Castle Course: Course of the Year
The Castle Course, St. Andrews, Scotland (Public)
David McLay Kidd won the coveted design commission to build a seventh course at St. Andrews and was soon beset by fears that the links he produced would bore people. “I hammered that point into my mind,” the Scotsman recently admitted. “Lived by it, and repeated the sentiment like an army drill to my team.” They got the message. Kidd’s shapers transformed every inch of a derelict 220-acre potato farm on the outskirts of town into the Castle Course, a faux links with features so wild they seem to move before your eyes. Tumbling, hazard-studded fairways make every tee shot an adventure. The greens have to be seen—make that played—to be believed.
In avoiding dullness, Kidd fomented controversy. Some early reviews called the course unduly difficult, citing a couple of heavily contoured greens as over the top and declaring certain hole locations all but inaccessible. Even more criticized are the hard-edged, marram-grassed banks placed willy-nilly around many of the fairways (a feature Kidd employs at another course on this year’s list, Tetherow). Golfers who hit long drives down the centerline aren’t entitled by law to clean lies, but they probably don’t deserve to lose their balls, either. Still, Kidd’s shag-topped fairway bumps aren’t deal breakers—not when a few guys with mowers could resolve the issue in an afternoon.
Any flaws the course may have are far outweighed by its strengths. First, the routing is excellent, with each nine-hole loop reaching a dramatic crescendo at the edge of the cliffs. Occupying a mile or more of coastline, the Castle serves up exquisite views of the North Sea and the Auld Grey Toon. Second, the shaping is skillfully rendered, in the mode of Kingsbarns and Bayonne: This links will only look finer as time softens it. Third, although destined to be known as the toughest course in town, the Castle is great fun to play. The holes are consistently creative and impressively diverse. Only the most jaded of golfers would not enjoy pulling driver on the short, downhill par-four ninth and blasting a shot toward land’s end. Only a timid soul would shrink from the chasm-crossing test at the seventeenth. A modern blockbuster through and through, the Castle is in many ways the polar opposite of the Old Course down in the village, but they share one essential trait: You never forget where you are.
David McLay Kidd.