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 circuits 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.
The Castle Course at St Andrews is visually appealing but too contrived for my liking. My local playing partners summarised it nicely saying this is a course where good shots are punished because the contours are just too severe. It is totally different to the other St Andrews Links Trust courses and that is both a good thing (something new) and a bad thing because it is too man made. I think the designer erred on the side of doing 'too much': you have wildly shaped fairways coupled with large and wildly undulating greens that are often guarded by two or more hazards. One example is the long par 5 15th where the long hitters have to hit their second shot over a burn that is close to the green. So this one takes away an essential element of the links game of running the ball onto the green. I think the visiting golfer to St Andrews has to experience the Castle Course but if I were local, I'd only play here perhaps once a month to see something different and have great views of St Andrews from 'the other side' (you also have wonderful views of the coast on the last few holes coming back). The rest of the time I would be on the other side of the toon enjoying the historic links land there. On an aside, the club house is really good and the food is fantastic.
I played the Castle course a couple of times around 10 years ago and didn’t come away with a favourable impression. At the time I felt that the greens were too tricked up and I disliked several holes having thick rough in the middle of fairways. I was aware that both of these aspects had been modified to some degree and so on returning to play in a member/guest competition on a gorgeous July evening I was keen to give it a second chance. I’m glad I did as I really enjoyed the course this time around.
The course has a fabulous setting on a clifftop overlooking St Andrews across the bay. This has been used well to create a number of visually striking holes including several with infinity greens (6, 9 and 18) as well as the signature 17th hole on the edge of the cliff with a chasm to hit over and on the right. There are also some significant changes of elevation, regular changes of direction and a burn that comes into play on several holes. This all contributes to a great variety of holes.
Despite all of this, the main talking point on the Castle is its huge undulating green complexes. They clearly have divided opinion and give the course its marmite reputation. Every green has severe undulations meaning that every approach shot requires attention. It is not a course to just aim at the pin or the middle of the green. Instead one needs to think about where not to miss it and where the bounce might take the ball.
5 weeks prior to playing the Castle course I played Rosapenna St Patrick’s which has shot into the top 20 in many GB&I rankings. In my review of St Pats I noted that it divided opinion in our group but those that rated the course highly raved about the big undulating green complexes and the strategy that this introduced (I.e. the ability to put the pins in different locations to significantly alter the questions asked on the hole and how this is a great test of approach play and short game). This is a feature of Doak courses and is clearly in vogue.
The Castle has this feature in spades so it is fascinating to me that these two courses have typically received very different reviews. I think the reason for this is that the undulations were way overdone initially and that, alongside the rough in the middle of fairways, led to the initial bad reviews. These issues have been substantially addressed and it is rumoured that the green complexes might be softened further which I think on balance would be a good thing.
As it stands the Castle is a really fun course to play. It provides some challenge off the tee without being overly penal but then demands thought over every approach shot. It also provides a great test of short game and requires the patience to accept the odd bad bounce.
To me it doesn’t quite hit the heights of some other modern links such as Castle Stuart, Kingsbarns, Yas Links or Dumbarnie (all of which I rate very highly) but compares favourably to Renaissance and Rosapenna St Patrick’s.
I am fortunate to be on the waiting list to join a couple of the St Andrews clubs and for a Links ticket. Whilst the biggest draw is obviously the Old Course I would place the Castle as my second favourite. Whilst I wouldn’t want to play too many medals round the Castle (and I believe there aren’t many, if any) it’s a great course for matchplay or a better ball competition. For those who played it before the modifications I would encourage giving it another chance and in a matchplay game rather than with a scorecard and pencil in hand. I think you’ll find it a lot of fun.
Finally as others have noted the off-course facilities are great with a lovely modern clubhouse benefiting from the great views alongside some good practice facilities and helpful staff.
(My 5-ball rating reflects where I would rank it alongside other courses globally not the strict “best course in the region” definition. I don’t think it’s right to mark down a course because it has one of the world’s best nearby, or alternatively mark a course up if there’s a paucity of good courses in the region.)
I totally understand why the Castle is divisive. It is far from a traditional links and sits very out of character with the other St Andrew's courses. However, this is its greatest strength. After a couple of days enjoying the older courses in town, our final round was on the Castle and it provided such a different test.
The greens seem to be the most common gripe and they are crazy in places, but they are MASSIVE. If you find yourself in the wrong segment you could be 30 yards away from the pin and have a very tough 3 putt... but that is the challenge of the Castle, it asks questions and really makes you think about where to hit your approach shots and how to funnel your ball to the correct areas.
The same questions are asked off the tee. There is always a safe tee shot but that will make the next shot trickier. if you are aggressive and pull off your plan you can take advantage of plenty of speed slots and make your approach shots much easier.
The setting and the views are spectacular which ever way you look. The vista from the 7th green of St Andrews is a true worldy. Course conditioning was perfect (firm and fast) and we played in less than 4hrs for a 4 ball.
I put Castle in a similar style to places like Whistling Straits, Chambers Bay and Kingsbarns. It is just a good fun place to spend time. Forget scoring, try lots of different shots, putt from 80 yards off the green and enjoy this incredible setting.
