Shock of the New

Golf World International

The boom in golf course building is over. Only a handful of good new tracks have opened since 1998 and yet among them are some corkers. First among them is Kingsbarns, an amazing new links on the coast of Fife. Opened just this year, it may prove to be the last true links course ever built in the UK, and already it’s being mooted as a possible future Open venue. If you think Loch Lomond has exploded like a grenade into our top 100, wait till you see what Kingsbarns does.

Just six miles from St Andrews, Kingsbarns is truly extraordinary. As probably the last links to be built on the Scottish coast, it has absorbed every smidgen of detail, every ounce of inspiration from 600 years of golf history – and improved on it.

The amazing thing about this course, though, is that it is totally man-made. What was once arable farmland sloping steeply down to a rocky beach has been transformed into windswept linksland, which fits as naturally into the scene as the sea itself. More than 300,000 cubic tonnes of earth were shifted to create the wildly rolling dunes, sweeping fairways, pot bunkers and heaving greens. Authentic fine fescue-bent turf grasses give that springy feel.

What makes Kingsbarns better than the real thing are the sea views. Most links, like St Andrews’ Old Course down the road, sit behind waves of low-lying dunes, obscuring the waters. But there isn’t a hole at Kingsbarns without the great expanse of the North Sea in sight. Pure exhilaration.

What’s interesting about the course is that at heart it is a very traditional layout. Although created from arable farmland, with thousands of tons of earth shifted, it is the embodiment of the “natural” school of design. What’s more, it seems to be the standard-bearer for a general shift back towards a more traditional golf landscape. This year’s Top 100 ranking shows old-fashioned courses reasserting themselves in the list at the expense of newer, brasher designs. And leading design gurus think the trend runs deep. Everyone agrees that Kingsbarns is in the vanguard of this ‘back-to-the-future’ trend.

“I’m disappointed that an American designed it,” says Howard Swan, “but it is a superb achievement. It’s a remarkable piece of land now; and I’m very pleased the designer, Kyle Phillips, resurrected the old stream and the old bridge from years before. That’s a wonderful touch. When Gold gives you a wonderful bit of land, you shouldn’t be doing very much to it.” “Kingsbarns is a gem,” agrees R&A secretary Peter Dawson. “I think it is going to be one of the great links courses; and it may well be the last one built in the UK. There’s no course I’ve been to where you can see more of the sea from every hole. The attention to detail is extraordinary.”


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