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.
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.
The course lived up the reviews I had read and the tales from some friends who had the pleasure of playing it over the years. The major memory of the course were the undulations in the greens! This isn't a classic links like the core business of the trust down in the town. I can definitely say we had a riot of a game, a course that would have been frustrating in stroke play but was fun in match play. The pace of play was slow ahead of us but it gave us more time to hit a few practice/experimental putts on each green, while we waited to get on the next tee. A course this long with its tight lay out and difficult greens would be best avoided on windy days.
Played the Castle Course on Saturday for the second time some 8 years apart.
The course is tough but the memory is that the greens are ridicules and unfortunately the memory was corrrect. We heard rumours that they had been softened unfortunately this is not the case. The greens ment that good shots got repelled and it was vertically impossible to get even a chip close.
Of our group of 13 players 4-24 handicappers it was agreed that we would not be returning.
This is a great pity as there are some bueatifull holes which with fair greens would have us coming back year after year.
Please do something about it.
How different we view things...
We (a group of six players HCP 7-23) played it Friday 31st. We then came back Saturday afternoon to play the 1-9 once again (after playing Kingsbarns in the morning). I totally disagree with your verdict. We all had read the reviews before playing and our expectations were not met. From a positive view. Amazing course. Wonderful clubhouse. Stukning views. And. The greens tricky but playable and fair.
Or it might just be as one of the locals told us; You really need to know how to play the game in order to like the Castle Course (edit, we all played closed to our hcp incl the HCP 7 and HCP 23 player.) ;-)
Mathias - to be fair when we played it we felt the front nine was much stronger than the back, where the poor course design is far more obvious and the layout not as spectcular - things like ridges of rough in the middle of the fairway after blind tee shots, badly placed bunkers and silly pin placements, as well as the severe greens. I remember eating a bacon sarnie after the ninth thinking about how fantastic it was, then leaving 18 thinking id rather play the new or jubilee next time I'm up. Other reviews saying to 'forget your scorecard and bring the camera' I think say a lot about its merits in terms of course design.
Agree it is definitely worth playing though as the clubhouse, range and views are all fantastic and it is maybe only beaten by the old course and kingsbarnes as an experience in the area.
This year we started our annual spring links golf week with the Castle Course at St Andrews.
On paper, a really stupid proposition as half the fourball played their first round of the season and much of the criticism of the Castle Course tends to center on its difficulty: high rough/lost balls and nearly impossible greens.
In reality, things turned out well and our datapoints to add to the debate are: (1) fewer lost balls than at every other course during the week bar TOC, (2) decent scores, at least not any worse than later in the week, despite 27 out of 36 holes played in a two-club-wind, (3) just one putt all day in the crazy golf category, and my friend nearly holed it!
Our provisional conclusion based on two rounds is that playing the Castle, the Eden and the TOC represents the most varied combination of what St Andrews can offer and we would have no hesitation recommending it to anyone remotely interested in course design. (If you cannot get on TOC, substitute with the New or the Jubilee to get a similar mix.)
An equally provisional verdict would also be positive (5 balls), assuming the slightly below average conditioning we encountered was temporary rather than representative.
The Castle Course is something else. It's just absolutely beautiful. However, the course is hard. The greens are hard. The views are incredible, and I really loved playing it. That being said I'm not sure if I ever want to put myself through that test again. It's an experience I recommend, but if you take yourself or your score too seriously you may end up hating it. I believe the best description of the Castle I've heard was "leave the scorecard in the bag, and take out the camera." - JWE
We played the course yesterday and it more a course to make pictures for a golf calendar than to to play serious golf ( counting every stroke).
Anyhow a great experience. FK
I think it’s fair to expect any course in and around St Andrews to be good, so, having heard Tom Doak had given The Castle Course a zero in his latest Confidential Guide, I was intrigued to see what could possibly have led to such a harsh evaluation. Knowing that Doak isn’t a fan of courses that have been ‘raped and shaped’ one can only assume this is what made him feel the course is deserving of such ill-founded criticism, as the land used to create the course was nothing but farmland before the project was commissioned. I can only imagine how much soil must have been shifted, as what McLay Kidd has created with very little help from mother nature is highly impressive and imaginative. The course offers every challenge possible, with ample opportunities to give the big stick a rip off the tee and imagination and precision required in the approach play, as this is a true shot makers course, with infinite possibilities for pin positions on the vastly undulating greens. There is a good mix of holes, with the par 3’s and 5’s presenting many different challenges and strategic decisions. Much has been said of the difficulty of the greens and some critics suggest they are unplayable and unfair, but as we played the course in winter conditions the greens were receptive and a relatively slow pace, making them no more difficult than many other courses. That said, you do need to land the ball in the right spot, so club selection is key to the approach play here to avoid treacherous putts.
Although the first stretch of holes present drama and considerable challenges, the course really takes off from the par four 6th hole. A blind tee shot to a fairway that runs downhill towards the sea, sets up an inviting second to the green site, which sits at the bottom edge of the course. The seventh, eighth and ninth holes all run along the boundary at the low point of the course, bringing the cliff edges into play, with elevation changes that create drama and excitement. The par 3 eighth is a beautiful looking short hole, reminding me slightly of the 11th at Castle Stuart. The similarities between The Castle Course and Castle Stuart don’t end there, as the 17/18th par three/five finish is strikingly comparable, with both courses making excellent use of their rugged coastlines to produce stunning vistas along the final stretch. The 18th is a pure risk reward par 5, where the longer hitter can bite off a huge chunk of the left to right dogleg to leave a reachable second shot and set up an eagle putt.
