Friday, October 12, 2012

Kingsbarns Golf Links

New pictures updated from my recent trip to Kingsbarns. I like the course more every time I visit.

18th green
The exciting finishing hole at Kingsbarns Golf Links, Scotland

The first golden era of golf course design was in the 1920s when some of the best all time architects were alive and designing: Alister Mackenzie, Seth Raynor, A.W. Tillinghast, H.S. Colt and George Thomas. "The Roaring Twenties" were also a time of unprecedented global prosperity with markets booming around the world. Of the 100 top courses in the world an astonishing 28 are were built in the 1920s.

We are lucky to live in the new golden era of golf course architecture. Kingsbarns (ranked #65 in the world) is one of the new generation of courses that have graced the world in the 1990s and 2000s, specifically having been built in 1999. The new golden era is characterized by architects such as David Kidd, Tom Doak, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and Kyle Phillips, the designer of Kingsbarns. This new group has designed many new courses that rank in the top 100. This new generation of world-ranked courses follows a dearth in good design. During the entire forty year period between the 1940s and the 1970s, only nine courses were worthy of inclusion on the top 100 list, and most of them were toward the latter half of the period and were designed by Pete Dye.

Part of the reason we are in a new golf course design renaissance is the favorable economic environment we find ourselves. A new generation of multi-millionaires, fueled by entrepreneurship and rising real estate and capital markets, have had both the vision and the money to put together some of the these great new courses.

Kingsbarns, located in the Kingdom of Fife, south of St. Andrews in Scotland, is a course I like very much. I have been fortunate enough to have played Kingsbarns three times on two different trips.

1st fairway
The great 414-yard opening hole at Kingsbarns takes you right out to the North Sea

The course is varied and interesting and a lot of fun to play. A lot of land was moved to build the course and critics of Kingsbarns cite this as something that detracts from it, since it is not pure links land. Hogwash! The course is great and feels and plays like a links course.

3rd fairway 1
The 516-yard Par 5 third plays along the water and is a terrific hole

From my point of view, there really is no let-down at Kingsbarns. I find the opening holes to be very exciting. The third, in particular plays along the North Sea and is a great par five in the dunes. If your blood isn't pumping with excitement by the time you reach the third green you need to have your pulse checked. The green, seen below, is demanding. Be sure to avoid the deep bunker front, right.

3rd green
The third green at Kingsbarns

The fifth hole is a 424-yard par four that plays back toward the opening hole. Your approach shot is over some big humps, hollows and gorse, seen below. The hole's name, "Tassie", means small cup or goblet and refers to the punch bowl nature of the green.

  5th green
Approach to the fifth green at Kingsbarns

I have been keeping track of the greatest holes in the world as I progress through the courses, and Kingsbarns has a couple on my list. The driveable par four sixth hole is on the list.

  6th from tee 
The world-class driveable par four sixth hole at Kingsbarns

The sixth is 337 yards and the tee shot is over a little valley. The play is to the right since a strip of land protrudes out of the hillside. If you can hit your ball about 220-240 yards, it will ride the slope all the way down to the hole. A hole-in-one is possible and eagles are also in the offing. The hole's name "Auld Links" refers to the original 1793 Kingsbarns 9-hole course that existed near this part of the course.

6th green
The fantastic sixth green at Kingsbarns

The sixth green is set in a little cove, and as you expect from a short hole, the green is difficult with a lot of undulations. Laying up into the valley isn't really the play from my point of view, since it leaves you with a blind shot to the green. It is tons of fun to play this hole. The hole reminds me of the sixteenth at Royal County Down, because you have to hit your ball over a valley to land it on the green if you are going for it.

8th green 
Green on the par 3 eighth hole at Kingsbarns

The par three eighth hole, seen above, plays only 168 yards from the back tees and 132 from the front. It also plays down hill and possibly down wind as well. As you can see, the green is two tiers and the lower tier is 10-12 feet below the upper. A very good hole.

Memorable holes on the back include the par five twelfth hole that is often compared to the eighteenth at Pebble Beach, rightly so. In my opinion, the views at Kingsbarns are as good as those at Pebble Beach, as is the hole. Avoid the big bunker guarding the green on the left side. There are some old stone walls down on this part of the course too, which add to the charm.  I also like the par 3 fifteenth hole, which plays over water. And the long par 4 seventeenth hole has a diabolical green! 

What do I like so much about Kingsbarns? It has everything I like in a course:

1. An interesting routing, not just an out-and-back layout
2. Holes of varying length which test your skill on short shots as well as long. I'm not a big fan of having to hit 80% of your shots all day as long shots.
3. Six holes along the Ocean that rival any course in the world for scenic beauty
4. The ability to hit a variety of shots - bump and run, pitches, and a variety of wedge shots
5. Challenging but fair greens - some contoured significantly, some not, but appropriate for the size of the green and the type of hole
6. An intelligent use of terrain and elevation - some uphill shots, some downhill, but not overdone.

The course should rank higher in the world rankings in my view. It is, I believe, the first modern course worthy to be put on the rotation to hold an Open Championship. To me, the place the feel of a Scottish equivalent of Bandon Dunes.

About 80-90% of the people that play Kingsbarns are visiting Americans. They have a great caddie program as well and I recommend taking one. The clubhouse is great and I recommend the onion rings.