A final word for the on-site staff. They were all incredibly friendly and proud of their course which made our whole experience that little bit more special.
After my first visit to the Castle course at St Andrews, I determined it is a “B” course as in “be the last time I play it.”
I rank it in my top five of most disappointing courses.
First I will start with the glacial pace of play…..a 5 hour round. One should not have a tee time here between 8:30 - 3PM as playing the course will put any other arranged plans at risk. The life-draining time spent on the course is due to seven reasons:
1. a lot of photos taken due to the seven holes on the coast with views of the water, cliffs, and St Andrews, 2. unskilled golfers, 3. golfers who have no idea how to play “ready golf,” 4. a difficult walk up and down hills for older players and unfit players (yet bravo to them), 5. a long stop at the halfway house where amazingly one doesn’t fall behind and still will have to wait on the tenth tee, 6. The difficulty of the course due to the land movement, and 7. many ridiculously overly undulating and poorly shaped greens.
I usually like the work of the architect, David McLay Kidd. But as the course has been open ten years, I believe the Links Trust can change it without his approval. Mr. Kidd should not be invited back. I think they should just let the superintendent change the course, particularly the greens, but some fairways also need to be reshaped.
Seven holes take you to the coastline or play along the coastline offering spectacular views. But only the seventeenth and eighteenth holes require an heroic shot and even on 18 there is no real requirement to take on the challenge of going deep into the green. If one is excited by the views, a better use of their time would be to put into their pocket a ball, tee, ball marker and grab a golf club as a walking stick and then walk on the coastal path. The coastal path has better views, the pace is quicker and you would have saved the cost of the greens fee.
The front nine is a bit better than the back nine as the land movement is often extreme on holes eleven - sixteen. Yes, one can find flat sections on the fairways but it’s rare.
The two positive things I can say about the course is it’s conditioning which is amazing. I don’t know how the mowers don’t sculpt the greens with the mower blades. Or perhaps they already did? The second is a well thought placement of the bunkers.
Most f the greens should be redone.
My overall assessment of each hole
1. Uphill…it’s okay as a short par 4 with a silly green.
2. Par 4…Lovely fairway, truly silly green.
3. Long par 3…..overly sloped green but otherwise a nice hole.
4. Medium length par 5 laid out well but ruined with another silly green.
5. Medium length par 5 and another overly complicated green in sections.
6. Beautiful views await on the green on this sharply downhill par 4 but it isn’t much of a hole in terms of strategy. This green is fine.
7. A decent par 4 along the coast with an okay green. Maybe the best hole on the front nine.
8. Short par 3 along the coast. A fun hole to play due to the false front.
9. Another downhill par 4 ending at the coast. A decent hole.
10. A mid-length par 3 with a silly green.
11. A nice par 4 snaking it’s way to an elevated green with too much of a back tier on the green.
12. A par 4 which could have been a very good hole with a better green. The bunkering is very good on this hole.
13. A par 3 that is a good hole.
14. A downhill par 4 with a fun green. Two consecutive decent holes!
15. A nice long par 5 with at times a poorly shaped edges of the green.
16. A downhill par 4 with an extreme silly green.
17. Best par 3 on the course.
18. A good finishing downhill dogleg right to the coast but with another overly complicated green.
19. My favorite hole on the course (also known as my car).
If some love the course, I think that is great as it is vastly different to any nearby golf course. But for me, I can’t recommend it or will ever want to play it again.
The Castle Course features well designed attractive holes that traverse a fairly extreme hillside location. Biggest talking point might be the infamous “challenging” greens - which certainly ruffle some feathers. For me it was being serenaded for around 10 mins by a pair of gorgeous Barn Owls on 16 & 18. With all due respect to the NFL, I’d suggest this majestic avian wonder is the genuine Superb Owl.
We skipped 3 holes as the slow play on the day destroyed our will to live. Despite this, the course was a real hoot with some memorable playing moments. The Castle Course is in many respects a Cuckoo in the St Andrews nest. For me it is a must-play when visiting the town - even if just to facilitate moaning about the greens (or pace of play) afterwards. Owl be back.
On my second day of my first trip to St Andrews we were to play the castle course. I hadn't done a great deal of research and so was massively surprised when we arrived to see a clifftop course with a real holiday vibe. The clubhouse was very modern and stylish and the welcome was of the first class.
After a delicious Scottish breakfast we took to the range which is included in the green fee. Balls were stacked awaiting us in pyramid form, a real classy touch. There was a starter on the first tee and we also encountered 2 more assistants on the course who around the 6th hole told the group in front that we would be playing through on the next tee. Service is of the highest order especially for the mid range price of the green fee.
Opening up what really stands out is the rolling fairways, deep white sanded bunkers and beautiful coastline views. I especially liked the stroke index 1 par 5 5th, and the coastal holes 7 to 9. The greens we struggled on and the balls rejected any shot that wasn't perfectly struck and aimed. Basically if you struck an iron shot to 10/15 feet you'd be ok , but anything short or slightly pushed/pulled often left you putting from 30/40 feet away, sometimes off the green with little to no chance of getting the putt close.
