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.
“Bewitched, bothered and bewildered” was an old Sinatra song my dad used to play on his record player but the words also apply to the state I got into today putting on the greens here, leaving me both bamboozled and befuddled. I have honestly never had such difficulty with a putter on any course I’ve played before – and that was after having first played here 12 months ago, so I should have been prepared!
Greens apart – and it’s hard to dismiss their effect on a round when nearly half the shots on your scorecard are taken with a putter – The Castle is a fantastic track with a wonderful routing that returns the front and back nines to a (relatively level) double putting green in front of the very chic, modern clubhouse.
The SGU offer members a special discounted 4-ball green fee which is excellent value for money and one that all golfers who relish a challenge should snap up. The scorecard gives the course a SSS of 74 against a par of 71 from the back tees and I’ll bet that the three over par rating is rarely matched, even on days when pin placings are kind (if that’s possible) and the weather conditions are benign.
For all that green baize whingeing, it’s still worth a 6-ball rating as it's a great course with not a single weak hole.