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Castle Course: Have renovations lightened up St. Andrews golf's new beast?

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor
Castle Course in St. Andrews - Hole 9
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Following an off-season redesign, the Castle Course in St. Andrews will still leave your golf group talking. (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland - Nineteenth holes all over St. Andrews must absolutely love the new Castle Course, because golfers who come into their pub after 18 holes there surely have an extra few pints as they debate the polarizing design by architect David McLay Kidd.

Opened in the summer of 2008, the highly anticipated modern addition by the St. Andrews Links Trust brings a completely different beast to the home of golf.

While the six original town courses by the sea are all traditional in nature with little earth moved to build them, there is nothing understated about the Castle design. The Links Trust scooped up some seaside farmland about a mile east of town on the A917 road that leads to Kingsbarns and Crail. Much like Whistling Straits and Kingsbarns Golf Links were transformed from flat, seaside land, tons of sand was imported to create acres of manmade dunes.

Lots of views on St. Andrews' Castle Course

It's made for a setting that's as dramatic as you'll find, with the St. Andrews skyline in view at many points, especially on the sixth, ninth and 18th greens. The par-3 17th hole, which demands a tee shot over seaside cliffs to the green, uses the town backdrop as well.

The Castle Course's setting is one of a kind, and for many, it alone will be worth the price tag. The design of the course, however, has seen its share of praise and scorn. It's been one of WorldGolf.com's most reader-reviewed golf courses in the last year, and they're not all positive. Some readers praise the imagination and the shot values, others have loathed the severity of the greens and some of the blind landing zones in the fairways.

Some of these issues were addressed in the off season, as some of these blind, grassy hummocks were removed or mowed down. Other greens, like the par-5 15th hole, which had a large, false front that sent balls into a burn below, were rebuilt to be (barely) flatter.

Make no mistake, you're still going to encounter some of the most undulating greens in the game - more so than even Kingsbarns, which is no cakewalk for the putter in its own right.

The shaping of the faux dunes resembles the manmade feel overlooking the sea as the Straits Course in Wisconsin, the coastline is more akin to that of Pacific Dunes Course and Bandon Dunes, with flowery gorse climbing up the steep cliffs from the beaches about 100-200 feet below the golf course.

St. Andrews Castle Course: The verdict

If you choose to play the Castle once on your golf trip to St. Andrews, you may very well want to play it twice. The second time around should be infinitely less of a mystery.

With the reduction of the hummocks over the winter, the Castle Course is plenty fair off the tee. It might not be as wide open as the Old Course (thanks to parallel fairways on most of the holes), but even if you can't identify the landing zone off the tee, your ball is still going to be safe with a good strike. The reduction of the grassy hummocks has helped.

If you didn't know about the greens remodeling, you'd probably never know they'd been softened. Most of them are still very severe, probably too much so for a poorer golfer (a bad short game will be exposed here). That said, they're among the most imaginative you'll find.

I would recommend to other mid-handicappers to not so much play for an 18-hole score here but to play Stableford or match play - or just try and be as creative as possible on your approach shots and chip shots around the green, using banks and angles to your advantage. You'll create some entertaining shots that way.

Peak season green fees on the Castle Course are £115. Buggies are available only to the disabled, but the course is pretty easy to walk. It's undulating, but tee boxes are all right next to greens. There is also a full practice facility on site, and the new clubhouse is fully operational. Its one-story design keeps it tucked behind dunes so as not to be seen from the town, but it features a beautiful lounge and dining room, as well as locker room facilities and a pro shop with plenty of St. Andrews and Castle Course gear.

Stay and play: The Old Course Hotel in St. Andrews

If you're looking for a five-star option for your St. Andrews golf vacation, stay in the Old Course Hotel, a Kohler-owned property that has continued its quest to offer stay-and-play perfection in the home of golf. Guest rooms are spacious and stylish, while the bathrooms feature the best plumbing you'll find in town.

A hearty Scottish breakfast and a refreshing shower, and a round on one of St. Andrews' many golf courses is all the motivation you need to roll out of bed in the morning.

And once you get off the Castle, check into the Waters Spa for a golfer's massage, which combines heat, stretches and massage therapy to get your muscles ready for tomorrow morning.

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Castle Course in St. Andrews - Hole 17Old Course Hotel View
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Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

 
Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Castle Course

    Peter MacKenzie wrote on: Sep 14, 2013

    Spectacular! A good caddie will solve the shot locations. The 17th is magnificent. The views are better than Kingsbarns. It was a pleasant surprise.

    Reply

  • Castle Course

    John Motko wrote on: Jul 30, 2010

    Played the course on July 20th. The views were great. I spent a lot of time with the camera out. Weather was sunny with a constant wind the entire round. I'm a 12 index and shot a 92 with rented clubs so I was pleased with my score.
    I enjoyed the greens, thought they were very challenging. Definitely a course you would have to play more than once if you are expecting to shoot low scores.
    I would recommend playing the course if you want play some golf and enjoy the scenery. Would love to get back and play it again.

    Reply

  • Castle Course

    Frank Faragalli wrote on: Jun 27, 2009

    Played this course on June 14th this year. The views are spectacular and the engineering that went into making farm land into a beautiful links course is truely amazing. Tee to green is a challanging but fair test and my 4-ball thought that most golfers regardless of ability could enjoy the experience. We were all puzzled as to why the Links Trust felt it necessary to recreate the "Himalayas" of the St. Andrews putting course onto the greens of the Castle course. The greens were fun for nine holes, but than it really got weariful because they are so severe that only the most precise approach shot gave any change for a reasosnable putt. If the greens were toned down a little the Castle would really give Kingsbarns a run for the money.

    Reply

  • Castle Course

    Russ Fostiak wrote on: Jun 20, 2009

    My wife and I played the course last week. We thought it was one of the great layouts we have played. The course is truly difficult and requires imagination to play -- particularly the greens. However, this is a must for anyone coming to Scotland to play golf. The finishing 17th and 18th holes are magnificent and alone worth the price of admission. We loved it!

    Reply

  • Castle Course

    Scott Newell wrote on: May 29, 2009

    Couldn't disagree more re: "plenty fair off the tee." I played the Castle about two weeks ago and thought they still need to tame the rough down simply for playability and pace-of-play issues. Our fourball and caddies spent our entire time looking for tee shots that we all had a line on. I'm not talking about the gorse and vegetation areas...these balls were in the thick fescue grasses. Absolutely burried shots that weren't that far off line is a penalty that doesn't fit the crime.
    That said, the bunkering, green complexes, clubhouse and views are fantastic. Very attentive staff and well run facility.

    Reply

  • Castle Course

    Steve Whayne wrote on: May 19, 2009

    Thanks for the article, Brandon. I am playing the Castle Course in early July, and will let you know what I think after I play it!
    Steve Whayne
    Cincinnati, Ohio

    Reply

      • Castle Course

        Mike Peck wrote on: Jul 11, 2010

        Our group of 8 played The Castle in May of this year, all for the first time and all 8 of us just loved it. Next year I will play it twice.
        If in the area...you must play it....

        Reply

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