Overall, I’d say this course is a fine example of modern links design and similar in style to Turnberry and Castle Stuart. It’s not up there with those two giants in the quality of turf and conditioning, but it’s certainly a top-quality venue with an abundance of character and its own unique challenges. SB
Thanks for pointing me in the direction of Doak's book. He sounds a tad bitter about the Castle course. To actually create an interesting course from a potato farm probably takes more imagination, or guts, than dealing with, and creating from, perfect linksland.
Really enjoyable review, and from playing the Castle Course a couple of times the Doak review is way off beam - I think that the Links Trust is to be commended for building a more modern style of golf course with great views of St Andrews whilst keeping true to the fun of Links golf.
Actually, the Castle Course is one of the most under-rated courses in the UK (especially amongst St Andrews golfers !).
In 2012 I first played The Castle Course and got a great impression of it, having played not bad and finding it tough to score. When with my friends we decided to go back, my good friend Gonzalo who turns to be the CEO of the group said this course was to be played. And the “official tour” started on May 28th at this course. We were all very excited and it was a great kick off for the trip, no rain, no cold, gentle breeze and 12 guys who have played golf together for the last 35 years with huge smiles in each of our faces. A nice touch from St Andrews Links to incentive play on the “other” courses was to give lunch to groups of 8 playing Castle or Jubilee, which we of course took advantage of. One of the nicest spots on this course is the views the Club House provides so some burgers and club sandwiches appeared before the birdies … sorry the bogeys!
I had a decent front 9 and an awful back 9, it looked like the long haul flight took my legs off (like Maradona in USA 1994).
The course is not only fun but challenge and shot making in every corner, you need to have distance control and imagination to play some of the holes. The greens are crazy? YES! Do I like them? A LOT, as this is an experience you don’t face every day just go there and play, at the end of the day the sensation of having played something unique will come to your mind.
Some shots you face are simply unbelievable: second to par 4 6th hole downhill, tee shot on 7th, par 3 8th, second at 9th all of these with awesome views of the Sea. 12th continues to be my own nightmare, 14th is an amazing tee shot where choosing the correct line is the clue, par 5 15th is a great 3 shots hole and the grand finale 17-18 where the par 3 is an all or nothing shot and 18th gives you the chance of take an aggressive line according to the distance you are able to carry with your driver. In very good shape, some greens not at the best but an experience to repeat and to recommend. Don’t feel The Old Course is the only girl in town, take a chance at Castle and you will end your round happy even having scored more bogeys than usual!
There’s no doubting that the Castle course doesn’t fit easily into the collection of courses that are administered by the St. Andrews Links Trust.
It isn’t located within town and it isn’t even really a links course, certainly not from the same mould as the other six anyway.
It recently received particularly strong criticism from respected architect Tom Doak in a recent publication and others may also question why this course needed to be built. The fact that the St. Andrews Links Trust themselves refer to it simply as their ‘seventh’ course doesn’t really help its cause either.
The other way to look at it is that this David McLay Kidd course, which opened for play in 2008, actually offers a welcome change from the classic, traditional links golf on offer at the other locations. And importantly, in my eyes anyway, if the course is good (and it is) why should it not have been created? I’d rather have it the way it is now than it still be farmland like it was before.
I personally thought the golf was exceptionally good too and I really enjoyed the course. The green contouring has had a lot of negative comments but I found them to be perfectly acceptable, indeed rather fascinating. There are certainly some significant borrows, putting on them can be tricky and challenging but they fit in well with their surroundings and again, like the layout itself, they make for a refreshing change.
I can’t comment on how successful this new course has been since it opened, it was certainly much quieter than the other courses on the day I played, but it is one I think you should experience if visiting St. Andrews without question.
Because of the style and nature of the course I know some people won’t take my advice and others who do may not find it to their liking. It’s certainly not a course that will be universally loved but I don’t necessarily see that as a negative. I would suggest playing this course to break up your visit and not necessarily play it as your first or final round.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
As a very keen golfer and one that looks forward to a trip months before I go, I search for the good before the bad when playing a new course. On a trip last week to St Andrew's we decided to put the Castle Course on our itinerary along with the Old, New and nearby Elie golf club.
As you arrive it looks great, fabulous views of St Andrews Bay, gorse in full bloom, sunny day and undulating turf - a golfer's dream.
Then you play it. I would say as a decent player I have never enjoyed a round of golf less. To me the course is just too hard, I hit it ok and didn’t see my ball land once off the tee. The greens have apparently been softened and they were still almost unplayable.
As we finished our torture, the friendly starter asked us how our round went, we told her what we thought and she had a resigned look on her face that this was not the first time she had heard this today. Over a well-deserved beer, the other golfers in the clubhouse had similar thoughts to us.
This course couldn’t be any different to modern links such Castle Stuart who have created a masterpiece by giving the golfer choices. Here it is execute the perfect shot or lose your ball.