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
Date: April 05, 2018