St. Andrews, Scotland
Fit for a King
By Rick Young
Sorry, Old Tom Morris. Apologies to you as well, Allan Robertson, Young Tom and golf’s founding fathers with deep ties to Scotland’s Kingdom of Fife. Blasphemous, perhaps—extraordinary, most assuredly—but Kingsbarns Golf Links, a modern course set along the North Sea and crafted this century by an American architect, is routinely showing up on golfers’ bucket lists. And here’s the rub: It is doing so right alongside the hallowed grounds of the nearby “Old Course” at St. Andrews. Really.
This reputation was not acquired through self-proclamation, nor as the desired outcome of a well-orchestrated advertising campaign. Kingsbarns has earned its stripes, one satisfied visitor at a time.
Nestled on one and a half miles of shoreline, the Kyle Phillips design (with input from developer Mark Parsinen) is a throwback to days gone past. It’s an authentic links experience—pure in form, classic in function and timeless to the golfing senses. Word of mouth among golfers is its most effective marketing ally.
“The attention to detail at Kingsbarns is breath-taking,” says former Royal & Ancient secretary Peter Dawson. “There is no course I’ve been to where you can see more of the sea on every hole, or where the test of golf and the experience are so well-balanced.”
A sight to behold
What makes the sightlines so unique is the site’s landform. Kingsbarns traverses up from the shoreline and across an ancient sea cliff, giving the effect of a natural amphitheatre that provides majestic vistas throughout. Half of the course’s holes, in fact, are played flush into an ocean foreground. Phillips has used the best aspects of the land to dictate a routing that is bold in aesthetics, yet infinitely fun and challenging. Wide fairways, large greens and multiple lines of strategy dominate playability. Short-game imagination? It’s at a premium.
“What I like is the risk and reward,” say PGA Tour member Paul Casey. “It’s a very enjoyable course to play because you can make birdies and you can make eagles, but there is a lot of danger out there as well. You’ve got fun stuff and tough stuff, wrapped in a beautiful package.”
A history lesson
To set the record straight, golf was played on a small swath of the 190-acre Kingsbarns land parcel way back in 1793. It expanded from four holes to nine holes as the years went by, but closed in 1939 to become a site for World War II military manoeuvres.
Fast-forward to the mid 1990s. Parsinen, an American developer, and his partner, Art Dunkley, purchased the land with a vision for the game’s return. The new owners retained Phillips, a meticulous disciple of Scottish golf, to conceptualize a modern links with traditional values. Three years later, it was mission accomplished. The land’s rebirth saw Kingsbarns Golf Links open in the summer of 2000 to glowing reviews, which haven’t stopped.
Upon experiencing Kingsbarns for the first time in 2015, former British Open champion, Stewart Cink, opined on social media: “A new course entered my top five today; Kingsbarns. Absolutely stunning. Huge vistas and drama but not at the expense of pure golf values.”
A mere five miles from St. Andrews, Kingsbarns’ credentials have escalated to even greater heights. Along with its inclusion as one of the European PGA Tour’s three presenting courses for the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship (beside the Old Course and Carnoustie) through 2020, the club will also host this year’s Ricoh Women’s British Open.
For the second straight year in 2015, the links won the “Scotland’s Best Golf Experience” award at the annual Scottish Golf Tourism Awards. And it’s not just the golf that stands out: The food and drinks lounge in the marvellously quaint but comfortable Kingsbarns clubhouse offers spectacular fare to go along with its panoramic views onto the links.
“It’s a simple formula,” says chief executive officer Alan Hogg. “We communicate, we’re there for our customers and we try to do everything we possibly can to make their experience the best one possible.”
Not just a simple formula at Kingsbarns, but a winning one as well.
Award-winning golf writer/author Rick Young is one of Canada’s most trusted voices on golf and matters related to the golf industry. A founding member of the Golf Journalists Association of Canada, Young’s articles have appeared in publications throughout North America.