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.
Date: June 04, 2019