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.
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.