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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.
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
Third visit and every time I get here I like it more and more. In this case I played the course once but due to work I had to come to theClub at least 5 times in 3 days so I got a very clear image not only of the course but of the Club House and the Operations as well.
I arrived on a Sunday when my group was scheduled to play but due to flight cancellation they didn't play and as I got the free afternoon I played the course in 2hs! The first remark I have to do is how helpful the crew was to reschedule the group for Tuesday, as usual a 6 stars service by everybody working with Grant there.
Now to the round. It was a sunny day (only a small shower during 14-15) with some wind, specially in the front 9 until 11, where it became softer until 18th. The course as usual in pristine shape, greens rolling very good and true. As playing alone I had not the chance to share walks, comments and shots with other players but I enjoyed it all the same. And played pretty well so even better, making a 70 footer for birdie on 2nd maybe the longest putter holed in my life.
Some details I found in this third visit: approach shot to elevated 1st green with wind across can turn really tough, the tee shot on 3rd where if you look across the bay you can distinguish Carnoustie Hotel is amazing, short par 4 6th can turn into a nightmare if you go for it and miss, 9th playing into the wind was very difficult as well while 10th downwind was easier than usual. Then 12th is something so special, not only the views during all the hole but how fair it is according with how much you decide to take a risk. 15th is scenic, yes, but also a great golf where wind blowing from left to right made it tougher than when played with the other direction. And 18th is a great par 4, where a 2yds short shot can be an easy double bogey.
And then the Club House is not only nice and with great views, but also charming and decorated with very good taste. It is something mandatory to stay for that very big burger after the golf round, a very enjoyable moment.
Unfortunately it will never host The Open Championship although it does with Dunhill Links Championship and will host Womens British Open. It may never get to the Tradition that courses like Carnoustie, Royal Dornoch, Old Course or Royal Troon have but this course will continue to grow in popularity and it will be strange if it goes outside the Top 100 in the world. A must play, a very challenging and fun layout, very well kept and with the highest quality of service from everybody working there. You will enjoy it and probably want to play it again before ending your trip.
Kyle Philips and Mark Parsinen have achieved a magnificent links experience where you are always aware of the sea as you play along the one and a half miles of coastline. There is a tiered effect so that the holes furthest from the sea are raised just enough to give you views across the course and a feeling of still being close to the shoreline.
It is worth standing on the 6th tee for a few minutes and observing the brilliance of the course design. The tiered concept gives you the feeling of a very natural symmetry in what was the location of the original course. This is not a long par four but the green is at an angle and there are two fairway bunkers right where you want to hit the drive.
I can’t make up my mind about the par three 15th. This is not an easy hole at 185 yards from the medal tee and on a windy day it is not uncommon to see all four players miss the green and end up in the rocks or the sea, depending on the tide. It is a very scenic hole but I am not sure of its architectural merits.
The conditioning of Kingsbarns fairways and bunkers is immaculate. The greens are also first class and very demanding. If you want to play five star links golf then this is it. Many new courses have launched with a fanfare of hype and often slide down the rankings after the first few years. Not so Kingsbarns. This course is every bit as good as the PR material and would have to be rated one of the best in Scotland.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.