When this potato farm and once hunting ground for the Pictish kings, set on a rugged cliffline three miles to the east of St Andrews, was purchased it was flat, featureless and without character. What stands today, less than a decade on, is anything but. From this unpromising beginning – and if you are in any doubt about the charmless foundation on which it was built you only need to look around as you drive to or from the club – has emerged one of the finest new courses to be built in Britain and Ireland in the last decade.
The Castle Course is the Links Trust’s seventh course and, it is fair to say, is like nothing else in the neighbourhood. Scot David McLay Kidd, who impressed hugely with his linksy creation of Bandon Dunes in Oregon, was the man commissioned to turn this unspectacular landscape into a fun and playable examination with sea views from every hole.
Having only opened two years agom, the work of McLay Kidd – who was brought up in Gleneagles in Perthshire – is already a firm fixture in any Top 100 list. The opening hole makes for a genteel start with room left and right while the 2nd, too, appears tighter from the tee than it actually is.
Walk on 100 yards and you will realise there was little need for any undue concern, a theme throughout the round. The first sign of the particularly vast and sloping greens comes at the 4th, the first of back-to-back par 5s, where you can be made to look very good, or very silly, depending on your skill at reading and judging the heart-shaped green.
And then you are led towards the water for the first time at the 6th, an ordinary enough par 4 until you arrive at the green where views of the Auld Grey Toun and the ‘Chariots of Fire’ beach at East Sands await.
The Castle Course is the Links Trust’s seventh course and, it is fair to say, is like nothing else in the neighbourhood.
Until that moment you might not feel part of the St Andrews furniture, now you feel a good hit with the driver would just about get up. The next three holes take you back along the coastline via the superb and longest of the par 4s at the 7th, a short 3 and a shortish 4 where, if the sea mists are rolling in, are particularly reminiscent of the likes of Pebble Beach. The walk between the 8th green and 9th tee, with the sea lapping over the rocks, is one that should be savoured.
And so to the back nine. Again, a not-too-testing start while the real challenge comes as the nine progresses. The 12th requires two good hits but features another deceptively wide fairway and the short 13th feeds anything left of the pin towards the hole. Another wide open fairway, though treacherous green, awaits at the 14th and then it is time to strap yourself in for the closing four holes.
The 15th is the longest hole on the course with a split fairway inspired by Dr Alister MacKenzie’s sketch of the Elysian Fields on the 14th on the Old Course. Wherever we mere mortals come to rest the second will be played short of a burn though, should the big boys take it up this narrow channel on the left and with a strong wind behind, it might be able to be slayed in two. For once, a smallish green brings the curtain down on the hole.
The par-4 16th takes you out to the furthest point from the magnificent, circular clubhouse and then comes the hole you are most likely to have been told about ahead of your visit. The 17th, 184 yards off the back tees, is played across a gaping chasm to a green perched on an opposite ledge. Nothing for short, not an awful lot for right but, if the wind is howling off the North Sea, your tee shot will need to be set off over the trouble before then hoping, and praying, that it keeps blowing.
A tough act to follow the par-5 18th provides a fitting finale with the coastline again hugging the right-hand side before plotting your way past more deep and ragged bunkers to a double green shared with the 9th. This is where Kinkell Castle is said to have stood and where the course got its name.
Five sets of tees provide the opportunity to take on this course and, whether you succeed or fail in your task, your few hours spent here will live long in the memory, regardless of where you play next.