Chris Hogben spent four years on the links at St Andrews while studying at Scotland’s oldest University and returns each Spring to play The Old Course and links around the Fife Coast.
This year, he took on the latest golf course in the St Andrews Links Trust family, The Castle Course.
On a line of cliffs, overlooking the “auld grey toon” of St Andrews with views across the Eden Estuary is the seventh and newest golf course run by the St Andrews Links Trust.
Built on a high point above the stretch of coast called Kinkell Braes, the Castle Course is a frontier outpost of the Links Trust Empire.
Castle stands alone like a sentry
All the other courses are wound around and beyond the famous Old Course but Castle sits alone like a sentry at the far South Eastern tip of the town.
Perhaps the St Andrews Links Trust felt the slow and successful creep of new golfing developments along the Fife Coast and felt the need to fortify its borders and remark its territory.
In recent years, the reputation of Kingsbarns Golf Links and the two courses at Fairmont St Andrews has grown and there is now a wealth of choice for travelling golfers visiting this special part of Scotland.
Castle set on ancient hunting grounds
The site of the Castle Course is an interesting one.
It was used as a hunting ground by ancient Pictish Kings who stalked wild boar among the dense forest, hills, ruts and trails.
David Kidd, the architect famous for Bandon Dunes in Oregon, was given the job of creating the layout billed by Golf World magazine as “the most eagerly anticipated new course in golf,” before its opening in 2008.
Kidd hired the same land shapers that worked on the links at Kingsbarns and started to transform what was essentially a rocky hillside outcrop.
Drive-in across surface of the Moon
Driving through the course up to the clubhouse you could be forgiven for thinking you’d arrived on the surface of the moon, full of craters and rise and fall in the terrain.
It’s no mean feat considering 10 years previously the site was flat rocky farmland.
Taking a look at the score card it’s a par 71, 6750 yards.
Nothing too alarming until you notice standard scratch is 74.
It’s the first time I’ve ever played a course with a CSS of 3 over and it stirred my curiosity.
We opted for the back tees and took on Castle as David Kidd intended.
After the opening holes two things struck me:
- there’s a lot more room off the tee than you think
- to make any sort of score you need to leave the ball below the hole with your approach
These two pieces of advice will stand you in great stead when laying siege to this Castle.
The greens are in good condition and are severely undulating in places. If you find yourself above the hole putting downwind it’s difficult not to three putt.
Course comes to life at 6
After a tame start the course comes alive on the 6th.
This par four dog leg left starts with a partially blind drive and as you make your way down the fairway it reveals to you one of the most spectacular views of St. Andrews.
The remainder of the front nine continues to work along the cliff tops and will no doubt provide anxious tee shots for anyone with a tendency to hook the ball.
The start of the back nine sees you climb away from the coast and you find yourself at the monster 12th, an uphill dog leg left par four measuring just over 450yds.
Making a par here felt like a birdie.
Save the best till last
The castle course saves its best until last.
The 17th is a long par 3 over the cliffs with a gaping gorge between tee and green.
Anything but a well struck shot will find its way to the sea some 60 feet below you.
With a par five to finish anyone brave enough to take on the 250yd carry off the tee will open up a good opportunity for a closing birdie.
Those with a good score going would be wiser to opt for the three shot route hitting left away from the cliffs.
In summary, a worthy addition to the Links Trust collection and well worth adding to the schedule of any St. Andrews trip.
If it’s your first round on the course leave your pencil in the bag, don’t worry about the inevitable 3 putts you’ll make and soak up the views, for Fife is a Kingdom and this is a splendid Golfing Castle.