. I find the opening holes to be very exciting. The third, in particular plays along the North Sea and is a great par five in the dunes. If your blood isn't pumping with excitement by the time you reach the third green you need to have your pulse checked. The driveable par four sixth hole is one of the most exciting holes I have played. At 337 yards, you have to hit your tee shot over a little valley. The better play is to the right since a strip of land protrudes out of the hillside. If you can hit your ball about 220-240 yards, it will ride the slope all the way down to the hole. A hole-in-one is possible and eagles are also in the offing. The green sits in a little cove and is challenging. The holes along the Ocean are as scenic as any in the world. Ignore the critics and play it.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs