News from the British Isles
Published: May 2009
By James Cusick
Traditional course design stages a comeback
Looking back on the high-profile courses that opened in the British Isles during the construction boom of the '80s and '90s, it's striking how very American many of them feel. Think Palmer at the K Club, Weiskopf at Loch Lomond, Dave Thomas at the Belfry. All proven championship courses, to be sure, but somewhere along the way the traditional look of golf in Britain and Ireland got misplaced.
This year the pendulum has swung back, as clubs have sought to balance the modern game with the vernacular style. As we reveal in our update, courses both new (Archerfield, Skellig Bay) and old (St. Andrews, Dooks) have succeeded in this enterprise.
The trend shows no sign of abating. On our radar screen for next year, we find David Kidd designing a course at Machrihanish Bay that will be part of a five-star hotel complex. He's also working on yet another public course at St Andrews. Near Inverness, Kingsbarns developer Mark Parsinen is codesigning the first course at Castle Stuart with architect Gil Hanse. Next door to Loch Lomond, the discovery of an important archaeological site delayed the opening of the Carrick course, designed by Canadian Doug Carrick, but fourteen holes will open this summer, with the full eighteen coming online early next year. And Colin Montgomerie will begin work this summer on his first design in Scotland, a parklander at Rowallan Castle, not far from his boyhood home in Troon. We expect each of these projects will capture the magic of golf on this side of the pond.
With that in mind, here are some of the best new developments on the golf scene, as well as updates on luxury hotels and fine dining—all places worth seeking out this summer.
Dirleton Links Dirleton, East Lothian
It was hoped that the reestablishment of golf at Archerfield, which lies on the fringes of Muirfield and North Berwick, would result in a product worthy of the area's strong golf heritage. The opening of the Fidra Links almost two years ago hinted at the ambitious nature of the project, and this year marks the debut of the second course at Archerfield, the Dirleton Links. More open and linkslike than the Fidra, the Dirleton is serious golf in a place that takes its golf very seriously. Architect David J. Russell, who also designed the Fidra, has clearly taken his inspiration from Royal Troon and Muirfield. The revetted bunkers around the seventh green directly opposite Archerfield House and those at the seventeenth at Muirfield are worth comparing.
The Dirleton—and indeed the entire 550 acres of the Archerfield estate—would make an impressive tour venue someday. For now, the owners are more concerned with attracting members to what will be an expensive private club by Scottish standards ($35,000 lifetime debenture to join). The good news is that a "test" fee of $116 is available for visitors to try out Archerfield's courses before making up their minds.
Greens Fee: $116. Tee Times: 011-44/1620-850-714 or visit archerfieldgolfclub.com.
The Old Course, St. Andrews St. Andrews, Fife
After stretching the Old Course to a brawny 7,279 yards for last year's Open Championship, the St. Andrews Links Trust has now elected to push back the medal tees for the rest of us—in the interest of speeding play. Nine new tees have been put into play, including several from previous championship years, to gain a total of 112 yards. The changes will register most clearly on the ninth and tenth holes, both drivable par fours. In the past, delays sometimes occurred as players waited for the group ahead to clear the green before making a mighty bid for an eagle putt. Of course, if the wind's up, added yardage is almost academic—the great course will still make every effort to shred your scorecard.
Greens Fee: $210. Tee Times: 011-44/1334-466-666 or visit standrews.org.uk.
Prestonfield House Edinburgh
The white-walled baroque home of Edinburgh's Lord Provost in the mid-seventeenth century,
Prestonfield has been given a $3.5 million facelift that has transformed it into one of the
most gloriously opulent hotels in Scotland. The place feels like a time capsule where Dr.
Johnson, Boswell or David Hume would hold a think-in as they sprawled over the sofas in the
Tapestry Room or dined at the Rhubarb restaurant. Modernity, however, is not overlooked, with
everything from bedroom DVD players to high-speed wi-fi Internet access.
Rates: Luxury doubles from $341; suites from $514. Call 011-44/1312-257-800 or visit prestonfield.com.
Kohler Waters Spa St. Andrews, Fife
The Old Course Hotel's outdated spa has been completely revitalized as part of owner Herb Kohler's upgrading plans. The new Kohler Waters Spa will feature Vichy and Kohler showers, a thermal suite with hydrotherapy pool, a Japanese salt steam room, a sauna with light therapy and a new twenty-meter indoor swimming pool with a waterfall. There are also eleven new treatment rooms and a state-of-the-art fitness center that overlooks the Old Course.
Hotel and Spa Reservations: 011-44/1334-474-371 or visit oldcoursehotel.co.uk.
The Seafood Restaurant St. Andrews, Fife
The Seafood Restaurant is more Mies van der Rohe than anything the old town has ever seen. Perched on rocks above the sea, it is a modernist glass-walled building with an open-plan kitchen. If the minimalist theme had been followed through, there would have been enough confidence to accept the bare beauty of the local seafood. Instead added flavors sometimes complicate what's on offer. So if the Kilbrandon oysters strike your fancy, ask for them on their own (and leave the salsa for the Tijuana trip). Or just plump for the no-mistake smoked haddock.
Skellig Bay Golf Club Waterville, County Kerry
The tiny coastal village of Waterville has a magnificent links course (see "Wind and Waterville," March/April 2006), and now it also has an assault course. Skellig Bay in the wind may be to golf what the North Face of the Eiger is to climbers. Haulie O'Shea (who runs everything in town from the hotel to the butcher's shop) and architect Ron Kirby have taken rolling, cliff-edge farmland on the outskirts of the village and created the kind of course no one builds anymore. Kirby and O'Shea met when both were part of the large design team that built Old Head Golf Links in Kinsale. Their collaboration at Skellig Bay has produced a rugged and staggeringly beautiful golf course. There are awe-inspiring ocean views from holes that weave their way up and down the headland and more than two miles of ancient stone walls. There's even a protected "fairie fort" near the sixth tee (locals say you should never step into it) and a grass island with three standing stones from Ireland's megalithic period in the middle of a large fairway bunker. Plans for a clubhouse are in motion; in the interim, players are being bused in from the nearby Waterville Lakes hotel.
Greens Fee: $72. Reservations: 011-353/669-474-133 or visit skelligbay.com.
Dooks Golf Links Glenbeigh, County Kerry
The former European Tour player Ronan Rafferty once referred to Dooks Golf Links, at the head of Dingle Bay, as "the best kept secret in Irish golf." So it was no small decision by the members in 2002 to bring in the architect Martin Hawtree and extensively redesign what many thought was already a well-polished gem. The last four holes will be completed this summer. The course has been extended from a 6,010-yard par seventy to approximately 6,600 yards with a par of seventy-one, but according to Hawtree associate Marc Westenborg, "It was never the intention to simply make the course longer, though I suppose it helps." Instead, holes have been rerouted, some greens built up and others lowered, and entry areas to greens have been reshaped to improve playability. The end result feels natural, and is in keeping with an old club that felt it needed to catch up with the modern game without sacrificing the heritage of a classic. There was one thing, of course, that Hawtree had no need to tinker with—the views and sheer beauty of the place. They remain among the best in Ireland.
Greens Fee: $85. Tee Times: 011-353/669-768-205 or visit dooks.com.
The Lodge at Doonbeg County Clare
A magnificent granite lodge has been created to offer luxury accommodation—and a new
clubhouse—at Doonbeg, one of Ireland's premier golf locations. With ocean, river and
courtyard views, the Lodge's forty-seven suites have one- to four-bedroom units, each with
its own private living space and kitchen area. The decor is an American take on the Irish
country house, with the private Cassique club on Kiawah Island setting the standard of relaxed
luxury that the owners want to achieve here. There is also a spa with steam rooms, sauna,
whirlpool and a fitness area.
Rates: One-bedroom suites from $593; multiple-bedroom suites from $1,173. Call 011-353/659-055-600
or visit doonbeggolfclub.com.
The g Hotel Galway, County Galway
A mini palace of sleek modernity, the g is the hotel as film set, a place that could easily
be confused with the boutique digs of Hollywood or Cannes. The impresario of the g is Philip
Treacy, one of the world's leading hat designers. He's let his imagination rip here—from
the black glass walls in the reception area to the white simplicity of the Grand Salon and
the cheerful colors of the Santini restaurant. The bedrooms are among the most glamorous to
be found in Ireland, or anywhere for that matter. There are 101 guest rooms, twenty-six junior
suites and three full suites, including one named for supermodel Linda Evangelista. There's
a classy spa on the upper two floors as well. Among the great northwest links to which Galway
serves as a gateway, Connemara is the closest, just over an hour's drive from the city.
Rates: From $550$2,434. Call 011-353/9186-5200 or visit theghotel.ie.
Goodwood Golf Club Chichester, West Sussex
Goodwood's old course has long been notable for being among the best downland tests in Britain—those being the areas of open countryside found near the white chalk cliffs overlooking the English Channel. For three hundred years, the downs near Goodwood were primarily known as the home of a famed thoroughbred racetrack. Golf, however, is clearly a new focus for the current owner, Lord March, who tasked architect Howard Swan to oversee a four-year renovation of the 1914 James Braid design. Some of Braid's subtleties have been masked by the renovation, but the elevated greens and side bunkering—especially at the beautiful par-three twelfth—still offer hints of his masterpiece at Gleneagles. In the summer months, the contrasting colors of the grasses and the clear blue coastal skies are something to behold.
Greens Fees: Play is open to members only, but you can join Goodwood for $252 plus $350
worth of "golf credits," which will give you five peak-time or ten off-peak rounds. Inquiries:
011-44/1243-755-144 or visit goodwood.co.uk.
Royal Ascot Golf Club Ascot, Berkshire
Like Goodwood, Royal Ascot Golf Club's association with racing stretches back many years. This Berkshire club was founded in 1887 and for more than a century was surrounded by the famous Royal Ascot Racecourse. No longer. The club has jumped the fence, as it were, and this year, as the old course reverts to heathland, a new one opens within the grounds of Windsor Forest. The 6,294-yard layout was designed by Jonathan Tucker of the Sports Turf Institute and cuts its way through a medieval deer forest. Greens are mostly flat, protected by shallow bunkering, but the main asset of the course is the serene beauty of its surroundings. Play is supposed to be strictly with a member, but with a polite letter (in advance) to the club secretary, a playing partner may be found.
Greens Fees: $44$52. Tee Times: 011-44/1344-625-175 or visit royalascotgolfclub.co.uk.
Bovey Castle Lodges North Bovey, Dartmoor National Park, Devon
Following on the coattails of the successful redesign of John Abercrombie's 1926 gem by Tom Mackenzie and Donald Steel, as well as the addition of a new spa, Bovey Castle has further increased its status as one of Britain's best luxury golf resorts with twenty-two new castle-style Bodmin granite lodges, set around the woods and lakes of the estate. Each lodge has three large bedrooms, a vast main living area and a dining roomkitchen. Oak beams and local stone dominate the triple-height living area, while soaring granite fireplaces stretch up to a wooden gallery. Two terraces also create great spaces for a sundowner or a summer breakfast overlooking the golf course and lake.
Lodge Rates: $3,055 per night or $17,107 per week. Call 011-44/1647-445-016 or visit boveycastle.com.
East Sussex National Hotel Resort & Spa Uckfield, East Sussex
The former Nicklaus Design architect Bob Cupp delivered two layouts at Uckfield that opened in 1989. East Sussex National quickly established itself as a serious championship venue, with its East Course hosting the European Open in 1993 and '94. There have been rumors of a large-scale hotel for a decade, and this month it finally arrives: 104 rooms (including twelve suites), all with views over the courses and the South Downs. Gatwick Airport is a half-hour drive away.
Rates: Rooms from $158$229; suites from $211$351. Call 011-44/1825-880-088 or visit
Brown's Hotel Mayfair, London
Teddy Roosevelt stayed in 1886, Rudyard Kipling honeymooned and Agatha Christie based her novel At Bertram's Hotel on Brown's. Over the last two decades or so, the historic hotel had been slightly on the decline, but that changed when Rocco Forte bought the place in 2003 and gave it a $34-million makeover. The result is the return of real star quality: 117 sleek bedrooms, including fifteen lavishly smart suites. Best of all, Forte managed to create this stylishly modern comfort zone while retaining the atmosphere of the old Brown's. It's a genuinely beautiful hotel smack in the center of London. Speak to the concierges of a desire to play golf and they nod knowingly: They have good relations with the London Golf Service, who can arrange outings to the best London-area clubs.
Rates: Rooms from $515$1,039; suites from $1,336$2,401. Call 011-44/2074-936-020 or