The Royal Oak Inn, East Lavant, West Sussex, England
The Royal Oak is a quiet inn in a quiet village an hour's drive from the golf-rich county of Surrey. There are six beautiful and comfortable bedrooms at the Royal Oak: three in the main building and three in the cottages in the rear garden. (If there's a choice, ask for the split-level Flint Cottage.) The pub and dining room serve dishes from risotto to steak, monkfish and scallops. It is a countryside gastropub with a selection of French wines that matches the traditional ales on offer. The inn's success has spurred its proprietor, Nick Sutherland, to open another pub, called the Halfway Bridge, twenty minutes down the road in the town of Petworth.
Rates: $150$243. Call 011-44/1243-527-434.
Fairyhill Brasserie, Machynys Golf Club, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, Wales
Clubhouse restaurants in Britain seldom attract nongolfers interested in a quality menu and a spectacular location. This is a notable exception. The original Fairyhill—an eight-bedroom country house with an international reputation for its dining—lies on the scenic Gower Peninsula about twenty-five minutes from Machynys. But instead of visitors to Machynys Golf Club setting off in search of the famed inn, the club brought Fairyhill to them. The eighty-seat brasserie, which opens in May, has views across the new Gary Nicklaus course and Carmarthen Bay from a large sundeck. The restaurant displays all the culinary elements of its namesake's success, including fresh local seafood and produce, Welsh black beef and a wonderful selection of farmhouse cheeses.
BEST NEW COURSE
The Devlin Course, St. Andrews Bay Golf Resort and Spa, Fife
It's been a little over two years since the Devlin course at the St. Andrews Bay resort opened for play. As the course has matured and the old school in the auld grey toon has begun accepting that there will be some smart new kids on the block, the quality and imagination that went into the Devlin has become almost academically acknowledged. So from upstart status to accepted aristocrat—just like that other nouveau-riche neighbor at Kingsbarns—Bruce Devlin's reworking of what "traditional" can mean, without resorting to gimmickry, has become part of the enriched fabric of golf in its ancient home.
In the years since the course's birth, as the fescues have been cut down only to regrow stronger and more vibrant, and as word of the difficulty and drama of the cliff-top coastal holes has spread, a sense that Devlin didn't just deliver a playable resort course but something more seminal than that has developed.
There are avenues of rolling fairway, rough-hewn mounds, yellow gorse, hand-built stone walls, deep pot bunkers, and steep hills and valleys that require blind shots testing both your faith and bravery. Above all there is your constant companion in the shape of the sea, sometimes in the distance and sometimes threateningly close. And even if Devlin delivered it by accident, there is an ever-present threat of misjudgment. It's not the light at St. Andrews Bay; it's not the coastline playing visual games; it's not something mystical in the Scottish mist—it's all of them. The great links courses have it in spades.
On the back nine, optical illusions abound. The seventeenth hole is one to look forward to, a 443-yard par four, more sharp curve than dogleg. Devlin's design demon here is traditional: the sea. A cliffside green guarded by two dangerous bunkers, which you might call Scylla and Charybdis if you like classical sea monsters, completes the Odyssean task of making par.
It's taken a couple of years to mature and to become a contender for honors in St. Andrews's noble family. The Old Course is still king, but how nice to have a young and forward-thinking cousin like the Devlin.
Greens Fees: $131$178. Tee Times: 011-44/1334-483-7000 or visit standrewsbay.com.
OTHER COURSE NEWS
The Dukes Course, St. Andrews, Fife
As one of his first commands when he took over ownership of the Old Course Hotel, Herb Kohler ordered a revamp of the hotel-owned Dukes course. The Peter Thomson design at Craigtoun Park opened in 1995; but its parkland setting, two miles inland and looking down over a town that's been in love with links golf for centuries, has received—unfairly—limited international acclaim. That is finally set to change. By the time the Open returns to St. Andrews this summer, the Dukes will have up to seven extensively redesigned holes, as well as remodeled tees and a new drainage system. Also in the offing, Craigtoun House, the mansion on the property, is to be renovated and turned into a luxury leisure club with additional accommodations.
Greens Fee: $159. Tee Times: 011-44/1334-474-371 or visit oldcoursehotel.co.uk.
The Old Course, St. Andrews, Fife
The course that Tiger Woods slaughtered in 2000 will feel different this year to both professionals and pilgrims alike, thanks to an additional 160 yards, taking its length up to 7,275. The R&A accepts that because so many visitors play over the classic links, it simply can't move beloved bunkers here and there. So although the revisions have been limited to strategically shifting tees to change the playability of key holes, there's one bunker—perhaps the most famous on the planet—that has been given a noticeable facelift. The "Road Hole" bunker at the seventeenth has been widened by three feet, making it more oval than round. The Links Trust of St. Andrews claims it has simply returned the bunker to its original concept, making it "more gathering." As to accusations from purists that the pros, but not the rest of us, will simply find it easier to get out of?We will soon find out.
Greens Fee: $215. Tee Times: 011-44/1334-466-666 or e-mail email@example.com.
The Old Course Hotel, St. Andrews, Fife
New owner Herb Kohler has also ordered an immediate revamp of the rooms and suites in the main building of the hotel, which overlooks the Old Course. When the Open Championship arrives in July, the contemporary design theme that marked the new extension's rooms will be carried throughout the hotel. The bathrooms, of course, have also been given the Kohler treatment.
Rates: from $778. Call 011-44/1334-474-371 or visit oldcoursehotel.co.uk.
Andrew Fairlie at the Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, Perthshire
Chef Andrew Fairlie arrived at Gleneagles only a few years ago. He had worked in France with Michel Guérard, and there were high expectations that his small fine-dining experience would add something special to the grand hotel. It has. This is now one of Scotland's finest restaurants. Although French in origin, Fairlie's cooking draws heavily on Scottish produce, such as Glenearn Lamb and scallops from Skye. Particularly memorable is the smoked lobster, the shells cooked slowly over aged whisky casks. As for the hotel, the last vestiges of tartan and chintz are almost gone, replaced with sleek modern interiors. Yet that special feeling of staying at a friend's lavish country house remains wonderfully intact.
Reservations: 866-881-9525 or visit gleneagles.com.
The Barns at Kingsbarns, St. Andrews, Fife
The Barns has been almost inevitable since Kyle Phillips's wonderful golf course opened for play a few years ago. The very good, though limited, facilities inside the small clubhouse meant there was a business opportunity in trying to take advantage of Kingsbarns's growing visitor numbers. The Barns has filled that niche with just the right tone. It's a conversion of one of the village's 300-year-old sandstone houses. The menu is basic but with an emphasis on quality steaks of all kinds and sizes. The bar has a good range of classic malts and ales. And the atmosphere—rough stone walls and sturdy wooden furniture, with the odd leather sofa in sight—is homey and inviting.
Reservations: 011-44/1344-460-820 or visit barnsatkingsbarns.com.