The poster boy for modern links golf

Castle Stuart

Castle Stuart Golf Club

Castle Stuart Golf Club

Date Reviewed
May 29, 2018
Reviewed by Ed Battye
You don’t need to think strategically to play Castle Stuart but to play Castle Stuart you need to think strategically.

The above summarises this modern links perfectly and in my opinion is a sign of greatness. Castle Stuart is great.

It’s a thinking man’s course for sure but the more naive golfer will still get maximum enjoyment from this wholly manufactured course, albeit their score may suffer in the process!

The poster boy for modern links golf delivers with a bang; visually, strategically and in pretty much any other way you can think of.

Conceived by Mark Parsinen and Gil Hanse they have manged to expertly blend two of my key ingredients required a top class golf course - playability and championship feel – into one elaborate and pondersome experience. This completely man-made course, formerly farmland, just shows what can be done with time, budget and imagination.

Wide from the tee, but certainly not overly generous as is often quoted, it requires a golfer to get into position with their tee shot, by choosing their route, in order to attack the green from the correct angle. The design is exceptionally clever in that it will challenge the elite (it has hosted the Scottish Open multiple times) but remains infinitely playable for golfers of lesser ability.

The large, perfectly contoured, greens and the expertly sited run-offs help deliver a collection of green complexes which I don’t think is matched outside The Old Couse at St. Andrews and perhaps a couple of other esteemed venues.

Critics could argue that at times Castle Stuart pushes the boundaries just a little too far but I like to play my golf on the edge and this is why I love the course so much.

There are so many devilish recovery shots to be played which I think is crucial for a course to be regarded amongst the very elite. And by devilish I don’t mean hard – I simply mean that they create a disparity in the golfers mind about how one would like to play the shot compared to how one should play the shot. Redemption is always possible if you miss a green – thanks mainly to an abundance of short grass - but further punishment is always just around the corner if your execution or decision making is not sound.

Double-decker layered in a similar manner to Kingsbarns and located hard against the Moray Firth it is a breathtakingly beautiful golf course with numerous ‘wow’ moments during the round. Infinity greens and vistas abound – at times you feel like you are walking a tightrope before firing into an abyss.

The bunkering, certainly from a visual perspective, adds to the style and the turf is so tight, sandy and simply made for good golf.

The routing is very good too and ensures the course flows well, especially considering you have upper and lower holes with only a steep walk to the 13th tee a little cumbersome.

The questions that the course (par 72 & yardage 7,009 from the tips) continually asks from the tee and on approach are outstanding. There are several holes which I would deem world-class; the 2nd, 3rd, 9th, 10th, 11th and 18th. These have all got it very right from both the tee and into the greens. Each one gives you options from the tee and depending upon your choice, and the execution of the shot, you will be rewarded or penalised for your next stroke accordingly.

There are a number of other holes which are more conservative from the tee but have outstanding green complexes; the 6th, 14th and 16th are three that quickly come to mind. The simplistic but brilliantly strategic nature of the 16th in fact is so good that this ‘tame’ 335-yard par-four with no fairway bunkers can be a soul-destroyer for even the best golfer. Perhaps the widest fairway on the course will lull you into a false sense of security on the tee but if you do not fire down the right-hand-side you will have an immensely difficult shot over a deep gully for your next; that birdie you were hoping for on the tee can quickly become an irksome bogey.

Indeed, the entire course can cause inner turmoil – just ask my playing partner who racked up an 11 on the 305-yard (driveable) 3rd hole. For the record he hit a 6 iron off the tee, but onto the wrong side of the fairway, and had less than 100 yards to the green from where he missed it down to the left before self-destructing due to the ingenious design of the hole. It should be noted that I was quick to point out it was the combination of brilliant architecture AND a lack of ability that resulted in a double figure score!

The only hole I didn’t much care for was the 8th. The green complex is quite interesting once you get to it but it lacks the visual punch and strategy from the tee as well as being slightly out of character with the rest of the holes. That aside I found very little else to dislike.

I’m not really a fan of the commercial set-up at Castle Stuart and prefer the olde-worlde charm of an established, historic links any day of the week but there’s no denying that from the first-tee to the 18th green Castle Stuart is up there with the very best.

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