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St Andrews Castle Course (c)

St Andrews Castle Course, overlooking town of St Andrews

St. Andrews Links refers to more than the legendary St. Andrews Old Course. It actually comprises seven golf courses (all of them public by the way). They are, in order of date opened--the venerable Old Course (around 1500?), the New Course (1895), Jubilee Course (turn of the century--the 19th century!), Eden Course (1914), and the relatively new Strathtyrum Course and Balgove Course. All of these golf courses are managed and maintained by a charitable trust set up by an act of Parliament--the St Andrews Links Trust. Because of the popularity of these golf courses--especially the Old Course which hosts about 42,000 rounds a year--the St Andrews Links Trust decided to build a brand new golf course--The Castle Course.

The Castle Course was designed by one of the finest golf course architects--David McLay Kidd, whose design of the renowned Bandon Dunes in Oregon kicked off his stellar reputation. And when Mr. Kidd got this assignment, he must have rolled up his sleeves and rubbed his hands in glee because his "canvas" was 220 acres of prime clifftop land at the edge of St. Andrews Bay, overlooking the town of St. Andrews. Heck, with views like that, he could have built a miniature golf course and people would have come to play it.

The Castle Course actually began as a bit of a disappointment in some people's minds and the reviews were not consistently good. I think some reviewers held the course to a higher standard than they would have if it were not part of the St. Andrews gang of seven. "The ground is not classic links…" "The greens are too hard…too big…too severe." "The fairways are too sparse..." "The course is too difficult…" But changes were made, the design was tweaked and The Castle Course is slowly gaining in reputation and respect.

The Course

The reviewers were right about one thing--this is not a classic links course, in fact, not a links course at all. But then it never purported to be a links course. It's an honest seaside course that skirts more than a mile of St. Andrews Bay and offers some of the most wonderful views of the town of St. Andrews and out a cross the water. Not built on classic links land, it does, however, with its undulating fairways and challenging design, have a touch of the links look and feel about it. And you get a taste of that on the very first hole-a 346 yard, dogleg right, par 4. A good drive on the left side of the fairway will put you in perfect position for a short iron to an unprotected green. But if you are out of position to the right on your drive, your second shot will require you to club up so you can clear two bunkers and stop your ball before you roll off the back of the green. As is so typical in Scottish golf, position off the drive is key. That's why the big hitters don't have a big advantage. Accuracy is rewarded more than raw length.

St Andrews Castle Course, opening hole
Hole number 1 - A fine opening hole that gives you a wee taste of what's in store, i.e. the need for position off the tee. If you're out of position you'll almost always be trying to avoid a bunker or some other hazard.

Usually the S.I. #1 holes are long par 4s. Seldom are they par 5s. On The Castle Course, however, holes number 5 and 15 are the first and second most difficult holes and they are both par 5s. Each requires not only accuracy but also judgment. After a good drive you'll have to decide not only if you are going to lay up but exactly where you are going to lay up. Are you close enough to go for the green? No? Then do you lay up this side of the bunkers challenging you in the middle of the fairway or try to fly them? If you fly them, where will your ball end up? Will it give you easy access to the green or will you have to face more heroics? Ball position is critical on this golf course. Play it smart and you'll score well.

The Castle is not a course for a beginner. The more experience and discipline and patience you bring to the course, the better you'll score because this course can mug you with a triple bogie in a heartbeat.

My two favorite holes

Number 6 is rated only the 13th most difficult but is one of the most beautiful. The green sits on a small promontory at the edge of a cliff overlooking St. Andrews Bay and the town. Try to pay attention to when your partners finish putting and be ready for your putt, because chances are you'll be daydreaming looking at the view.

My other favorite is number 17, a cracker of a par 3 and, unlike so many par threes that don't seem to get any respect and are rated among the easiest, this hole is rated the 6th most difficult hole on the golf course. And no wonder. It's 184 from the back tees and you have to hit over a deep gorge on the right of the green that's filled with all kinds of plant life, none of which is likely to allow your wedge to go through easily. If your ball lands in here you're hitting three from the drop zone which is about 100 yards away and, if the hole is cut on the right rear, you'll still have to navigate over part of the chasm you just went into! When you do get onto the green, pray you'll be on the same plateau as the hole, otherwise you'll have a devil of a read and a double-breaking putt.

St Andrews Castle Course, 17th hole
Hole 17 - This par 3 is a lovely example of a hole that intimidates. Any shot to the right is trouble. You'll be hitting 3 from the drop zone onto a multi-rippled green.

Get a yardage book.

The yardage book is one of the best and features actual photos of each hole (see above) with distances from bunkers, mounds, etc. Also, there's the Architect's Advice for each hole--where to aim, how to play it. etc. For example, on the par three 17th David McLay Kidd says: "Take the yardage to the front of the green, add 10 yards, and aim between the green and the bunkers on the left. Everything will run into the middle of the green from there." Pretty good advice, wouldn't you say? The yardage book is an invaluable aid and will save you many strokes. Be sure to pick one up.

Much too expensive.

My only complaint about the course is the cost. The Castle Course is very expensive. There is a bevy of fine golf courses in the neighborhood less than half the price and lots of fun to play. For example, for what you'll pay for a game at The Castle Course you could play Crail Balcomie (a classic links layout) and Crail Craighead, and pay for lunch, and have a few pints and still have money left over. In fact you can play both the St. Andrews New Course and the St. Andrews Jubilee Course, both of which are also classic links courses and both built on the same land as the The Old Course, and pay less than one round at The Castle Course. And there's still Lundin Golf Course (half links, half parkland), Leven Links (links), Elie (links), and Scotscraig (parkland) within a half-hour drive. All are great plays at much less than half the price. I believe if The Castle Course were not part of the St. Andrews golfing family, if the reputation of its great, great, great grandfather (Old Course) were not so renowned, the cost would be halved. I just don't think The Castle Course is worth its exaggerated price. But if you have the money and the time, give it a go. It's certainly a challenging golf course and one you'll enjoy.

I would rate it higher if the greens fees were a bit more in line with the other fine courses in the area.

Golf Nook rating - A solid PAR.

For more information about The Castle Course-how to book, cost, etc. see