Appeared in April 2002 LINKS
At Kingsbarns, five miles up the road from St. Andrews, the first reference to golf is dated 1793. The course spreads across the Cambo Estate, owned by the Erskine family, three members of which have served as captain of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club since 1797. The original Kingsbarns Golf Club apparently disbanded in 1844, was resurrected in 1922, and then was put out to pasture again when its acreage was commandeered by the military in 1939.
Seventy years, later, the latest golf incarnation there, Kingsbarns Golf Links, looks like it will have considerably more staying power. The course, designed by Kyle Phillips and Mark Parsinen and opened in 2000, boasts stellar ocean views and some of the best seaside golf shots you’ll ever play. Nine of Kingsbarns’ holes reveal the ocean in your frame of play, and all 18 provide sea vistas stretching as far away as Carnoustie.
Kingsbarns is about big, billowing features, subtle nuances and dramatic routing. The holes ramble along a mile and a half of shoreline and across an old sea cliff. Fescue and bentgrass carpet the heaving humps and hummocks, flowing between riveted bunkers and perky little burns, and surging dramatically among dune ridges and hollows. The turf is tight and rich and practically begs for deft bump-and-run shots, but you’ll also face some thick rough if you miss these fairways. The large, undulating greens typically are broken into smaller sections by their contouring.
At Kingsbarns, superior shot values back up what sound like the scribbled musings of Shivas Irons. Stunning fairway contours complement the natural landforms and are also intrinsic to strategy. The angles of play are quite easy to read if you pay attention. Aggressive driving lines are rewarded with auspicious kicks and favorable approach paths into greens shaped to channel balls toward the hole. Conversely, safe driving lines result in daunting approach angles, which convert supportive contours into confounding obstacles that deflect shots away from the target.
The first four holes on the 7,126-yard Kingsbarns routing rival the best quartet of starters anywhere. No. 1 requests a blind tee shot between grassy, rolling mounds; from the fairway, this 414-yard adventure reveals an expansive blue horizon of ocean framing the green. The 200-yard 2nd hole also plays right at the water. The short, tight par-5 3rd plays alongside the sea all the way to the dangerously bunkered green. And No. 4’s encroaching fairway bunker introduces the risk/reward theme, which is repeated often throughout the round.
The best stretch of holes comes after the turn. Following No. 11, an uncharacteristically tree-lined hole, the next four cavort across a peninsula formed by a fast-running burn that flows into the sea. The 12th is an epic 606-yard par 5 that curls around the ocean to a green 72 yards deep and tightly set beside the water. The 15th, a par 3 over the ocean, captivates with a combination of beauty and danger.
Kingsbarns closes with three brutes. No. 16’s 565 yards include riveted bunkering and a sneaky burn behind the green. The 17th unfurls to 474 yards that will be difficult to gobble in two bites if you’ve produced anything but a perfect tee shot. The home hole concludes with an approach over another hidden burn and a walk over the exhumed stone bridge from Napoleon’s day to a green that seems to float among tall grasses.
Back inside the cozy clubhouse, you’ll feel as though you’ve joined in an intimate holiday gathering—especially on a brisk day enhanced by a dram of single malt. Folks in the bar seem giddy with contagious pleasure, often buying one another drinks to acknowledge just how fine life can be.