Golf at Kingsbarns has had a turbulent past. Records show that the game has been played here since the late 1700’s but the original course was ploughed up in 1850 and became farmland. In 1922 the old Kingsbarns Golfing Society re-established as Kingsbarns Golf Club but during the Second World War their nine-hole course was mined and it reverted to pasture. Fast forward to the dawn of the 21st Century and the only Scottish course to be built on linksland in over 70 years was created by Kyle Phillips. Hello Kingsbarns Golf Links!
Located just seven miles down the coast from St. Andrews it is in a prime location and the layered landscape that the holes are played over simply add to the visual feast on offer at this sensational layout. It’s no surprise that the course has quickly escalated to the top end of the various golf course rankings.
Just how good Kingsbarns is may not be truly known for another century but in today’s golfing landscape it is undoubtedly extremely good and a style of course that is in high demand from golfers across the globe.
Taking away the scenic beauty of the setting and the eye-candy on offer throughout the round there is also a strategic nature to the course that will please and tease golfing purists. Several conundrums must be solved throughout the 18 holes with many options and choices to be made on this wonderful design that offers lots of room from the tee. Most of these puzzles have been created by moving large amounts of earth but the result is as natural as you could expect, and hope for, on a manufactured links. Thanks to the good quality turf there is a nice mix of ground and aerial shots required.
I played here the week before the Ricoh Women’s British Open and the condition was excellent. The spectator stands were up and there was a real championship flavour to the venue. The course has co-hosted the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the past but this is the first time the course will really be set up for a professional field. The first hole is actually going to be the 18th for the ladies (play will start at the par-three second hole) primarily because grandstands cannot be located around the 18th green. It’s completely understandable but it’s a pet peeve of mine when courses are played out of sync; a case of the tail wagging the dog.
The routing of the holes is excellent; you are taken on a lovely journey across the property continually being brought back to the best bits. Large sweeping greens with plenty of contours ensure your day on the greens will be full of excitement too. The par is 72 with a maximum yardage of 7,224.
Following the 418-yard opener the next four holes are played in a section towards the north end of the property before we return to the large middle part of the course for six holes where we gradually climb up the terraces before embarking on a separate triangle of holes to the south. The link back from the south to the middle comes in the form of the dramatic and exquisite par-three 15th played across the North Sea to a green set on a rocky promontory.
Each section also has visually stunning and heroic holes. The third and signature 12th are both par-fives where it’s entirely possible to drive onto the beach if you cut your lines too tight and the driveable sixth is another brilliant risk-reward hole.
The long and angled green at the 12th is a real highlight but sadly the pin was located at the front right on my visit. The sixth played into a stiff breeze so taking the green on wasn’t a realistic option either.
Where Kingsbarns really excels though is that the supporting act to the main characters is so very good. In fact some of the best holes are furthest from the coast. The fourth is a case in point - one of the best driving holes you will find regardless of the length you hit the ball; longer players may choose to carry the deep bunker that juts significantly into the left-side of the fairway for an easy approach whilst the more conservative tee shot will favour the right but a much harder second shot ensue.
On the front side I also loved the first hole, where getting too close the green with your drive is not necessarily a good thing, and the ninth, with a couple of bunkers 60 yards short of the brilliant sculptured green posing many questions.
Onto the back-nine and apart from the aforementioned 12th and 15th the short 13th is a tricky little par-three with surely a nod to Royal Dornoch in its design whilst the 10th is another fine two-shotter to a cracking green complex. The 16th and 17th both play superbly well close to the beach.
There are some really solid holes that keep the pace and tempo of the course ticking over nicely.
There’s little not to fall in love with at Kingsbarns. The 11th has a contrasting feel to the rest of the holes and the 14th is a slightly indifferent par-four along the top of the property but these are minor quibbles.
The approach to the 18th does leave a slightly sour taste in the mouth though. Out of character with the rest of the course the green is located on the other side of a deep and ancient “cundie” burn, which is all good, but the problem is the fairway slopes far too severely towards it on the other side so even those who may sensibly choose to lay-up – instead of going for a guts or glory shot - face a very much out-of-place pitch to a green potentially well above them. Compared to the rest of the course it’s a one dimensional hole and the only real sore point on an otherwise tremendous venue. I suspect many a caddy has seen his tip drastically reduced by a golfer trudging off this green with a triple bogey. (For the record, I didn’t dunk it in the drink and I carried my own bag).
Compared to other contemporary links Kingsbarns tops the lot (admittedly yet to play Castle Stuart), plays great and the shaping of the contours is just right. It may lack the tradition and genuine authenticity that the grand historic Scottish links courses possess but the actual golf is as good as pretty much anywhere.
A round at Kingsbarns doesn’t come cheap (£224) but judging by the busy tee-sheet it would appear they have it correctly priced. Although I suspect it is mostly filled by international visitors, who absorb the cost into their entire trip, which sadly means the green-fee is inflated for those of us living in Britain.
Eyemouth is an easy-going, golf course with many different sections but mostly plays along the clifftops of the beautiful coastline close to the England-Scotland border.
There is something about Elie that puts you under a spell. It is a truly magical links that, after just one round, has won a place in my heart and mind forever.