Kingsbarns is just southeast of St Andrews, and part of the Dunhill Links. Less than 15 years old, it is ranked very highly on several lists, and even in the top 55 in the world by Golf Magazine. I had a chance to talk to a few people that have played it, and they absolutely loved it. It's a simple ride in the Old Course Experience van to Kingsbarns to start the experience.
I got to the course about an hour and half before my 2:20 tee time. They included lunch in the deal, and I have to say it was one of the best club sandwiches around. I sat by the window overlooking the 18th green and took a few last minutes to chill before the round. Where I sat wasn't far from the temporary facility that has already been installed for the Dunhill.
Time to hit the range. Great target practice and free range balls for days. They even had a short game area in the corner. The weather of the day was pretty nice for the beginning of September. When we teed off, it was in the low 70's with a club wind or so. No complaints.
The previous starter collected tees from various courses. They said by the time he retired, he had over 9,000 tees in the starters shack. The new starter, to do something different, has started collecting poker chips. I was keen to this before heading over, and happened to take 2 different chips with me for him to display. He was more than gracious in receiving them and promptly put them up in the window. Thank you good sir!
So I made it through 17 holes the previous day at the Jubilee course without hitting a bunker. Took me the first hole to find one at Kingsbarns! Bad part was I chunked my third shot into one on the first. Then had to play out sideways because it was against the face, and it rolled back to within a foot of the original spot. Talk about a true penalty. Let's mark down a triple and move on....
The second hole marked the second bunker. I pushed my tee shot on the par 3 a little and found the middle bunker. Fortunately/unfortunately I had very little practice from the bunkers, and bladed it over the green into the bottom of a gorse bush. Great. The guys I'm paired with have extensive knowledge of the course, and are actually playing their second 18 of the day at Kingsbarns and I'm playing like I would be kicked out of a pitch and putt. I hope Jeff and Jim can stomach this...as they tell me it's their +/-35th time playing here. (They are from Cleveland, but travel over frequently enough to have a visitors membership at Crail, right around the corner from Kingsbarns.)
I finally get it together and start hitting it near where my caddie Gordon is pointing me.I can honestly say I was a little distracted by the amazing scenery around the course. It was mostly sunny with a brilliant blue sky, the kind of day you would not want to be in the office if you were in the States. But, being in Scotland with this weather was an absolute dream. I must confess, there are limited pics from the course because my camera died on me on the 6th hole, but the images are ingrained. You guys would just be jealous anyway if I had pics of this course. It truly deserves it's rankings!
As for the 6th, it's a short hole that plays under 300...but it was straight into the wind on this day. Gordon tells me to favor the left side. I did, when the hybrid took off, right before it turned further left heading down the hill towards the 17th. I found a flat patch in the rough, but was 20 feet below the green, which also had a 20' high hill between me and the narrow putting surface. Gordon gives me a yardage (guess) to the pin, treks around, climbs the hill and gives me a best guess line to take to get to the hole. Here goes nothing! I hear "keep going, come back, great shot!" I can't see a thing, and am anxious to see where this thing ended up. Within 8 feet for one the best birdies ever. (Jeff drove the green and made birdie also, proving there's more than one way to find birds.)
The 12th hole is truly amazing also. Imagine Pebble's 18th with a lower cliff, and a 500 year old stone wall along the seafront. Just visually stunning. Jeff says this is his favorite golf hole in the entire world, and he birdies it today! The next hole has a 40' stone wall adjacent to the green, from which you hear frequent mooing as it's the edge of a cattle farm.
On 14, I take a moment to tell the group about a buddies caddie story from Augusta. He was debating about going for it from 215 on 13, and his caddie turns to him and says "It's OK, you can just go for it NEXT weekend when you're here!" Then I proceed to take driver (when hybrid could have sufficed) and hit it about 2 feet from a rabbit hole on a hill left, when right is the approach. Catch a flier with clean contact, and hit it over the green, which receives a "oh, you might not like that." Crap. Let's walk up to the green...it doesn't look THAT bad. Until you go past the hole and down the 12 feet to get to the ball! Ok, time to play an American golf shot. Hand me my 60! I caught it just right, flop it up to 8' and sink the par putt. As we all are walking across the bridge to the 15th, Gordon says "Maybe next weekend you can try playing it down the fairway!" Facepalm.
The 15 could be the signature hole...if it weren't for about 5 other holes. A solid par 5 that sits at an angle, so the further right requires a deeper carry to the green. I gladly take my par and move along.
The 18th is a true test in speed slot golf. A bender to the left, the aiming point is the corner of the clubhouse off the tee. Of course, I'm double crossing Gordon all day, so I started a little fade off the right corner. Talk about adding yards. I had to bunt it down the fairway since the ravine in front of the green is well fed from both sides and about 15' below the putting surface. Jeff knocked one down the speed slot to position A, that was only proven not be A1 when the group behind us hit a low screamer that trickled past us as we were walking forward. Not a great bogey to finish, but the ball striking was on the entire day. I'll take my 82 and get ready for the Old Course!
The property did have a course on it in the late 1700's-early 1800's. Then it was reverted back to farm fields, and then the shore was fortified for WWII. The course is less than 15 years old, but it feels natural. If you really study it, you can tell there was some earth moved, but the tiers for the fairways have blended to appear natural through the past decade. Truly felt like its been there for quite some time. The 12-14th holes are on the south side of the stray (creek) that is surrounded my large mature trees that several crows call home. Watching the Dunhill this year will definitely be more enjoyable after playing this course, and I have to say that it's one of my favorites of all time. If you make it to St Andrews, it's a must play! (To sweeten the deal, after you pay full rate for the first round, every round within 7 days is half price. So play it a couple of times during the week, like Jeff and Jim. BTW, Jeff shot 71, his career best at Kingsbarns. The guy has some game, he's a 3 at Firestone! Gotta give him a shout out for the superb round!!!!)