Six years after St Andrews Links Trust purchased land at Kinkell Braes outside the town – just along from the Torrrance and Devlin (now called Kittocks) golf courses – the much-anticipated new Castle course welcomed its first paying customers at the end of June 2008.
Laid out on a cliff top with more than a mile of waterfront overlooking the town, the Castle was constructed by David McLay Kidd and his DMK design company. Lead shaper, Mick McShane, deserves much credit for turning featureless farmland (described as a “hillside of rotten rock”) into anything remotely resembling a golf course, in much the same way as he did at nearby Kingsbarns.
The new seventh member of the Links Trust’s portfolio may be seen by some as the black sheep of the St Andrews links family due to its unnatural links character but the design and feel of the new links-like course is such that it blends in superbly with the other courses on the roster.
Routed in two loops of nine, the holes on each loop of the Castle course rise up from the clubhouse to higher ground alongside the A917 Crail Road before tumbling back down again, with the closing three holes of each strung out along the coastline. Clever mounding ensures many of the holes play in isolation to the others, intensifying the expectation of what’s to come next.
The feature hole is the par three 17th, played across a ravine on the edge of the cliffs, into the prevailing wind from St Andrews. It really is an all or nothing hole where anything right is gone forever so the safe play is to aim left, where the contours will hopefully funnel the ball right to the putting surface.
It will be interesting to see what reviewers make of the new kid on the St Andrews golfing scene.
The Castle Course in a strong west wind is a brutal golfing challenge. This is serious stuff. Having played here twice I would not be unhappy were I never to return but on our second head-to-head the course definitely won! There is a lot to admire here and some of the holes, notably those that swoop downhill towards the sea are fantastic. I have no quibble, as many do, with the undulating greens as I feel that long lag putting is an art that should be rewarded. I have to say that the 17th hole was beyond my skillset and I am not a fan of the 18th but overall I would thoroughly recommend a round here,The criterion for a five-ball rating states "a course that is the best in the region...". Well, clearly the Castle is not that (how could it be) but to give it less would be unfair.
Whoever built this modern addition to the St. Andrews Links Trust's collection was always going to be under extreme pressure, and this course is controversial and can completely divide opinion. For example, I’ve spoken to many people who would have it right up there as one of their favourite courses, and you only have to compare this to Tom Doaks ‘0’ score given in The Confidential Guide.
For me, it’s somewhere in the middle. I may be a ‘soft marker’, but it would take a lot for me to not enjoy a round of golf, as I definitely abide by "a bad day on the golf course is better than a good day in the office". However, in general this course is fun, there is mostly width and strategy, and there aren’t many flat putts.
Where I think this course can come undone is the contours are just sometimes too strong, and seem out of place for the difficulty of a hole. For example, readers will be aware of my affinity for short par 4s or short par 3s that have really interesting greens. For example 6 at Kingsbarns or 7 at Barnbougle. Where they aren’t fun, is when you are hitting 200+ yards into crazy greens, and inevitably have a 20-foot+ putt for par at best.
Some of the memorable holes include the 9th and 18th, and I enjoyed David McLay Kidd's ode to The Old Course with the shared double green. The par 3 17th played off the cliff is also a fun shot, but again the length makes it a very hard shot to one of the course's smaller greens.
All in all, it is worth a look to see if you do indeed love it or hate it, but for me its somewhere in the middle!
The Castle Course is just fantastic. Especially if you’ve played the lcourses in St Andrews which are by comparison flat and pure links. The Castle is linksy but in the same way that Kinsbarns is linksy - it’s a cliff top course with great views and a rich variety of holes.
I don’t understand the reviews which say that putting is tough and that the greens are too undulating. We found them to be perfectly playable and the serious undulations only really came into play if you got in the wrong spots on the large surfaces. You can also score here as the par 5s give you chances of birdie if you can hit it 230 yards off the tee. Our 4 ball all scored close to or under handicaps.
What I enjoyed most was the variety of holes - you’ll be able to recall each one long after playing. It’s not cheap - but if you play it as part of the St Andrews 3 day ticket then it’s excellent value.
