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.
Date: November 03, 2020