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.
First of all, I was taken aback by the drop in elevation from the main road down to the clubhouse (at least a couple of hundred feet) as publicity photos seem to flatten out the terrain. Secondly, I was surprised (and delighted) by how well the clubhouse merges into the landscape, in total contrast to St Andrews Bay next door. What of the course itself? The fairway and greenside bunker complexes are big and bold, incorporating the current trend of jagged edged design. Sand-capped fairways roll and tumble tumultuously, causing some tee shots and approaches to be played semi-blind. The rough, if you stray from the fairway, is wild and heavy and the links quality greens – well, I’ve seen some contoured putting surfaces over the years but these are amongst the largest and most undulating I’ve come across (the L-shaped 4th is one of the whackiest I’ve ever seen). I’m sure the greens will not please everyone as some pin placements are impossible to get close to so I cannot see too many St Andreans trying to maintain a handicap over the new course. The views towards the Auld Grey Toon at the 3rd and 6th are fantastic and the run of holes from the 15th (with its burn in front of the putting surface) to the 18th (which shares its green with the 9th) thrilling. Amongst these holes is the par three 17th which goes straight into my top 18 holes played in Scottish golf – simply sensational. I think the architect has delivered 18-holes unlike any other in the country that will tease and torment those who take it on. I for one will be following with great interest the comments from fellow reviewers in the months to come – For now, I think the Castle is not bad for a course that was built round the town s*** pit! Jim McCann