I've played the Castle Course a couple of times, post-reshaping, both individually and as part of a Society, and it was great and popular both times despite one day being extremely cold, wet and windy (ah, July in Scotland !). Feels like the "biggest" course in the area, rather than Duke's, and you'll be required to hit some staunch shots to get onto the still fun greens in regulation. Eye catching clifftop holes on the way in on both 9's with lovely, unusual views of St Andrews, but the inland holes are equally strong. Top quality clubhouse and outstanding yet friendly service, I would happily return despite all the options in the area.
Opened for play in 2008, the Castle Course is definitely the most scenic and spectacular course managed by the Links Trust of St Andrews.
Offering some of the most beautiful panoramas you can enjoy in Scotland, it is made of plenty of challenging holes requiring length from the tee if you want to be able to catch the greens in regulation.
The style of the track is not a pure links type as it offers large fairways requiring to carry the ball on long distance. Greens are bigger than usual with insane slopes wich can make putting very very (too?) tough on windy conditions.
But whatever your score is at the end of the round, you will forget it and always remeber the fantastic two finishing holes and their stunning location over Saint Andrews bay.
Make a stop at the restaurant, the place deserves a drink to enjoy the view one more time .
I played the Castle Course in early June on a short golfing trip to St Andrews. Having played the Old Course the day before, one could be forgiven if they felt that the Castle didn't live up to her much older siblings status, however I would disagree. From turning onto the driveway down through the property towards the coast and clubhouse, this place feels special. It immediately struck me that this was reminiscent of Bandon Dunes in Oregon which I played a couple of years ago - and it is, It is designed by David Mckay Kidd who designed Bandon Dunes some 10 years previous. Cliff top golf, rather than links, at its very best, The Castle Course has a truly magical feel to it, away from the hustle and bustle of town, you feel you are entering into something rather special. The clubhouse is welcoming and the additional touches i.e. free goody bag with ball marker, course planner etc and free range balls are nice additional touches. Given the windy conditions we were encouraged to play off the yellow tees and having teed off we had a thoroughly enjoyable 18 holes of golf ahead of us. My stand out hole is the par 3 17th across a ravine (reminds me of the par 3 on the Pacific Dunes course). Scorable, interesting routing and some memorable holes and great sea views. This may not have been a natural links style setting before, but the Castle is a truly an exceptional golf course and one you should play on your trip to the Home Of Golf.
The Castle Course has its detractors, mainly the local folk of St Andrews as well as golfing traditionalists, but I’m going to speak up and make a case on behalf of the defence. We heard damming reviews from several people whilst in Scotland, including course marshals at the original St Andrews’ courses, but I found its reputation undeserved. Visitors to the Castle surely can’t deny that this course is truly spectacular when it hits its highs.
The Castle is a modern links in style, and although it lived its previous life as a simple potato field, the earth was pushed around by machines to create a more interesting bumpy landscape. And before you make comment, I’m fully aware that the Castle isn’t a genuine, bona fide links, but it does play very linksy due to the fairways and greens being made up of fescue grass and heavily top-dressed with sand.
The course has mainly been set up for visitor golf, as its main reason for existence was to reduce overcrowding on the courses located in the town. Everything is catered for on-site with excellent service levels. Whereas the older Links Trust courses are simply accompanied by a starter’s hut, there’s a more polished welcome for visitors on arrival at the Castle where they’ll take care of your golf bag and you’ll have the opportunity to hit from a pyramid of balls on the range.
As nice as this all is, I generally regard these extra services as pretty materialistic fluff. We’ve come to play the golf course, and it’s one that I really enjoyed. Firstly, being a cliff-top course, there are the great views, so that’s an immediate tick in the box. There are also some pretty crazy and daunting greens, but if the flags are located in sensible pin locations, which they generally were during my rounds, they’re entirely playable. I understand that they’ve been softened since the course opened ten years ago and I genuinely found them to be a lot of fun, adding to the on-course experience rather than ruining it like others have suggested.
