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Been Here? | Kingarrock

Golf as it Used to Be

By: Thomas Dunne

Appeared in Winter 2012 LINKS

ON A HILL JUST OUTSIDE ST. ANDREWS YOU CAN TAKE A STEP BACK IN TIME

LAST SPRING, a former ace from the University of St. Andrews golf team arrived at the 9th tee at Kingarrock Golf Course in the lush hills just 15 minutes from the Home of Golf itself. He made a mighty pass at the ball, which took off with a rifle crack, soared toward the green with a tight draw, then landed and rolled just off the putting surface, pin high some 210 yards away. What made this shot so impressive was that it was executed with a hickory-shafted shillelagh of a driver and a Haskell ball of the type first introduced around the turn of the 20th century.

Playing to a demure 2,022 yards, the nine-hole Kingarrock may seem a bantamweight on the St. Andrews scene, but it offers one of the most pleasurable challenges in Fife. Arriving at the charming, low-ceilinged cottage that serves as the clubhouse, visitors select half a dozen hickory sticks and head out with a pencil bag and a sleeve of antique balls, each one printed with the Bobby Jones maxim, “Wait For It.”

The meaning of this phrase becomes clear on the first tee, when a rapid change of direction at the top—something that our modern equipment routinely allows us to get away with—produces all manner of flubs and foozles. As our expectations gradually fall to more reasonable levels, even the most modestly successful of shots—a well-struck mashie, a deft chip with a niblick—become cause for celebration and camaraderie.

Kingarrock opened just a couple of years ago, though, like Kingsbarns, a course had existed on the site in the past. It had been the private preserve of the Sharp family, local notables who made their fortune in jute linen—they sold sackcloth to both sides during the U.S. Civil War. The Sharps lived in a country house estate at the Hill of Tarvit overlooking the golf course.

By 1948, however, all members of  the family had passed away without heirs, leaving the property to be received by the Scottish National Trust. The golf course was plowed over, reverted to pasture land, and forgotten. Some four decades later, a Scottish businessman named David Anderson happened to stay at the Hill of Tarvit.

“I was given a tour of the house and noticed all of these 17th-century paintings featuring winter scenes from Holland—every single one of them had someone playing with a golf club,” Anderson said. “I sensed that this house had some link to golf.” Anderson's suspicions were confirmed when, by serendipity, he found a 1924 map of the course in a local pub.    

As his retirement loomed, Anderson wrote to the National Trust and convinced them to let him  bring Kingarrock back to life. Today he runs Kingarrock more as a hobby than as a business. On a typical day, there’s no reason to worry about pace of play—with tee times an hour apart, guests can hack away with the hickories to their hearts’ content.

After the round, Anderson, period-correct in tweed and plus-fours, joins visitors for ginger beer (or a wee dram) and shortbread cookies.

Those who seek out this little meadow will find a time machine, dials set to 1924—a portal to an age when golf was a gentler game.

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