The back 9 has a more inland feel but its at hole 17 right on the cliff edge where the stand out signature hole awaits. A long par 3 over a deep ravine with the pin situated on the right barely 10 yards from the cliff. The safest shot is to the left with the slopes carrying the shot back to the centre of the green. The 18th is also very dramatic and an excellent finishing hole with the view of the plateau green sitting amidst a blue sea background.
The castle course is a bit of an enigma. After about 3 holes I was thinking that this could be one of my favourite courses and after the 5th I was sure it was. By about hole 11 my attitude had changed and I had become frustrated with the greens and their ridiculous design. What started as quirky fun quickly became a frustrating drag. At times they are impossible, proven when my playing partner decided to have a second go at a long putt. He then putted the ball on the opposite line to the first and it ended up touching his first putt. He repeated this with 3 more balls and 3 different lines and paces and all 5 putts ended in the same position. Its a complete head-scratcher.
My playing partner and I loved the layout and challenge that the course put up. The views are stunning and most holes took advantage of its picture perfect setting. I would definitely play here again when visiting St Andrews and we still had loads of fun and great memories. You also get the feeling that larger groups would enjoy the castle course and although difficult at times it does offer something for all abilities.
However I do put a high value on the state of the greens when grading the course. I have tried but have found it difficult to look past its monumentally flawed greens. They linger long after the round which is such a shame because I truly believe that this is a top 50 Uk and Ireland course. The greens have not too distantly been altered to address some issues and hopefully they will try again. I would suggest a reworking.
It depends where they putt the pins but some of the greens are almost unplayable. Almost impossible not to three putt depending on where you finish.
Which is a shame because the lay out is fantastic.
The quality of the surfaces aren’t as good as the links courses in the town either.
Since The Castle has opened I have had the pleasure to play it 5 times. The first time was the first year it opened. There was more than a little fuss about a few of the greens, I actually had no issues. Several renovations were done to tame a few of the greens and I still enjoy it a lot. As you sit and write to try to garner an Old tee time in advance and you must include play at another, The Castle is always my main 1st option. It is a work out. I carry most every round and it just seems like there are more uphills than downhills. Conditioning is superb and the green complexes are rambunctious. The clubhouse is special and the staff is very accommodating. This is the 2nd best option of the St Andrews family.
The Castle course was the centrepiece for our 3 day trip into Scotland, and it didn’t disappoint. We were lucky enough to visit on a sunny, and pretty still September day, so got the best of the late summer weather, and I see how this can massively alter ones view of the course.
For me, this was hole after hole of outstanding golf course design. Isolation means you are focussed on each hole in turn, giving each fairway and then green the attention it deserves. We thought the greens were fair, despite large humps and hollows, but pin positioning meant everything was accessible to 2 putt if the wand was working well.
As the front 9 progresses there have been teasers of the view of the town and the bay, before the drive over the marker post at the 6 and everything opens out before you for the approach to the green. Stunning. Pure and simply, stunning. The next few holes skirt the edge of the course with gorgeous sea views and a glorious shared green at the 9th is a lovely touch.
After a quick coffee at the Halfway House it’s back inland, heading up the coast with views of the Torrance/Fairmont course and more of the same beautifully designed holes, exceptional playing conditions, true and challenging greens.
Whilst the recommendation for the reviewers is to rate the course not the facilities, there is so much more than just the course that adds or detracts from the whole experience. I would like to call out the rangers at The Castle as adding greatly to our day. Apart from one over officious individual on the driving range, out on the course they were helpful, willing to have a bit of banter, and to make sure we had a great day.
The closing holes, a devilishly difficult (SI 16!) 390yd 16th into the wind, a nerve jangling par 3 over the beach and a long closing hole back to the shared green sum up the course perfectly. It’s fun, it’s hard, it’s just a pleasure to experience.
As we stood on the range in an absolute gale struggling to hit 5 irons 120 yards, it became clear that this was not going to be an easy day out.
The Castle course is a fantastic track with some stunning holes, unique greens and unmatched views. However it’s also hard, very very hard. On the day we played in an absolute gale it was a monster.
The rough is long and errant balls often disappear without trace, the greens are undulating and you can often be faced with 30ft+ putts, into the wind long holes become enormous. Despite this it’s also massively good fun.
If you can keep it in play off the tee, take your medicine when in bad spots and accept that you will face some tricky putts this is a fantastic track.
It’s a complete change of pace to the traditional St Andrews courses down in town and should be on everyone’s list to play when in the region.
Our group were agreed that despite a soaking at the end this is one of the best (if most challenging) courses we’ve ever played!
Wonderful, exciting golf course perched into the hillside next to the sea. Crazy greens and some wonderful holes. Played in very strong wind which only made it better.
Here here. This us not your typical links, but it is a great experience, far tougher than the Old Course and far more interesting than the New Course. My tip would be when in St Andrew's play Old, Castle, Jubilee and Dukes for a great variety