To pick some of my favourite golf holes, I’d have to highlight the 6th with its blind tee shot over the crest of a hill and where using a putter is a genuine option for your approach into the second. Choosing a side of the fairway on this hole is vital as to whether your drive will kick down and gather an extra 80-yards. The land then slopes severely downward towards a raised green that comes complete with views over the water and across to the town of St Andrews. The 7th has another of these elevated greens and hugs the cliff-face that borders the entire left-hand side of this hole. The 10th is all about the wacky, multi-tiered green whilst the 12th, easily the most fearsome of the Castle’s holes, plays 454-yards up a disheartening climb to a green that peers menacingly down on those struggling their way up the fairway. If that wasn’t enough, it’s lined with nasty bunkers where advancing your ball 20-yards up the fairway is about the best you could hope to achieve. The round then has an iconic finish with the signature par three 17th that’s played over a deep precipice, and then the 18th that curves around the top of those same cliffs to a giant, infinity double-green.
If I was to look for negatives, the course does feel somewhat manufactured, but given the ground they were provided with, it would have been a minor miracle if this wasn’t the case. My bigger gripe is the bunker aesthetics. I can understand that there may be reasons such as drainage and wind as to why traditional revetted or waste bunkers might not be workable, but I didn’t feel that they fit in sympathetically with the landscape. Maybe it’s the gleaming white sand, or the artificial raggidy edges, or probably a combination of both, but I felt that the bunkers should have been more in-keeping with the rest of the St Andrews Links courses. But there you go. That’s it. That’s honestly all I have to say that’s negative about the course.
The Castle Course therefore has plenty of merit. It offers something different to the other courses around St Andrews, and variety is the spice of life after all. It’s also not as difficult as everyone makes out, just be careful with your shot selection and a score is gettable. Having been made aware of golf architect Tom Doak’s ‘zero score’ in his Confidential Guide ahead of playing the Castle Course, on reflection this assessment now comes across as being a little rude and jealous of the opportunity afforded to David McLay Kidd.
Haven't heard any detractors and would say to them to get real....this is a VERY good course well worth anyone's green fee.
I’m not going to disagree Kevin, but I’m surprised you’ve never come across any negative reviews of the Castle Course. It must be one of the most divisive courses in world golf.
We played the Castle Course on a windy, but sunny, day in May. We'd read all of the 'horror' stories concerning the greens but had also spoken to people who'd previously played the course and had great things to say about it. One thing that did seem to be a common opinion among those golfers that had played the course was that scoring was hard, so nobody in our group was expecting to shoot to handicap.
We'd driven up from the Midlands that morning and this was to be our 1st round of 4 on this short trip North. The clubhouse is very welcoming and everyone very friendly. We enjoyed lunch and a bit of time on the range (free) before teeing off. The view of the 9/18 double green showed us what we'd have to contend with in a couple of hours! The only negative for me was the shop - there wasn't a great range of Castle Course logo clothing for sale.
A quick chat with the starter and we were underway. I managed to lose 2 balls over the 4 rounds and unfortunately my opening tee shot was one of them, as the wind took it way way left.
The course itself was very enjoyable, and whilst the greens were tough I don't think they were unplayable like others have said. In fact, with perhaps the 10th green being the exception, we didn't have too much trouble with the putter.
The views across the bay are fantastic and the course itself was in great condition.
I'd certainly love to play it again.
An absolute stunner. Is it hard? Yes, if you put the ball in the wrong places, especially around the greens - which I found out to my cost early on. But you learn to take good notice of the green layout in the strokesaver book before approaching and this makes a big difference. One I started aiming for the sensible zones, and doing my best to keep away from the huge undulations, scoring improved. Ultimately I played 1 over my handicap and was delighted.
We had amazing weather, which always helps and do in more challenging conditions this would be a brute - but personally I don’t play golf for it always to be easy, and I found the course to be very fair. The greens were absolutely superb in condition, the best of those we played (inc Old and New). The welcome and service around the clubhouse was first class. This was my favourite playing experience in St Andrews. What a beauty.
Many I suspect don't bother with the Castle instead opting for the Old Course down below.
This is easily the second best course in the St Andrews Links stable.
Amazing "hillside links" (?!?!?) course with amazing views and whenever I have played it and increasing wind speed as you gradually ascend to the top of the course.
Stunning finishing holes and clubhouse view to match.