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.
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.
Played July 2016. Played mostly very well indeed and managed 34 points off 9. Quite breezy. Dread to think what I would be from the medal tees - 18/19. This is a very very tough course. Agree previous comments - adopt match-play, preferably 4BBB (more help the better for finding balls in the thigh-high rough, and try and enjoy the ride. Played a handful of inspired holes which will live forever in the memory - and that's a feature of a high-class course - playing great golf on a tough track = memorable experience.
Yes, some of the greens are a bit extreme, but I wouldn't call them unplayable. These enormous, undulating, multi-tiered complexes will definitely wreck your day though if you somewhat struggle with your short game. Despite this, I really enjoyed the layout of the polarising Castle Course. I found it very very scenic, while still needing a high level of golf strategy and shotmaking. High handicaps will have a hard time playing medal since they will definitely pick up on a hole or two especially if they get short sided. Great place for match play. It was very different from anything I've ever played, almost like an American links with Scottish conditions and alien greens. My recommendation is to forget the score and enjoy the views and experience.
I think the course adds great contrast to the Links Trust’s portfolio of excellent courses. Sure it’s tough and it’s a more difficult walk than St. Andrew’s Old Course but at the end of the round I could only say I enjoyed it a lot. There are 2 or 3 greens that were fairly radical in terms of shaping where I’d say enough pin positions were questionable but at the speeds the greens were rolling probably about 8.5 – 9 they were near perfect and extremely enjoyable. Raise them up to 10+ and several would be unplayable in the wind. The greens were also by far in the best shape of all the great courses I saw in March. This likely due to the fact that the Castle Course closes during the winter which allows them to preserve their greens even more.
There are quite a few standout holes., too many to detail here but for those loving great views the front 9 and back 9 both finish along the cliffs with an nice run of cliff top views. The par 3 8th is a little drop shot par 3 looking out over the cliffs and water. The par 4 9th hole has a brilliant back tee that offers up a blind tees shot over the cliffs that simply dares you to cut off as much as you can chew and attempt to still find the fairway which runs down the cliffs at a diagonal angle from right to left away from you.
The par 3 17th is a dramatic long par 3 with a reverse redan green. I’ll admit this is too much hole for most as they will not think to play it safe and utilize the fairway left if the carry is too much. Most will likely throw up a hail marry in hopes of finding the green across the cliffs. Truth be told this hole could probably be played with a putter if one were simply to follow the fairway around.
In the end I’m guilty of going all the way to St. Andrews (been there before), just to see the Castle Course and mainly due to the controversy around it. I did enjoy the day as well as the my game with the very strong playing elderly member who was all too proud to tell me all about it. The only warning I’d offer to our readers is this, the Castle Course is very challenging and does have a dramatic, almost unnatural at times landscape, it’s tough, the greens are among the most difficult you may see at those speeds and it’s more suited to strong golfers. It’s definitely worth a visit, choose the right tees, the course is hard enough without having to hit 3 woods into all the par 4’s. Bring your imagination with you, you will need it around the greens both with chipping and putting and lastly play matchplay with your buddies. It’s a great course for it.
The holes are on elevated land with some wonderful sea views and, in places such as the 6th green, superb views over the town itself with the old Cathedral ruins in the foreground. The greens and surrounds are rock hard which in itself makes ball control difficult. But some of the greens have mounds and swales that make it impossible to get near the flag even from a short distance away.
As a result of the undulations also many of the greens have only a small section that can be used for any sort of sensible pin placement. It seems a great pity that such a good layout and well-conditioned course should be spoiled by the architect going too far in what is the most crucial aspect of any golf course design.
Dare I use the term ‘signature hole’? Some will say the long par three 17th is just that. From the very cliff edge you hit over a deep bracken covered chasm to a green needing a carry of over 170 yards to reach the front. You need to aim to the very left of this green and then hope for some luck with the bounce of the ball.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.