The Castle Course
Next on the tee: the highly anticipated seventh course at St. Andrews
Decades from now, when David McLay Kidd looks back on what promises to be an enormously productive career designing golf courses, he may well single out 2008 as the most satisfying year of all. For in it he will unveil two ambitious seaside eighteens in Scotland, his homeland: the Castle Course at St. Andrews and Machrihanish Dunes, near the bottom of the Kintyre Peninsula. Both will be momentous occasions. The Castle Course will be the first championship-caliber layout opened by the St. Andrews Links Trust since 1914, and Machrihanish Dunes will join an Old Tom Morris course that since 1876 has been the only reason for a golfer to visit the remote area. Heady stuff for an architect who has only just celebrated his fortieth birthday, but Kidd and his talented team are brimming with confidence.
The Castle Course, scheduled to open on June 28, will be the first of the pair to debut. It takes its name from Kinkell Castle, which five hundred years ago stood on a headland two miles southeast of the town center, where the nines of the new layout begin. (The six other Links Trust courses are on the opposite side of town.) Kidd won the commission despite ignoring the warning that presentations must under no circumstances run longer than two hours. Mesmerizing the committee with his passion, he recklessly took three and a half hours to present his case, and in so doing he carried the day. The fact that he had designed the famous first course at Bandon Dunes obviously did him no harm.
Unlike the other St. Andrews layouts, this is not a links. Although it is seaside and nearly treeless (the sycamore behind the first green is the only tree on the course), it is not laid out on sand-based soil (greens and approaches, however, received several thousand tons of sand to permit running shots) but on clay where potatoes and barley were once grown. The links superintendent, Gordon Moir, calls the Castle a "clifftopper." Some sixty to 125 feet above the sea, which it skirts for nearly a mile and a half, the Castle roams across 220 acres, more than twice the area of the basically level Old Course.
Kidd's routing plan is masterful—unpredictable, studded with daring moments, jam-packed with memorable golf holes. This is no minimalist undertaking; Kidd and his associate Paul Kimber have moved dirt by the ton. Not surprisingly, there is scarcely a level hole. The ground climbs and plunges, ripples and heaves and tumbles. Elevation changes stare us down at every turn—it's more than 150 feet overall. The high point is gained at the twelfth green and thirteenth tee, with the lowest ground being the double green of the ninth and eighteenth.
Along the way, the fairways seem to inhale and exhale, feinting and then swooping into the course's many doglegs. Most of the turns are gentle, though some are sharp, as on two and eighteen. The course can be set up as long as 7,188 yards, as short as 5,319, and has five sets of tees on every hole. Seven greens are right at land's end, high above the beach. The walks from green to tee are generally short, which those carrying their own bag or towing the trolley will applaud. Besides the views of St. Andrews Bay, water in the form of burns rears its head short of the green on the par-five fourth and the par-five fifteenth, setting up unnerving risk-reward shots for the big basher. The fourth (570 yards from the tips) and the fifth (557 yards) are back-to-back three-shotters, an uncommon circumstance that finds Kidd simply responding to the best routing that the land could give him.
Though they don't often look it, The tee shot landing areas at the Castle are spacious. It's true that the early parts of the fairways incline to tightness, but if you can get it in your head that your tee shot is going to carry this skinny section of land where the fairway exhales, you will drive the ball straight and long again and again. The fairways are pocked with mounds (some of them fetchingly bewhiskered) and hollows. The approaches to the greens have the same mixture of grasses as the greens themselves (80 percent fescue, 20 percent bent). This encourages the player to hit bump-and-run shots or to try the Texas wedge.
The greens are large, averaging more than seven thousand square feet. The generous size gives players a fair chance of hitting them in a heavy wind—20, 30 and 40 mph blows are not at all rare on this high ground by the sea. More often than not, though, they are also dramatically contoured, making the two-putt far from routine.