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If you’re a loyal reader of Shooting Your Age (and if you’re not, it’s easy to become one, just subscribe on the home page- It’s free and you’ll get the newsletter every week delivered to your inbox!) you know that I had an amazing trip to Scotland to see the Open Championship and play a couple of golf courses.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a course review about Kingsbarns.
But we also played The Castle Course. And although it’s also on the coast (between the town of St. Andrews and Kingsbarns, in fact), it is quite a different course than Kingsbarns. Here is a synopsis of the experience.
Choosing the Course
As I’d written earlier, I knew I wanted to play Kingsbarns. It is ranked on every Top 100 list published, and with good reason. It’s the best golf experience I’ve ever had.
I also wanted to play a “St. Andrews Links” course. I held out hope we would get chosen in the lottery to play the Old Course, but I also knew that it was a remote chance. The St. Andrews Links complex consists of seven courses. The Old Course is far and away the most well known. Many non-golfers know about the Old Course. But far fewer know there are six others.
I pretty much just randomly chose The Castle Course. I knew it was newer, and was designed by David Mclay Kidd, the architect widely known for designing Bandon Dunes. So I expected it to be somewhat the same type of course as Kingsbarns.
It was, and it wasn’t.
First of all, The Castle Course is not in the same geographic area as the other St. Andrews Links courses. The New Course, The Jubilee Course, The Eden Course, all pretty much parallel each other adjacent to The Old Course. From the air, it is difficult to tell one from the other, or where one starts and the other ends. All are relatively flat, true links courses where pot bunkers and gorse bushes–not to mention the constant wind– are the defense.
The Castle Course is different. Again, it is removed and lies a few miles south of St. Andrews proper. Secondly, and most dramatically, it is hilly. It sits on bluff property overlooking the Firth of Fife. And because of the hills, it has blind shots.
Lots of them.
The Castle Course is named for the view of the old St. Andrews Castle that can be seen from a few holes, most dramatically the seventeenth tee and eighteenth green.
It is not fair to compare The Castle Course to Kingsbarns. They are different styles. Kingsbarns is all there in front of you. Blind shots are rare. Fairways are wide. Losing a ball takes some effort and an especially poor shot.
The Castle Course, on the other hand, starts off with a Par 4 that is uphill with mounds partially blocking the tee shot view. We learned that this was not an anomaly. Many tee shots are blind or partially blind, and seeing the ball land was the exception. One difficulty was, we played with two guys from New Zealand who had never played the course either. Needless to say, we all spent a lot of time looking for someone’s ball. I don’t think there was a single hole that we found all four balls without looking.
It’s hard to comment about a links course that is a newly constructed course. Kidd designed the Castle Course in 2008, so it, like Kingsbarns, is a links course built to today’s specifications and style. Therefore, the property could have had all the mounds and severe swales already on property; or, they could have been artificially created. But either way, there were plenty of them, and they were in play on almost every hole.
And personally speaking, I didn’t like that look. With today’s equipment, removing, or at least softening the dozens of mounds could have been done in an instant, and would make the course more playable. It certainly would speed up the pace of play and reduce the time spent looking for shots.
To be clear, I am not advocating softening the fairways or landing areas. Links courses have a degree of uncertainty by definition. But being able to at least see the fairways, as a golfer can see the fairways at The Old Course, would be a big benefit.
Playing The Course
The weather was much cooler, much windier, and much more gray than a couple of days earlier when we played Kingsbarns. In other words, it was what I envisioned a typical Scottish day on a links course to be. The weather didn’t really affect our play, except on a few holes where the wind was really pushing in from left to right.
Each of us had push carts which did speed up pace of play from what it would have been carrying. The first hole is about a thirty-foot climb from the clubhouse to the first tee, and requires an uphill shot to sliver of fairway that is visible from the tee. The fairway opens up considerably after you leave the tee. I learned that using the yardage book (which is given to every player along with a very nice drawstring bag) to get a bearing on what to hit, and where, was going to be a necessity on every hole.
Several holes had water views, although relatively few were actually parallel to the course.
The greens were the same fescue/poa mix that is common to links courses in Scotland. They were true and in great shape, but slower green speeds than at Kingsbarns. This could be due to allowance for the wind that day, or it could be just they are always maintained at a slower Stimpmeter speed. But I was impressed at the condition of the greens and how well fescue/poa greens can roll.
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The seventeenth is the signature hole. It’s a long par-3 over an inlet of the Firth, with the town of St. Andrews and the ancient castle ruins from where the course received its name the background. The starter had told us when we first teed off,
When you get to the seventeenth, aim for the bunker on the left. You’ll know what I mean when you get there.
We immediately knew what he meant. The wind was blowing left to right toward the ocean, so aiming at the bunker meant a good possibility of hitting the green. I did with a three hybrid, and was able to hit the green for one of my few pars of the day.
The eighteenth is a long, downhill par-5 toward the water to a green that is shared with the ninth hole located behind the clubhouse.
As you might expect, the pro shop is well stocked with items that a tourist might be interested in buying. The logo of the Castle Course is a knight in armor (much like Gary Player’s Black Knight logo).
We didn’t partake of any snacks or food at the 19th Hole so nothing to report there. However, I was surprised that there was no television in the eating area, which I would think would encourage golfers to stick around and eat and watch whatever tournament might be on.
David Mclay Kidd is in the group of the very elite golf architects in today’s game. It would be a great conversation to find out how much of the original site was left in original condition and how much was mounded and re-configured to create the course that is there at present.
If you like the challenge of blind shots, you will love The Castle Course. The condition is impeccable and the scenery and elevation changes are impressive. And don’t forget to use that yardage book- it will prove invaluable.
Thanks for reading and enjoy Shooting Your Age!