The general consensus from both Scottish and American alike before I even stepped foot on Kingsbarns was, “You’ll *love* it” and “It’s spectacular.” I nearly didn’t play because I felt bad/guilty about playing hooky for one of the practice days at the Ryder Cup the Wednesday of that week, but everyone told me, “You *have* to play Kingsbarns.” So, I eventually made an executive decision and did just that.
I certainly made the right choice — let’s see, another day of slow-playing the much-anticipated dogfight between the U.S. and Europe, where the captains continue to blabber and several players are brought in the interview room to chat, etc., or one on the fabulous links at Kingsbarns, just eight miles from St Andrews, the Home of Golf.
I was a bit surprised it was so lauded by the Scottish considering the course has a very American feel to it (it was designed by American architect Kyle Phillips), starting with the time you pull up to the front of the clubhouse and you’re whisked away by the staff that valets your car (only time I’ve been in Scotland and had my car valeted). When you get to the starter’s box, you’re given a tin that contains tees, ballmarker, along with a bag tag that has your name and the date you played printed on it (now I thought this was an excellent touch and makes for a wonderful souvenir).
I was supposed to play with three guys from the group I played with at Carnoustie, but unfortunately, I made a wrong turn or two and ended up *just* missing them. Instead, I got stuck with Chuck, Bob and John (no clue what their actual names were) from good ol’ South Carolina. When the three men who were around the early-bird-special age discovered they were playing with me on the first tee, they snickered and joked, “Ha, you’re going to get beat by a girl!” Well, indeed they were — and I was playing from the same tees as them — but I didn’t like the tone.
They were also not the fastest golfers in the world, which drove me and the caddies bonkers. (I hate the feeling whenever I look ahead of me and the group isn’t in sight, but worst of all, when I look behind me, the group is standing there waiting.) You see, I had my own caddie, a lovely, soft-spoken man named Gordon. The three guys from S.C. were sharing a forecaddie named Gavin, who was a fun addition to the group, but he had his hands full running around to help out each of them with every shot. Another pet peeve: When people who aren’t good enough ask for way too much information. Every time that happens, I want to yell, IT DOESN’T MATTER, JUST HIT THE DANG SHOT.
Best part about Kingsbarns is that everything is right in front of you — there aren’t really any bunkers that sneak up on you or too many blind shots. Off the tee, it can be a little intimidating at times, but more often than not, you’re faced with a rather wide landing area. One thing’s for sure: You play it on a beautiful sunny day like I did and you encounter the most awe-inspiring and dazzling views of the North Sea.
Starting on the first hole, which is called “North,” you’re playing away toward the Sea beyond the green. Next, on the second, dubbed “Firth,” a tough downhill par-3, the North Sea is to the right and the mouth of the Firth of Tay lies past the green with Carnoustie Golf Links on the far shore.
When you reach no. 6, you encounter a risk-reward drivable par-4. If you play your tee shot onto the top plateau, it can take the right few hops and work its way down to the front edge of the green. John and Bob were both successful in driving the green, while I laid up because my caddie told me to. After all, even if you’re on or close to it, you’re faced with a difficult two-tier sloping front to back green. The hole is called “Auld Links” because it refers to the original Kingsbarns nine-hole course from 1793 located in the lower part of the present day course before you’re on the sixth tee.
Coming around the front nine, the course seemed like it gave you some chances to attack and hole a few birdies, or at least easy two-putt pars. Then, you make the turn and you’re faced with the par-4 10th, also known as “Cambo.” You see, Kingsbarns is part of Cambo Estate and the 57-room manor house is located in the woods to the right of the green. (I had the chance to stay there the following week and I highly recommend the grand experience — it’s like living in the Scottish version of Downton Abbey.)
Next, you come out of the woods on the 11th and you stumble upon some of the most magnificent views in golf as you head for the 12th, “Orrdeal.” Stop for a moment to take in the vista. Then, hit a nice little draw with your driver off the tee on the short par-5.
I enjoyed the par-3 13th, Cliffs,” where the green sits down in the shadows of the ocean cliffs in kind of a punchbowl. It’s the shortest hole on the golf course and also a bit downhill, but it’s not as harmless as it might appear. Miss it right — which I did — and you’ll have what’s supposedly the toughest second shot on the course.
The finishing four holes are splendid, starting with the signature par-3 15th, “Rocky Ness.” Aim for the bunker on the back left and allow the slope to feed the ball into the center of the green. The trees often block out the wind from the left, so make sure you take enough club, and obviously, be careful of the water guarding the entirety of the green on the right side.
The grand finale, the par-4 18th, is a strong one. If you catch your drive perfectly off the slope with a draw, chances are it’ll take it all the way down to the bottom of the hill, just short of the water hazard guarding the green. That was a fun way to end the round.
Takeaway: Kingsbarns isn’t the toughest test you’ll ever face, but it’s certainly a fair and fun day of golf, with second to none views. Beware the sometimes tricky, yet oft large greens, which are easy to three-putt (but maybe that’s just me).
Here are some more pictures from my round…Enjoy!
For more information on holidaying in Scotland go to: www.visitscotland.com
Other related reads:
*Day 2 in Scotland: Carnoustie Golf Links
*Day 1 in Fife, Scotland: The Golf Club House, Elie