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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.
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.
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.
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.
May 18, 2009
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.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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