1. The Castle Course
Back in the twelfth century, a stone castle stood along the windswept bluffs that now house the Castle Course’s ninth and 18th greens -- hence the name of this headline-grabbing newcomer, which sports a rollicking cliff-top layout that grabs you by the knickers on the first tee and refuses to let go. Its wild design comes courtesy of David McLay Kidd, a Scottish-born golf-course architect who first gained fame for his work at Bandon Dunes, a celebrated links course on the Oregon coast.
In turning his attention to St. Andrews, Kidd realized he faced a daunting task. Carving a new course in such a storied setting would be like painting an addition to the Sistine Chapel. All eyes were on the project, and expectations reached the stratosphere. What added to the challenge was the site itself: Though the views were stunning, the land, long used for potato farming, was flat and void of character. Kidd would have to cut a masterpiece from ordinary cloth.
Knowing that he couldn’t please everyone, Kidd opted instead to create a course that no one would forget. He took the flat potato fields and added wrinkles -- studding the fairways with humps and hillocks, and buckling the greens to make putting similar to a roller-coaster ride. According to Scott Gummer, author of The Seventh at St. Andrews: How Scotsman David McLay Kidd and His Ragtag Band Built the First New Course on Golf ’s Holy Soil in Nearly a Century, a book detailing the course-construction process, if the terrain once resembled a smooth bedspread, it now looks like a bedspread rumpled by a fitful night’s sleep.
Since the Castle Course’s opening late last summer, a few prickly purists have decried it as gimmicky, too quirky for a town so steeped in golf tradition. But the layout wasn’t meant to be that of a classic links course. By definition, it never could be; true links courses are built on sand, not soil, with the mouth of a river yawning nearby.
What the Castle Course does feature is the raw, arresting drama most people associate with Scottish golf. It cuts along a mile of craggy coastline, offering water views on every hole. Seven holes run hard along the cliffs, including the sixth, a par four nicknamed the Pier in honor of its green, which at first blush looks as if it juts into the bay. Though modern machinery went into its making, the course feels timeless, not manufactured. From start to finish, golfers experience what Kidd refers to as “the randomness of nature.” Drives that appear destined for the rough sometimes bound into the middle of the fairway, only to be swallowed in a grassy mound. Approach shots are both beautiful and beguiling, especially on the stunning 17th, a par three that plays over a gully to a heaving seaside green. Just as all courses evolve over time, though, this unique layout is a work in progress. Last month, in response to player feedback, mounds were removed from several fairways, and a burn on the 15th hole was rerouted to ease shots hit into the green.