Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Kingsbarns Golf Links

Kingsbarns Golf Links is located a short fifteen minute drive from St Andrews. It is a young course, being slightly more than ten years old, but it has been met with great praise. Kingsbarns is a Kyle Phillips design and is absolutely stunning. It is currently ranked #54 in the world and it unquestionably deserves that ranking.
This latest round at Kingsbarns marks my 3rd round on the beautiful course. I am always eager to make the short trip. Unfortunately, Kingsbarns is fairly expensive to play. It runs visitors around £215 to play. Luckily, Scottish residents (students included) get the discounted rate of just under £100. Even better, the University of St Andrews Men’s Golf Club has a day every year where we go play the course for £15 a round. It is hard to beat!
Downhill par 3 2nd hole
 On previous trips to Kingsbarns, I greatly enjoyed the round, but felt like I didn’t “stop and smell the roses.” For instance, I didn’t go to the locker room, I didn’t have a pre-round bacon roll, and I didn’t simply stop and enjoy everything. I was either too concerned with my score or sunlight running out to actually realize just how beautiful Kingsbarns really is. On this trip, I made a conscious effort to take in the golf, surroundings, and facilities, as I hadn’t done on past visits to Kingsbarns.
Looking across the 8th green to the par 3 15th green
The 6th hole is a drive-able par 4, and with the green set below the tee, a stunning view over much of the front and back nines can be seen. Despite being short, an errant tee shot can make a par difficult to achieve. The fairway slopes right to left with bunkers short and left in the fairway and a large deep grass bunker short left of the green affecting longer hitters. The back of the green has a lowered plateau that gives the greens keepers the option of a very tough pin. The lowered plateau is almost hidden and wouldn’t be noticed until the pin is placed in the very rear of the green.
Looking at the central basin of the course, with the 6th hole on the right
The 9th hole, par 5, works back towards the clubhouse and presents a birdie opportunity for those who keep their drives on the left side of the fairway. An interesting sign is embedded in the fairway marking where Lee Westwood holed out for a double eagle during the Dunhill Links Championship in 2003 (pictured below). The 9th hole coming back to the clubhouse is only one of many American-feeling features at Kingsbarns. The traditional out and back links layout is abandoned.
The back nine at Kingsbarns has, in my opinion, some of the stronger and weaker holes on the course. This will meet opposition, but I think the 10th and 14th holes are the weakest on the course. The tenth is not memorable and if it weren’t for a narrow fairway and an undulating green, it would be slightly bland. The 14th is a short par 4, but not quite short enough to be drive-able. The green has a large ridge running across the green and every time I’ve played the course, the pin is set just beyond the ridge. Due to the hole’s length, a decently long hitter is left with an awkward 40-60 yard pitch to a tricky ridge-protected pin. It feels as though Phillips didn’t quite have enough room to fit in another spectacular hole, so he squeezed this one in.
Despite any weaker holes on the back, the 12th, 15th, 16th, and 17th holes are second to none. As seen in the pictures below, the holes are visually spectacular, but are also very strong tests of golfing skill. The 12th is a dogleg left par 5 that runs right along the seashore. The risk-reward factor is ever present on approach shots and anything tugged slightly left at any point is either in the water or on the beach. Although I haven’t played Spyglass or Pebble, I’m told that the scenery on 12 and 15 rivals those great courses.
Myself on the 12th tee
View from the 12th tee
The 70 yard long 12th green
Below is the view from the par 3 15th tee box. The peninsula green becomes even more intimidating when the tide is in and waves are crashing against the rocks which guard the putting surface.
View from the 15th tee
The 16th is a great par 5 with a well-bunkered fairway. A tee shot favoring the left side of the fairway is safest, but can leave a long approach if going for the green. The green is well bunkered, but fair. A sneaky little burn, that was uncovered from an earlier links when Kingsbarns was being built, runs behind and to the left of the green. The 16th is one of my favorite par 5’s that I have encountered while in Scotland.
                         Looking up the par 5 16th hole

I have heard people criticize the 18th at Kingsbarns as a weak finishing hole that is uncharacteristic to the rest of the course. I disagree. In its own right, the 18th is a solid and difficult par four. The deep burn that runs in front of the green is part of the same burn that was uncovered during construction and it adds a very challenging aspect to the hole. Kyle Phillips redesigned portions of Kingsbarns to include aspects (such as the burn and bridge on the 18th) of the original course, which was discovered during construction – something that I find very interesting and appreciate from a designer.
View from 18th fairway
I love Kingsbarns and try to take advantage of every opportunity to play the course. The impressive locker room and clubhouse remind me of the impressive resort clubhouses back in the States. No golf trip to Fife would be complete without a round at Kingsbarns.

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