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|It's not hard to see why the pros love Castle Stuart Golf Links. (Courtesy of Castle Stuart Golf Links)|
INVERNESS, Scotland -- Although it only opened in 2009, Castle Stuart Golf Links has already established a fine reputation as an outstanding course.
Way up in the Highlands of Scotland, just to the east of Inverness, it will host the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open for the third and final time this year before the championship moves to Royal Aberdeen Golf Club.
It's not hard to see why the pros love Castle Stuart. Sitting comfortably on a bluff on the edge of the famous Moray Firth, the course enjoys spectacular views out to sea, up to snow-capped peaks and across to the Black Isle. With forts, castles, bridges and lighthouses giving you the line, it's as visually stimulating as it is entertaining.
Mark Parsinen -- the man responsible for the acclaimed Kingsbarns Golf Links near St Andrews and the managing partner at Castle Stuart -- understands better than most what golfers look for in a course.
They don't want to spend the bulk of their time searching for balls or struggling to make double bogeys. And so he and Gil Hans have produced a beautiful layout that is particularly forgiving. Generous wide fairways, sensible rough, manageable bunkers and large greens combine to make Castle Stuart eminently playable even for those of fairly modest ability.
But it's no pushover. The virtually incessant breezes either blowing down from the mountains or in off the sea, the considerable elevation changes and the attractive but unhelpful clumps of heather, broom, sea marram and gorse ensure no liberties are taken.
"Although the fairways are wide and comparatively easy to hit," explained Fraser Cromarty, the director of golf, "it's important to put your ball in the right spot to exploit the best angle to the green."
There's lots to enjoy even before you tee off the first, including a majestic "art deco" clubhouse that stands proud and prominent staring out to sea.
Instead of buried in the bowels of the building, the locker room is on the first floor and, while you get changed, picture windows allow you to feast your eyes on the delights in store. I doubt there's a changing room anywhere in the world with a better view.
There's also a classy driving range and an impressive putting green upon which to warm up.
Castle Stuart Golf Links' first three holes take you south along the water's edge before you spin round, twist and turn a couple of times and head back towards the clubhouse. The back nine similarly starts with a couple of beachside holes but then climbs dramatically to provide breathtaking panoramas and hilltop holes that present both magnificent views, a refreshingly different challenge and a few "infinity" greens where nothing appears to stand between the back of the putting surface and oblivion.
"It's a truly wonderful course that is surely destined to leap into the top 10 in Scotland or Britain or both!" commented Craig Anderton, a 15-handicapper from England. "All it lacks, I suppose, is a bit of history, but even that will come in time."
The creators of Castle Stuart clearly believe golf is supposed to be fun and have successfully produced a course that perhaps only masochists won't enjoy.
Not even a lost ball could wipe the smile off my face that lasted pretty well from the first tee to the final green. Although the green fee is hardly in the budget bracket, the scenery alone is well worth the money.
May 24, 2013
Although in his 60s, with a handicap of 15 and lifetime earnings comfortably below $100, Clive Agran nevertheless still believes he can win a major. Arguably England's most gifted golf writer, when not dreaming of glory he's scouring the globe simultaneously searching for lost balls and great golf courses. Follow Clive on Twitter at @cliveagran.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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