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 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
If you’re planning a trip to Fife, this really is a must play course - if you’ve played every other course in St Andrews and can’t get on somewhere else. The most heard phrase was “this could be a truly great course if they fixed the greens”. Who wants to play a course that “could be great”? Played it the year it opened and the only putt holed from over 2 feet was when one of guys puts stopped three foot above the hole, the wind blew it into the hole. 12 years on and even after “fixing” the greens they are still nuts. If you're suffering any mental problems with putting and still want to play, do your self a favour and just snap the putter over your knee before you start. How this scores so high is beyond me. What was DMK thinking ...
I hadn’t wanted to play the Castle. I was put off by the negativity, it’s not quite links, and I thought the Eden looked more enjoyable. It was my only option though on a sunny, calm morning and I’m glad it turned out that way.
If you’re a sucker for views like I am, you’ll love the Castle. A few holes swoop down to the sea, and a few have more greens which sit on a brow so all you see behind the green is water. These greens and their various platforms are as crazy as you’ve heard, but depending on pin position these can help too. For example, there might be a big ridge which can serve as a back-stop.
It’s a tough layout though. The rough is very long currently, it’s not a short course on those hills, and I was lucky to play on a day without wind. The difficulty might out-weigh the fun sometimes. There are a few holes too which wouldn’t be out of place on a pure parkland layout.
Nonetheless, it’s a great way to break up or end a links trip. It’s memorable, diverse and entertaining, but you’ll need your A-game.
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!