Kingsbarns Golf Links

Gullane
YARDS 7110/ 6745/ 6350/ 5385
PAR 72
Designer: Kyle Phillips in collaboration with Mark Parsinen

Just seven miles southeast of St. Andrews lies a strip of land along the North Sea where golf has been played since 1793. It remained a rather ordinary little nine-hole course until World War II when the army requisitioned it to practice landing manoeuvres. After the war, efforts to restore the course failed and the land reverted to grazing land until 1997 when Gordon Begg, a retired banker and avid golfer turned developer, enlisted the aid of an American company to design and build a new eighteen-hole championship course. The R&A also became involved by making an interest free loan to the developers in the amount of £1,000,000. In return, they received 2000 tee times for their use in order to reduce the pressure on the six courses in the St. Andrews complex. A fortuitous convergence, one might say, because what has been created may very well be one of the best new links courses anywhere.

As I saw before it opened in July 2000, I walked it with my brother, Mycroft, and we were both quite impressed. The new clubhouse is satisfactory enough and there is a practice range, a rarity in Scotland. The course itself is an interesting layout; both front and back nines are figure eights which begin at and return to the clubhouse, as is common in American courses. Kyle Phillips, the American designer, seems to have made the best with the land available and, in fact, has manufactured a course whose topography is instantly recognizable as links. The four sets of tees for players of all skill levels are another American influence but the short distances from green to tee that encourage walking are quite Scottish, actually. Time will tell, but I thought-and Mycroft concurred-that the marriage of American and Scottish golf features was marvelously successful.

The course is on a bench that slopes upwards from the sea to a low ridge. Every hole has an ocean view and the sea comes into play on six of the eighteen holes. There are fewer bunkers here than on most Scottish courses, but they are strategically placed and will definitely come into play. In fact, the strokesaver shows both the safe and the risk/reward position for each tee ball. The latter, of course, affords the easier shot to the green but one is warned that the more difficult is not always all that difficult. When we arrived, we asked what holes were the showstoppers and were referred to the 12th, 15th, and 18th. We donned our wellies (it was raining), and marched manfully out to the shore on the back nine to have a look.

The 12th is a massive par five of some 600 yards from the championship tees that is usually played into the prevailing southwest wind. It is a sweeping dogleg left running north to south along the shore. The third shot, if one likes adventure, is over a patch of beach to a massive green (74 yards deep) that is well protected by two cleverly placed bunkers. We imagined how Tiger Woods would play the hole: probably hitting a long fade into the wind on his drive followed by a majestic draw onto the green. Mycroft and I would play the hole somewhat differently.

The 15th hole is a dicey par three of 205/185 yards north along the beach, usually at right angles to the westerly breeze. A fade here can easily become a fatal slice as the green is surrounded by water on three sides and many a ball may come to rest in Davy Jones locker. The safe shot is a mid iron just short of the left bunker followed by skillful putting. The view from the green (a peninsula actually) is said to be fantastic but we couldn’t see much as the rain increased and was accompanied by a low nasty fog. Fortunately Mycroft brought his flask.

The 18th is a fine finishing hole: a dogleg left of 445 yards that requires a second shot over a burn and a small ravine. Behind the green is a small hillside covered in beach grass. Beyond that are moguls and a nice stand of trees-an altogether lovely setting. One quaint touch on this hole is the ancient stone bridge across the burn. This was unearthed during construction and has been painstakingly rebuilt. We were also impressed by the 17th, a long brute of a par four (470/ 450/ 430/ 345 yards) which runs along the shore and is usually played downwind (thankfully). As the elevated green is well protected by hummocks, swales and bunkers, recovery from a miss hit second will not be easy.

In general, Mycroft and I were very much impressed. We liked what we saw and can hardly wait to return. Early reports from members of the Forces are filled with glowing praises and Golf Magazine already has placed it amongst the world’s top 50 courses. In fact, Adjutant Baker claims there is not an ordinary or weak hole on the course. He would rather play Kingsbarns than the Old Course-mumbling something about rude starters, rangers and the like. But then the man was born without a soul and has not adjusted well to the new regime at St. Andrews, most particularly the caddie master. When you have the good fortune to play Kingsbarns, please present your adjutant with a full report.

Perfect Pairing with golf at Kingsbarns: a heaping bowl of chili in the clubhouse. We know. We spend a great deal of time trying to convince our travelers to sample the local fare and chili is, well, so American. Nonetheless, to go to Kingsbarns and not sample its chili would be to miss part of the complete experience.

Major Basil Haversham, OBE
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